“Life can change on a dime," my father used to say. I’m not sure about the dime, but I do know life changes with a single word. Duchenne changes life. Cancer does as well.
My husband, Tom is a physician. He gives advice and lives by his own advice, taking good care of his own health. In May, Tom was scheduled for a colonoscopy. We laughed about the prep, the amount of pills he had to take, the amount of water he had to drink and of course, the number of times he was “romancing” the commode. It was lighthearted, silly in so many ways as I suggested someone could surely come up with an easier way to empty the colon for an exam and wondered just what type of person would opt to look.
The next morning I drove Tom to the outpatient surgical center for the colonoscopy. The anesthesiologist said he would do just fine, that the anesthesia was light and recovery easy. The gastroenterologist said the actual exam would be fairly quick. It was actually. I watched the doctor enter the recovery room to report on the exam. He was not smiling. It was pretty clear he had something to say. He talked very generally about benign polyps and, as if an afterthought, said “Well… there was something I could not visualize very well, but I was able to biopsy. If it is ‘nothing’ we will remove it with a similar procedure and if it is ‘something’ you will need to see a surgeon.”
I wish doctors would realize the impact of what is not said. Seems to me it would have been better if he had said ‘looks like a malignant lesion, we will need to wait for the pathology report to confirm and from that, we will make a plan’. It is a medical dance, trying to alert the patient but not frighten, but in the end, you are frightened because of what was not said. I knew.
The rest of the story is familiar to all of us, similar themes, but different diagnosis. Biopsy confirmed cancer. Surgeon called, suggested surgery. Surgery showed an invasive lesion. Local oncologists called in. Not sufficient by my standards, we needed advice from physicians who write the textbooks on colon cancer. We needed the best and brightest and a clear plan of action. But, similar to Duchenne, there is a treatment regimen that comes with a lot of uncertainty about the future.
I closed my eyes and thought about sitting in the plane hearing the words “In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will descend from the ceiling. Take the mask and pull it over your face and breathe normally. If you are traveling with a small child, secure YOUR mask before assisting your child or, in this case, your husband.” Our life, as we knew it, was losing cabin pressure. I put on the mask, sucked in the oxygen, gathered my courage and knew I would have to put one foot in front of the other.
And I had to find a way to lighten the load, so I decided to sign up for Belly Dancing lessons. Toxicity from the oxygen mask maybe, but at my age, will certainly generate a smile from Tom and it isn’t the first time in my life, that I find myself doing whatever it takes to generate a smile. And smiling will help lift the spirit, and with luck will restore a bit of cabin pressure and the ability to ‘assist Tom with his oxygen mask’, and a safe (cancer free) landing.
Add a prayer for Tom. Round one – radiation treatments and chemo are complete. We head into round two at the end of August.