If there’s one thing I’ve lived by in my 28 years, it’s this: When the going gets tough, the tough get organized.
I often joke that I am type A down to my blood. (I’m type A positive.) My innate control freak nature has been softened over the years through meditation, mantras, and lots of life lessons. What’s left is essentially an elementary school teacher motto (“Do your best, forget the rest!”) and a solid appreciation for office supplies and organization.
It should come as no surprise, then, that when my life was sent into a dramatic upheaval at the end of January, I reached for my best coping strategy: organize it… and for Pete’s sake, make it look pretty.
Why? Well, the two-pocket folder containing documents from my surgery in September was bursting at the seams. When I needed a place to keep all of my documents back in the fall, I naively thought the situation was temporary, so why spend time on a fancy binder? But after my diagnosis, just looking at the thing made me my blood run cold. There was nothing colorful or hopeful about it. While there were so few things in my control, my binder was one of the few I could manage.
One of my rockstar cancer survivor friends sent me in the direction of Michaels, hinting that the DIY method might be right up my alley. (She knows me well.) Here’s the thing: if you’re a three-hole punch, black “High School Chorale” style binder person, more power to you. I wanted something that was less reflective a diagnosis and more representative who I was as a person. My mom and I spent an arguably absurd amount of time in front of the binder display, debating the merits of a rose gold vs. a teal cover and discussing the kind of dividers we might need in the future.
I’m too ashamed to tell you the total I spent on binder supplies, but I promise that it was done with coupons and teaching discount in hand. I left the store feeling lightyears better about the pile of paperwork, business cards, and medical imaging that would fill the pages. It had nothing to do with the content itself: the reason I felt great was that this binder was suddenly more me.
In an effort to make this blog a resource for patients who have been recently diagnosed, or if you’re just curious, here are things I added to the binder:
- A section on critical contact information for me. It’s easier to copy my Primary Care Physician’s address than to look it up on my iPhone, and I can be sure I’m not giving the wrong zip code for one of the many NJ towns in which I’ve resided. (08043? 08648? 07940? The list is too long to count.)
- Copies of my insurance and prescription cards. Especially handy if I someday forget to bring the originals.
- A list of current medications I’m taking... plus their frequency, dose, and reason for taking them. I also include the vitamins and supplements I take.
- A 2017-2018 calendar with significant dates. I prefer a monthly view: that way I can reference my immediate medical history, doctor’s visits, procedures, and testing with more specificity during appointments.
- A section on contact information for my UPenn doctors. I’ve already met with five doctors. Each had at least one Physician’s Assistant or Administrative Assistant. There’s also the file room at the hospital and several pharmacies which I use. When you take into account all my current doctors, plus my previous medical care, that’s a lot of info. I have their numbers in my phone, with UPenn as the last name for reference, but it makes it easier to have it all in one place.
- Looseleaf paper. It’s a space for doctors to draw pictures, my own quick doodling in the waiting room, and the jotting down of questions ahead of appointments…. not to mention the concept of leaving space for possibility.
- A unicorn sticker. Totally optional. (For me, a non-negotiable.)
And there you have it, my grown-up Lisa Frank creation. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I never leave home without it, but I’m certainly looking to debuting my masterpiece next week at the two-week follow up with my oncologist.
Thank you again, as always, for your countless kindnesses. They have carried me on my way so far and will continue to keep me going in the times ahead.