(The short version…our life’s been like this for us for over two years – falling headlong from one frightening personal disaster to the next.)
This is the third installment of several chronicling the most difficult two years of our life. (Read all posts in this series.) The purpose is not to whine about our misfortune but rather to offer some perspective and hope to those to whom life-changing, Earth-shattering events haven’t installed themselves (seemingly permanently) into their everyday existence. We were once rookies to the stress. Now, it’s, sadly, we’re old pros at handling disappointment and uncertainty.
Cancer. What the fuck? How can Scott have cancer? He feels fine. He’s perfectly healthy. He’s got no symptoms. How the fuck can he have cancer? We were stunned. Completely blindsided. It didn’t seem like our life anymore. A deep heaviness descended. It was everywhere. In every thought, every breath. At the same time, it was surreal. It couldn’t be real. Other people, those people were affected by cancer. Not Scott. Not us.
But yeah. He did indeed. The biopsy confirmed it. A CT scan was scheduled so the doctor could assess the tumor (oh god that word!) to see how contained/widespread it was. My Sweetie had cancer. Fuck. We felt deflated, powerless, crushed by an invisible weight, smothered by an omnipresent fear. After several days of living with the knowledge without much conversation on the subject, we began talking about it. The first thing we realized is that he was hesitant to talk about it for fear of upsetting me and I was avoiding the subject for the same reason. So even in our misery, we were taking care of one another. That’s a tendency that will continue to serve us well.
We started a list one night sitting in bed, unable to sleep for all the unanswered questions swirling around and leading us into endless (and pointless, unfounded) panic. We took stock of the reality and tried not to let it overwhelm us. Let’s not spiral into conjecture, we decided. What do we know? What do we need to know? The list documented everything we knew, everything we thought, every fear, every question we could brainstorm at that point in time. Next steps? Treatment? How the hell did this come about? Was it related to his perforated diverticulitis or it to the cancer? What was his prognosis? Would he need surgery? Chemotherapy? Radiation? What was the timeframe of treatment? When would Scott be cancer free? How soon could we put this all behind us and return to “normal” life?
I brought the list to the followup appointment with the doctor who had performed the colonoscopy. He gave us the official findings of the CT scan. And all things considered, he had good news for us. He said that the tumor was contained within the colon; it had not grown through or spread anywhere else. Such a relief! His recommendation was to schedule surgery to have the mass removed and it would be over and done with. No specialist necessary because it was a fairly simple, straightforward procedure that could be performed laparoscopically. He even said that there would be no need for further treatment once the mass had been removed. We left that appointment in higher spirits than we’d felt in weeks! The list was summarily discarded and an appointment with a surgeon was scheduled for November 7. The appointment was brief; he outlined the procedure and surgery was scheduled for early December.
Over the next few weeks, we settled into the awkward reality of having cancer as part of our life. “It’s only a few weeks, then it will be all over,” we reassured ourselves. Thanksgiving was coming up and we’d have a little bit of distraction. We’d focus on the positives of this situation – and on all we had in our life to be grateful for in general – and the time would pass quickly.
But Scott’s colon had a different scenario in mind. Saturday evening, November 17… Scott experienced a familiar feeling: That same abdominal/intestinal pain he’d felt last October when he’d had the perforated diverticulitis. We took this pain very seriously, especially considering last year’s development and the recent cancer diagnosis. At that time, I was uncomfortable driving at night so his mom picked us up and took us to the hospital. A very long, tense wait ensued throughout the night and into the morning.
Hours and hours of passed in the examination room. His temperature had started rising and the pain was increasing. I kept his mom apprised of his condition walking back and forth from the exam room to the waiting room. Finally, another CT scan revealed – son of a bitch – perforated diverticulitis – again! And we were looking at emergency surgery this time. By 7:00 AM the surgical team had arrived and it was time for things to happen very quickly. I shook hands with the man in whose hands my Sweetie’s life would soon be, tearfully kissed Scott and was escorted to the surgical waiting room. The next five hours passed in a slow, heavy fog. I felt helpless, frightened, confused, sad and overwhelmed by all that had transpired since the evening before. It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving and any plans we’d had to celebrate the holiday had changed in a dramatic, profound way.
As I mentioned in my preface, this is third in a series of pieces about life as we’ve lived it lo these past two years plus change. I hope that, combined, they tell a story of how, first and foremost, adversity sucks. It drags you down into the depths of your being; makes you assess your priorities, question your ability to cope and lays bare your vulnerability. Beyond that, I hope they tell the story of how, getting through the adversity – and on the other side of it – you discover a myriad of revelations, truths and perspectives you can only imagine. If we didn’t learn this fully yet, we would certainly have more opportunities coming in the nearer-than-we-could-believe future.
Stay tuned for Parts 4,5,6…