Today, I’m going to rewind just a bit and fill you in on a bit more about the actual day of diagnosis.
When I had the stereotactic biopsy last Monday, they made an appointment for me to return to the breast surgeon/oncologist in seven days to get results. However, when I asked the radiologist how long results usually took to come back she said, “Three to five days with preliminary results coming in even earlier.”
I “hmmm”-ed to myself and did the math. (Which, as we all know, is my strong point. Ha.)
“Let’s see. The doctor is going to have my diagnosis on Wednesday or Thursday, but he isn’t going to tell me the results until Monday? What is wrong with this picture?”
Part of my reason for wanting the news earlier (besides just wanting to know) was because, as pastors of a church, it’s much easier to give news to a congregation as a whole on Sunday morning than to have the news dribble out on Monday and the days following. However, I had been told that this was the doctor’s iron clad policy; he only gave results in person.
But I thought, “What does it hurt to ask?”
Since I do a whole lot better stating my case in writing than over the phone, I composed a letter and faxed it to the doctor’s office early Thursday afternoon listing some reasons for requesting earlier results. I didn’t have much faith that it would do any good, but at least I felt better for having tried.
At 5:30 Thursday afternoon, as I was about to put some chicken in the oven, my cell phone rang.
It was the doctor.
He started the conversation with, “Well, I got your letter. And since you went to the trouble of writing, I’ll make an exception and give you the results over the phone.”
At that point, I suddenly decided that I didn’t really want to hear the results after all. Instead, I wanted to put my fingers in my ears and say, “Nah, nah, nah” so loudly that I wouldn’t be able to hear him. I wanted to shout, “No, no! Tell me Monday! Tell me Monday!”
However, since I figured that a woman shouting “Nah, nah, nah” and “Tell me Monday!” into the phone might be somewhat disconcerting to the good doctor, I managed to keep myself quiet during that wee space of eternity when the smallest of silences preceded the loudest of messages.
He said, “I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is that you have cancer. The good news is that we caught it early.”
At that moment, I had a strong sense of déjà vu because, for the previous few days, I had kept hearing in my heart, “Good news, bad news. Good news, bad news.” The doctor said exactly what I “knew” he was going to say.
We talked a few minutes more and then I hung up. And gazed unseeingly out the window. And stared at the phone in my hand. And pondered the words that had just entered my ears, my brain, my life, my existence, “You have cancer.”
I didn’t cry right then. I didn’t feel the need to. Instead, I just felt the need to hang on desperately to the numbness that had mercifully accompanied the staggering wave that had just swept through my life.
After a few minutes of standing stock still, alone in the kitchen, I finally gathered up my courage to walk upstairs to tell Steve who had been taking a fifteen minute, pre-dinner nap.
I went into the room and said, “Dr. Habal just called.”
I’ve never see Steve wake up so fast in my whole life. His eyes widened slightly and his expression intensified into a look of fast focus as he looked at me.
And I said simply, “It’s cancer.”
He was off the bed and had his arms around me before I could say anything else; we stood quietly for a few seconds, a few tears finally escaping down my face as I thought of what this news would mean for him as well as for me.
After he and I had talked about ten minutes, we realized the time had come to tell Sarah. Sweet, sweet Sarah, who has fought her own battle with her own cancer monster and won. Sweet, sweet Sarah, whose life would also be irrevocably changed by my words.
I didn’t want to tell Sarah. I wanted to shield her from the news. I wanted her mommy to be healthy and “there” for her every moment she might need me. I knew that the diagnosis would mean times spent away from her, times that I wouldn’t feel well, times when I wouldn’t always have the energy to see to her needs.
And I just didn’t want to say the words; I didn’t want to face the scenarios that my words would usher in. But it had to be done.
She was upstairs in her third floor aerie, puttering around in blissful ignorance when Steve called her down to our bedroom. When she walked into the room I quietly said, “Sarah, honey. You and I are now part of the same club.”
It took half a second for the meaning of the words to sink in. Her face crumpled into tears and she said, “Oh, Mom. Oh, no!”
And then I stood up to gather her into my arms. She cried, and I cried, and Steve stood with his arms around us both, praying for us. Praying for himself. Praying for us all. Praying for grace and peace and strength for the journey.
And as tears and love flowed through the room, we truly did feel at peace; we truly did feel that the difficult road ahead of us would be paved with grace.
After about ten minutes, we were able to talk about it a little and--in true Smith Family Fashion—even find a few things to laugh about. Because you know what? Sometimes laughter is just as healing as tears.
We tried calling Nathan but ended up just having to leave voice mail. He called back about 7 pm, just as he was going into his church to play drums for a college group meeting. When I shared the news with him, he was so sensitive and calm and compassionate. He asked the sorts of questions that I never dreamed a 20-year old College Dude would think to ask. He peered right into my heart and said the things I needed to hear. I hung up the phone feeling loved and cared for, and so very grateful for the amazing person my man child had become.
And in a wonderful “quirk” of timing, Nathan will actually be flying home this weekend for two days. Our regular drummer is going to be out of town on Easter, and since that’s a big service for us, we didn’t want to go without a drummer. The church had already made plans to bring Nathan in, not ever dreaming that when the flight was scheduled, he would arrive just a few days after my cancer diagnosis. It will be wonderful to be together as a family, if only for a few hours.
Today’s exciting medical plans include a visit to my new pulmonologist. I actually had an appointment scheduled with him three weeks ago but had to re-schedule; their next available appointment just happened to be today.
That is such perfect timing because we’re coming to realize that part of our decision making process for treatment will include how various sorts of treatment will affect my lungs. For instance, the breast doctor said that radiation can affect the lungs and the plastic surgeon said there are certain kinds of reconstruction (if I decide to go that route) which are not recommended for patients with COPD. And so to have a pulmonology appointment already scheduled during the very week we’re having to make big decisions is incredible timing.
Of course, pulmonology appointments always make me a bit nervous in themselves, because I’m always worried about whether the annual tests will show further decrease in lung capability. (For new readers: I have COPD and my lung capacity is currently about 60% of normal.)
So while I’m not overly thrilled to be going to yet another doctor’s appointment, I am thrilled about the way the timing worked out. It couldn’t be any more perfect.
And do you what’s even more perfect? The pulmonologist’s office is right across the street from my favorite thrift store.
I’m a happy woman.