“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.

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Comment by Vee Lail on September 8, 2009 at 9:03pm
Pat: Kelly and I are very sorry to hear of Tom's diagnosis. Our thoughts, prayers and good wishes are with you. We hope the treatments are going well.

Vee and Kelly Lail
Comment by Anita Bullers on August 23, 2009 at 8:53pm
I was shocked and saddened to hear the news about Tom's diagnosis. What a great team the two of you make. I've often wondered where Tom stood when it came to Duchenne and I appreciate you sharing with us...he's OUR slient partner and oh how we appreciate the two of you. I am storming heaven's gate with prayers for Tom's complete recovery.
Comment by Marilyn on August 19, 2009 at 2:58pm
Our prayers are with you and your family.
Best wishes, The Slackman's and the Fuca's
Comment by Terry Porcaro on August 18, 2009 at 4:32pm
Some families sure seem to get more than fair share of sickness. My father had colon cancer. He had symptoms for 2 years before he would even would go to a doctor. He finally did go, and he had to have surgery. He was 65 at the time. He lived to be 97 years old. The same prayers I prayed for my father, I will now pray for your husband. Pat, you are so loved and honored among this community. P.S. I hope you let us know how that belly dancing works out. Terry
Comment by Dee on August 18, 2009 at 12:15am
Wow Pat!! that must had been a blow! but your analogy of the oxygen mask surely was a wonderful way to look at life a little different,ha? Wow. We will for sure keep your familiy in our prayers. Thank you for sharing this with us.
Comment by BrodysMom on August 17, 2009 at 6:39pm
I am praying for you, Tom, and the rest of your family. I agree with the others that with you in his corner, Cancer should be afraid, VERY afraid. We love you all. Andy, Ric, Brody, Bryce, and Berklee (in spirit)
Comment by Tammy on August 13, 2009 at 10:00pm
My sister in law was diagnosed last year in June with a rare form of ovarian cancer...stage four. She is now at this time cancer free. My little Tanner is now a year old ...a cvs showed mosiac triploid...babies die shortly after birth...Tanner is alive and well. The mosiac triploid was confined to the placenta. And of course Josh....miracles do indeed happen...we will be praying Pat.
Warm wishes
Comment by Mary Sahagun on August 13, 2009 at 3:44pm
Oh Pat, you write so well giving us great visual. You have a great way of making me laugh and cry all in the same sentence. I will certainly pray for Tom, I will also remeber you in those prayers as well. You know, I wish these damn diseases presented themselves as a person instead of in a person...that way... I could give them a BIG kick in the ass! ( Like, hey... there goes DMD, let me at him).

Much Love and Prayers,
Comment by Eileen DeLong on August 13, 2009 at 9:34am
Dear Pat,
I know that you and your husband are strong enough to make it through this. 3 years before my boys were diagnosed with DMD I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I believe this happened to strengthen me for my fight for my boys. I learned so much about the medical system and how to stand up to doctors and fight for what I believed was the best plan. Just keep hope and live each day to the fullest!. My favorite quote is from Ghandi:
"Live as if you will die tomorrow, Learn as if you will live forever" . I try to live this everyday.
You and Tom will be in my prayers.
Comment by Kim Innabi on August 13, 2009 at 12:24am
Dear Pat,
Tom definitely chose the right person to travel with! There is no doubt you will get through this - you are amazing, as I'm sure your whole family is. My prayers are with you all. Wishing Tom a speedy, cancer-free recovery.

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