A Kinder, Gentler Reconstruction

Posted on: October 17th, 2014 by

Reconstruction has saved me.

I’m not referring to my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. I’m talking about the transformation of my hospital’s Cancer Care Center, where I received my treatments and followups, to the now-named Center for Advanced Care, where I receive followup care.

Years ago, I first met my oncologist in the Cancer Care Center, a very ordinary, depressing sort of building with few windows. Thus the interior was somewhat dark and ugly — like cancer and my resulting depression. Luckily, the building’s dimness couldn’t eclipse my doctors’ and nurses’ bright smiles, hugs, encouragement, and their communication with each other in order to save and extend their patients’ lives.

Still, it was a darker space during the darkest place in my life.

When I’d get my post-treatment followups at the Cancer Care Center, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) would overtake me. Everything would trigger flashbacks. I’d pass by the bathroom I threw up in, the nook I sat in and cried, the examination rooms where I had breakdowns. I associated all areas with sickness and death. Even the bathroom soap’s scent made me ill, for I smelled it on my hands during chemotherapy. To this day, I cannot tolerate the scent, which triggers those horrible flashbacks.

Imagine a Vietnam veteran who, after the war, is placed on the same battlefield where he witnessed death and destruction. And he is told to just calmly walk through the area. That’s the best way I can describe how it felt for me to be at the Cancer Care Center year after year. I barely coped.

Then a kind miracle: the building came down, wing by wing.

I remember the pardon-our-appearance signs, as well as entering the building in some weird insulated construction tunnel amid concrete structures. My oncologist apologized to me for the noisy mess, which made the building look even more dismal. I still was having flashbacks because the layout was the same for the most part, and the change was gradual.

But seemingly overnight, the center’s transformation was complete. It was magical, like when the fairy godmother turned Cinderella’s rags into a beautiful gown.

What’s In a Name?

The now-named Center for Advanced Care better reflects the hospital’s integrative-team approach for patients, as so many hospitals have. The first time I walked in, I was shocked how beautiful the space was. The entire building was reconstructed to create an open, light, airy feel, with glass walls that let in lots of natural light. Beautiful artwork adorns the walls, and the space is inviting. The first followup in that building left me blinking several times in disbelief and wonder.


Waiting Room

This new center provides the same excellent care to patients. But I have no illusions that this new center will save more lives or provide care superior to that of its predecessor. And I still have panic attacks in my oncologist’s examining room, as well as scanxiety. But gone are those awful flashbacks when I see doctors in this building.

It turns out that the act of tearing down has built me up emotionally.

Do you have flashbacks or panic attacks in doctors’ offices/hospitals?

Have you witnessed physical changes to your hospital/doctor’s office?

I’d love for you to share your experience(s).

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8 Responses to A Kinder, Gentler Reconstruction

  1. Marie Ennis-O'Connor (@JBBC) had this to say about that:

    Oh I so get this! I cannot even drive by the hospital where I got my treatment, and where a few years later my Mom lay dying from a brain tumor, without feeling sweaty, shaky and nauseous. PTSD is all too real for many of us.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Thank you, Marie, for your comment. I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through, and I can understand your emotional and physical reactions to driving by your and your mom’s hospital.

      Yes, PTSD is real, and it affects many, many patients.

  2. Pingback: Weekly Round Up: The MBC Edition | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  3. Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

    Thank you Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer for including this post in your weekly roundup. I so appreciate it.

  4. Eileen@womaninthehat had this to say about that:

    When driving past my oncologist’s office just before moving from L.A., I thought I was so glad to be moving to Northern Calif. so I wouldn’t have to ever drive past my oncologist’s office again.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Nothing like a good move away to avoid the oncologist’s office. Quite a move for you, and I’m glad you don’t have to drive past your oncologist’s office again.

  5. Nancy's Point had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    Interesting post and one I totally relate to. My hospital recently renovated its cancer center too. When I was diagnosed and going through treatment, the fifth floor was the cancer floor. Now the cancer floor has moved to its own new and separate wing with its own “for cancer patients and their families only” entrance. It is by far more inviting and more beautiful and I do not have the same triggers there. Still, that sign on the entrance does something to me every time I walk through the door and it’s a cancer center any way I look at it. I still can’t believe I have had the need for such a place… But I am glad your new center has made things a bit easier for you. That’s wonderful. Thanks for sharing about how the project has impacted you so personally. Hugs.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Nancy,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s amazing how many cancer centers get reconstructed. I guess most buildings do. And you’re right: it’s still a cancer place. Like you, I am in disbelief that I needed and still need it. It’s kind of like a bad dream — but it’s real.

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