So we’ve all heard the expression that your life can change in an instant, but you don’t really believe that to be true until suddenly it is and your life does. For me, that instant was when I came to the realization that I have cancer. And we all know the word CANCER automatically elicits a fear response, much like the sound track that accompanies any horror movie. Some people even translate it to mean impending death before they even know the details. Thankfully, I was not one of those people but I will admit the faint sound of the Halloween soundtrack was playing somewhere in the back of my mind when I heard my diagnosis for the first time.
I had been waiting for a diagnosis of some kind for nearly six months by then. I had been to my primary care physician countless times and numerous specialists who had no real answers for my nonspecific and generally strange ailments ranging from being too weak to write the notes on the board for my students to the strange painful lumps on both of my shins. I started out anemic and then I had an ulcer and possibly gluten allergy. All of those could have been the root cause of my nondescript symptoms but going gluten free and drinking daily shots of blackstrap molasses for iron didn’t seem to help so I trudged on to more doctors to have more tests and biopsies. My big break came when I ended up at the rheumatologist, another specialist recommended by my GP who was drawing at straws to help me. I lucked out when he examined my shins and determined I had a skin condition known as Erythia Nodosum, which often signifies a more serious condition called Sarcoid.
On a side note, I wish I had been to the rheumatologist a few hours earlier because I had just had another huge chunk of skin on my shin biopsied hours earlier to determine what skin condition I had, but that is beside the point.
My mind was reeling from the very word Sarcoid, which I’m pretty sure I saw on House a few seasons ago and assumed it was a dramatization of sorts. Oddly enough, Sarcoid is real and can be a pretty serious lung disease that often accompanies many of my odd and seemingly disconnected issues. In order to confirm Sarcoid I needed a series of chest x-rays, a CT scan, and pulmonary lung function testing, ultimately followed by a mediastinal biopsy. So at least I knew what two out of four of those things were, so all in all I pretty much had no idea of what to expect. The process was a little more daunting when I received a phone call that I needed to see a Thoracic surgeon ASAP. I wasn’t even sure what a thoracic surgeon was or what his intentions were. Turns out his intentions were to slice open my neck, cut throat style to bipospy the medistinal mass detected by my chest x-ray and CT scan, most likely caused by Sarcoid. I say most likely because at the time there was a ninety five percent likelihood that Sarcoid was the culprit and the biopsy surgery was needed to confirm his guilt.
So imagine my surprise when I came to in recovery only to find out that the real assailant had been overlooked. I remember waking up and feeling a bit disoriented, it actually took me a few moments to focus and actually be literate enough to read the grey exit sign across from my cubicle. It didn’t take long for my parents and best friend to circle the wagons once I was cognitive enough to hold a conversation. As soon as they came into focus I knew something was amiss, their tear soaked faces and deafening silence said it all. They awkwardly stared at me, and when I asked for my status update the panicked exchange between Steph and my mom confirmed my suspicions. No one had to say the words, the five percent possibility of cancer was my one hundred percent reality. Minutes later my thoracic surgeon arrived on the scene and delivered the verdict – Lymphoma. Blood cancer. I asked if he was 100% sure and he said that he was. I may have taken pause for a moment before asking him what happened next. He didn’t have any details just yet and told me that an oncologist would be in touch. And then he walked away, leaving me to digest the news and some graham crackers because at that point I was starving (you can’t eat prior to surgery).