After I hung up from talking to my mum, I looked at Rob. “I guess we’d better phone the medical aid." Fortunately we were well covered by a reputable medical aid company, but before we booked for any operation or procedure we had to make a phone call to a specific number, and get their approval. Although obviously just 'red tape', we had to deal with it. I would then present their authorisation number at the hospital when I booked in. The registration staff would know there would be no complication over the finances.
"Rob, as the principle member, do you have to phone them yourself, or do you think I should?"
"Are you sure you want to? Wouldn't you prefer me to phone them?"
"No. For some reason, I want to take charge. Do you have the number?”
Rob rummaged through his drawer, then handed me a business card with the company's details. He hugged me, and headed for the bedroom door. "I'm going to make us some more tea."
I smiled weakly to myself. Rob’s cure for all crises—"Let’s have a cup of tea."
I dialled the number, and settled down on the edge of the bed. After the usual run-around between different departments, I at last arrived at the correct extension.
“I need authorisation for an operation,” I began. The lady asked for our medical aid number, Rob’s name, my name, and a whole host of other information. Then she asked, “What is the operation?"
I licked my lips. This would be the first time I had used the name to a stranger.
“A mastectomy,” I said. “I have breast cancer." The voice on the other end of the phone showed as much compassion and understanding as if I had said I wanted my toenails cut. She proceeded to fire several more questions. She concluded with, “Of course this will have to go before the board for consideration. But in the meantime . . . "
“Before the board?” I stared at the phone in confusion. “When does the board meet?”
“Next week,” she replied in a jaded voice. “But there are a couple of things you will have to do first . . .”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” I reacted impatiently. “This can't wait a week. I see the surgeon tomorrow, and surgery will probably be scheduled for the next day or so.”
“Oh, that's out of the question,” the woman said. “These things take time you know. Besides, no decision can be made until we have a set of photos.”
“Photos?” I choked incredulously. “Photos? Did you say photos?”
The lady sighed. “Yes lady, I said photos! You cannot have an operation of this nature until you have submitted photos and the board has decided whether it is necessary.”
“But there’s nothing to see!” I exclaimed. “I presume you mean X-rays?” This had to be some sort of nightmare. It was time to wake up.
“No I do not mean X-rays!” snapped the woman. “I said photos and I mean photos!”
The tensions and horror of the last few hours boiled over.
“Well if you want photos you can d take your own!” I exploded rudely. “And while you are about it you can give me your name!"
During the pause that followed my outburst, I overheard some muffled talking, and then another calmer voice started to speak.
“Mrs. Corder? What seems to be the problem?”
“What seems to be the problem?” I said. “I've just learned I have to have urgent breast surgery and I'm being asked for photographs. That’s what's the problem!” Tears of rage and frustration welled up, as Rob removed the receiver from my hand.
"What exactly is going on here?" my normally quiet-spoken husband demanded. "What is this nonsense about photos?” He listened for a moment and then said incredulously, “What do you expect to see on photographs?”
Another pause. “May I please speak to the head of your department?" Pause again. “You are? Well I need to speak to someone else who knows what she's talking about. My wife has just learned she has breast cancer. She faces urgent surgery. There will be no photographs.”
I fought a losing battle with hysteria as I heard him say sarcastically, “Well perhaps the person who answered the phone in the first place needs to learn to listen.”
He listened some more, and then, tight-lipped, handed the receiver to me. “She wants to speak to you. Don’t worry—it’s okay."
I took the receiver from him reluctantly.
“Mrs. Corder I am so very sorry for the confusion,” said an upset lady. “I didn’t realise you had just learned you have cancer. I thought you said you'd had a mastectomy for cancer. I thought you wanted reconstructive surgery; and for that we have to have photos. Please forgive me.”
I knew this was entirely her fault. I had made myself perfectly clear. I also knew that I had stressed the urgency of the matter. But I saw no point in making a further scene. I already felt embarrassed by the way I had reacted. I should have handled the misunderstanding better.
“It’s okay,” I muttered with as much grace as I could muster. “Mistakes can happen. But what do I do now?" She gave me the required authorisation number, then with further profuse apologies, she hung up.
I buried my head in my hands as tears streamed down my face. "Rob, why did I get so angry? Why did I react like that? She obviously made a mistake."
"Yes, but she shouldn't have made that sort of mistake. Of course you got upset. It's not surprising." He sat down on the bed and put his arm round my shoulder. "Never mind. Put it behind you. It's over."
But he was wrong. It wasn't over. The altercation had shaken my composure and for the next few days, every time I told someone about my diagnosis, I felt a wave of fear—not because I had cancer, but in case they were unkind and snapped at me. Of course, they didn't.
Cancer doesn't only attack the cells of the body. It affects your emotions as well. When you are treated unfairly, or if someone says something unkind or hurtful, try to consciously take some deep breaths before you respond. Not only will that help calm you, it will also give the speaker a chance to think what they've said.
Sometimes we need to give them space too, especially if they're close family members or friends. Like you, they're struggling to deal with the situation. They're also emotional. So anticipate some misunderstandings. Try to handle them calmly. And if it it goes wrong, ask forgiveness and be prepared to forgive. Don't waste valuable mental energy fighting battles that should never have started.
Give thanks to God for those who are going to help you, whether it's because they love you, or because they're paid to do so. You need both categories of support!