Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Kim Grafton, Breast Cancer Surgeon. We initially bumped into Dr. Grafton in our friend's hospital room an hour before our appointment with her as she was stopping by to say goodbye to my friend who was being discharged. Dr. Grafton was our 'second opinion' surgeon who had come highly recommended by, well, EVERYONE! And my first-gut impression of her was how sweet, personable and thoughtful she was. An hour later, as we were sitting in one of her examination rooms at her office, she opened the door and greeted us as she always does now - with a story, mid-sentence as if we had been talking on the phone and were accidentally cut off and had to call back and just picked up where we left off... "So then I just realized, you were the case that was presented at the Santa Barbara Tumor Board yesterday and when I saw your MRI film I thought, wow, this lady has two completely different size breasts. That's you right?" Cracking up immediately, I responded, "Yes, that would be me," And there it was, the beginning of many mid-sentence conversations with Dr. Grafton about this third diagnosis, her impressions, her hopes, her plans, the latest research, her consultations with other doctors and mostly, her let's-get-this-cancer-out-of-you-and-let-you-live-a-long-and-healthy-life attitude. Sharp as a tack, resourceful, quick on her feet, passionate and chock-full of kindness, we knew immediately that we found our surgeon. I mean she should really have her own Facebook Fan Page or something because everyone that encounters her feels the exact same way about her. In fact, when I met with another nurse the other day at the Cancer Center and mentioned Dr. Grafton, she was in complete agreement about the fan page and said that she would be the president. Next thing you know, we were both arguing over who would have the honor of being president of the fan page. But in all seriousness, I will feel forever grateful to her for all that she's done for me, my health and my mental state of mind.

Julio Soares, Plastic Surgeon.  If you were to look up the word caring in the dictionary, guaranteed, you'd find Dr. Soares' picture right there next to the word. He was our second opinion plastic surgeon and we knew within the first five minutes that we were going with him. We could care less that he was an 'out of network' surgeon, we simply knew he had to round out our Healing Dream Team. Detailed, meticulous, knowledgeable, sharp and thoughtful, he was our guy. Explaining the process in detail nearly nauseated us both, but even that was handled with the utmost sensitivity. Stopping to ask us if we had any questions, he said we could call him back to let him know our decision. Immediately, I chimed in while looking at Hil and said, "I can speak for both of us and say that we'd like to have you as the Plastic Surgeon on the team." With a humble smile, we got things rolling and began to set things up for the surgery. Before we left his office, I nervously asked him for his fee schedule for the reconstruction as I knew how expensive this could be. Slowly pausing and empathetically looking at me, he simply tilted his head and said methodically and mindfully, "Oh, it won't be much, you didn't ask for this," and wow was he right. $15,000 less than 'Plastic Surgeon #1,' we were blown away by both his fees and his kindness; it brought tears to my eyes and a warmth to my heart.

Daniel Greenwald, Oncologist.    At some point in time during every visit and interview with a doctor, they would leave the room and Hil and I, in unison, would look at each other to quickly size them up and check in with each other. Doing things like gritting our teeth, rolling our eyes, smiling warmly, biting our lips, and giving hand signals to indicate our sentiments like 'eeeh' became the standard. We've always been in sync that way, so when that point and time came to our appointment with Dr. Greenwald, he left the room briefly to speak to a nurse about a private but urgent matter. When the door finally closed, Hil and I slowly looked at each other wide-eyed and whispered the exact same word - 'BRILLLIANT!' And by brilliant, I mean, brainy, gifted, genious in fact! But not the kind of brilliance where you feel like you need a pocket dictionary during your conversation because he explained himself with such clarity that we actually walked out of his office feeling like our own IQs may have been elevated ever-so-slightly.  He explained the latest research, this test, that study, my case, possible scenarios, why my case was a tad puzzling to the Tumor Board and the like. And by the end of the appointment, he even recommended another oncologist to speak with in L.A. in case I would like a second opinion. We politely declined and made our post-surgery appointment with him.

Megan McKenna, Genetic Counselor  (AKA, 'My Mad Scientist'). I met Megan within minutes of having my first needle biopsy as 'Surgeon #1 (the one I didn't go with) told me to walk down the street to the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara to talk to some lady about my genetics. Crying the entire way as I made my way down the sidewalk "just a couple of blocks away" (so not true!), I felt like I was miles away from my destination. As the pain from the needle biopsy started kicking into high gear, Hil diligently tried to convince me to stop walking so that she could go get the car to drive me there, but all I could say through my tears and gritted teeth was "I just want to get there, I'm walking!" Holding my breast the entire way, we finally found the Cancer Center, walked in and waited for 'the genetic lady' in the waiting room. Within minutes, the friendliest face walked around the corner towards me, extended both of her hands to me, looked me square in the eyes and asked if I was Dee Anne Barker. I couldn't even answer her as I knew I was going to completely break down from both the pain and the possibility of another breast cancer diagnosis. All I could muster up was a frantic head nod response as tears were rolling down my cheeks. So, she quickly introduced herself to Hil, held my hand and walked us back to her office to begin the discussion of breast cancer genetics and my family history. Although I don't really recall in great detail what we talked about that day, other than she gave me a mountain of paperwork to complete, I do recollect how impressed I was by her gentleness and intelligence. Since that day, Megan, Hil and I have spoken many times, had several appointments, received a Christmas card from her and now visit with her every time we go to the Cancer Center. In a nutshell, I would describe Megan as uber smart, kind, compassionate, and very, VERY, tender-hearted.