A little warning about cancer…but I am OK now!

by Caroline von Fluegge-Chen

A little warning about cancer…but I am OK now!

A patient was wondering why she had not received e-mails from Balance Atlanta in a while. 

Holly and I have been busy – hunkered down and working hard. Oh, and my world took a bit of an unexpected turn in late February. 

It started with a routine dermatology checkup plus a few precautionary biopsies on a Thursday. Exactly a week later, I was heading to Buckhead with Louie (my dog) to work on my business (vs in my business) and the doctor called. “How close are you to the office? You have melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The melanoma is near your lymph nodes by your collarbone. In light of your family history of cancer, we need to take care of this right now. I have an opening in 15-minutes.”

If you can call it a coincidence, I was two minutes away from her clinic. I dropped Louie off at work, turned around, and within minutes, I was in surgery. The news – the C Word – didn’t quite sink in. Who me? Cancer? Yes. You. Cancer. I will admit, I did choke back a few tears. Feeling like a big baby, the nurse knew just what to say. I can’t thank her enough for her kindness.

So as you can imagine, my day of bopping around town was derailed slightly when I was pelted with the C Word. It’s like playing dodgeball: everyone is having fun until you’re actually whacked with the ball blasting past your blindspot. I will admit, my mind did wander into a few dark places. I don’t have living parents because of cancer.

Many people cheered me up. 

“It happens all of the time. It’s no big deal.”

“You should see my aunt – she had all sorts of stuff cut from her skin and she’s fine.”

“I know a great immunotherapist in NYC.”

I never had a family history of cancer until my (always healthy, active, happy, clean-living) parents were hit with the C Word. Two weeks after 911, my mother (think yoga teacher, green smoothies) was told her chest congestion of a week or so wasn’t bronchitis. Instead, it was stage four lymphoma. Six weeks later, she left us for the next journey. My dad (think retired corporate executive turned outdoorsman/farmer) learned his uncharacteristic fatigue was due to Lyme disease and “you need to see a hematologist (blood doc)…you may have leukemia, too.” This turned into three years of (unsuccessful) chemotherapy hell. 

My thoughts were not the most mature. But I am being Caroline now, not Dr. Caroline – someone with questions, not the one with logical answers.

  • Chemotherapy in my future should things go down the wrong path? No way. Please no.
  • Move to a farm, do yoga, drink smoothies, meditate, eat goji berries and tumeric? More likely.
  • Bring my bed to the office and entertain visitors? Sounds better than hospital stays.

But then my better sense took hold. I put things in a spiritual and practical context. God kissed me on the cheek (squamous cell carcinoma) and said, “Love ya.” Then he tapped me on the shoulder more sternly (melanoma – the bad kind) and said, “Take better care of yourself. You need to be the priority in your life. Focus on who and what truly matters. Let the rest go. This dermatology appointment serves as your warning.”

Lessons have been learned. Changes have been made. Sometimes you just need a whack from the universe. It’s interesting how that works. 

The last time I was presented with a physical lesson like this was soon after I graduated with my doctorate. While skiing, I tore ligaments in my knee which required moving back to Atlanta, getting surgery, being at a loss trying to figure out my next step…literally and figuratively…I couldn’t walk! It was God’s way of saying, “Look here…you had no business skiing like a maniac when you’re emotionally, physically and spiritually burned out from five years of grad school. If you won’t listen to your body, I am going to ground you so you take the time to think about the direction of your life.” Ripping ligaments to the knee certainly did that. Getting down on knees symbolizes surrender. 

I did surrender. It’s the reason why I stayed in ATL – to fix my knee and reassess my plan. Well, I didn’t have a plan. God did. And it just so happened, thanks to a random encounter at Maggiano’s in Buckhead, that I was awarded the role of chiropractor to the newly formed NHL Atlanta Thrashers plus visiting NHL teams back in 1999. Had this not occurred, I’d be Dr. C somewhere else, but not in Atlanta. Yep, I got my start with pro hockey players. Who would have thought? I smile when I drive past Maggiano’s. I was waiting for my Honda Civic (student edition) to pull up with the valet guy and the GM of the Thrashers starts talking to me. The rest is history.

I kept a low profile (other than within the office) because the last ten weeks were all about biopsies, unexpected news, incisions, stitches, scabs, the dermatologist, my first visit ever with a plastic surgeon, and repeating myself a thousand times a day when adults and kids asked about and inspected my boo boos. I felt a little beat up but I am fine now. And to all of you with the kind words – I truly am blessed with the best assistant, patients and family. I love you all dearly.

Lessons:

  • Get dermatology check ups! Go! My cancerous spots were not big or particularly suspicious, though my self-diagnosis and doubts were confirmed. 
  • What you think is insignificant is not. Surgery is deep…nasty deep. A small mole on the shoulder turns into a 4-inch incision on the skin above my clavicle where there is no meat to begin with…unlike more juicy areas like batwings and muffin tops. A dry patch the size of a pinkie nail on my cheek becomes a one inch vertical incision on my cheek. #gangsta #drcistough.
  • Payback is a bitch! I am of the generation of SPF 4, baby oil, burn first/tan later. My body didn’t forget what I did to myself in my first 20-years of life in the name of looking good and feeling great. What comes around, goes around.
  • Insurance makes no sense to me, either. My deductible is $4,500. The dermatologist did not charge me anything which I found strange. What are they billing insurance exactly and what do I owe them later on? The plastic surgeon immediately charged me $1,000 as a co-pay within minutes of walking in the door. And how much does sewing up my face cost, please?
  • Without asking, I was prescribed opioids four times. When I declined the offers, I got the same spiel: “We can’t call this in at night when you’re in pain. You’ll need to take the prescription now.” On all occasions, the doctors said I can take Tylenol if I don’t fill the Rx. Why not recommend Tylenol first? #heroinepidemic
  • There are many more lessons I can write about, especially those about self-care. Admittedly, being in the occupation of helping others heal doesn’t always leave a lot of emotional and physical room to prioritize one’s own mind/body/spirit. It has to be a conscious, deliberate, planned, fiercely guarded, strongly defended act of self-love. Real strategies with committed discipline (and no guilt) have to be in place. If not, we become like small boats tossed in the water, subject to whatever current or wind gust pushes us into directions we didn’t intend to travel. I learned to ask for help – take a foot off the gas pedal and let others into your world.
  • I also decided to be extremely selective about which healers I allow in my space. Clearly top notch skill is the foundation. But I need to feel their energy, their compassion and their commitment. 

Anyhooo…I am back on the grid after keeping a low profile. I feel great. The scars are healing nicely. The doctors were amazing. I am practicing my lessons. I adore the people in my life…and yes, that includes you!