This journal is meant to serve two purposes: First, and foremost, to help others that find themselves instantaneously thrown into a life or death fight against cancer. There’s no soft, cushy way to put it. It’s a fight from Day 1 and we want you to know, as other’s have shown us, that you are not alone: that the delays and set-backs are not yours alone to suffer. No one wants this and no one expects this, but it does happen. Kathy wants to help others come to terms with, and learn from everything we experience on this journey. The second purpose of this journal is so that friends and family can follow our progress, experiences, and whatever else crops up so your not left totally in the dark. We are fortunate to have every last one of you in our lives. This support system is a true blessing!
So, let us begin the journey…
Friday, November 17, 2017 – My wife and I have hiked numerous trails, in numerous states over the past 9 years of marriage. Today, at 3:45 PM, amidst confusion, fear, and countless questions, we tentatively set foot on this newest path – a path that will ultimately lead to outsmarting, outflanking, and destroying this bastard called Lung Cancer.
“Okay doctor, why did you call me in early for the CAT scan results?” My wife and I have been nervously awaiting this appointment – an appointment moved up two weeks at the request of her doctor. “Is it bad news?”
Dr. Alexander Fruchter, one of those rare doctors that has genuine concern for his patients on a basic, human level, responds, “I’m afraid it’s not good news.”
The words you hear about, but never in a million years think will be heard by your own ears. I slowly get up from my seat along the wall and sit behind my wife on the examination table.
“There’s a mass at the center of your right lung…,” I’m not certain of the exact words in the discussion that follow, but I am absolutely certain of one thing, the odds given that this mass is cancerous…a 999 chance out of 1,000.
And so, tentatively, we each place a foot on this path to recovery.
Monday, November 20th – The first weekday after learning of this cancer is a busy one. Like most of you out there Kathy and I must work full time. Both Kathy and I felt a tremendous amount of love that first day. We start the day off by telling our bosses. Both of us have a difficult time putting the facts into words because of these new, raw emotions that are still in the shock phase of understanding.
I will start with Kathy’s morning. She still isn’t ready to share this knowledge with the world (Hence this journal being released more than 4 weeks after learning of the lung cancer). She does share the news with a few special friends that need to know, not only for work purposes but because they hold a special place in my wife’s heart. The meetings are difficult, but I must point out several things that stand out to her. One being the amount of support by everyone with comments like, “Don’t you worry about work. We got your back!” Another note worthy topic comes as a joke. It was directed at a friend that likes to wear wigs. Kathy mentioned that she might need to borrow the red one from her friend’s collection. This humor broke the sadness and will be a very important part of Kathy’s recovery. That’s just the kind of girl Kathy is and I think it will help her by venting some of the fear, anxiety, and confusion from her mind.
All the offers of prayers and aide that came in numerous forms is very touching to Kathy’s soul…Thank you all very much!
My day started off similar. I tell my boss about the diagnoses and am told not to worry about my job. “I got your back”. Throughout the day people that are closest to me notice my disconnect from the world and ask if I am okay. I need to thank you all for your offers to help in any way you can. Where it be prayers, feeding pets, or just being there to talk to. Thank you all so very much.
On my first break I call Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a facility recommended to us by Dr. Fruchter on the previous Friday. I am told that no appoint can be made until a biopsy is taken of the mass and a report made up. All I can do is give him Kathy’s insurance information and take a list of things he needs me to have faxed over to him to get the ball rolling ASAP.
I then call Dr. Fruchter’s office and speak to Jill, his nursing assistant. I tell her about Sloan’s request for the CAT scan report. She tells me not to worry, she will fax it right away. Jill is a true angel. Thank you for making things so easy for us!
Not wanting to have any unpleasant surprises down the road, and wanting to cover every base which is my responsibility in Kathy’s recovery, I call my bank to talk about a loan in case it should be needed. I meet my banker after work and am offered the perfect type of loan that gives me a line of credit and only charges me interest on what I need to take from it. This relieves a ton of worry for me and I think if you find yourself in this situation this should be one of the first things you do if you don’t have unlimited funds.
Tuesday, November 21st – Kathy is admitted into the cancer ward of Orange Regional Medical Center and a biopsy is scheduled for the morning of November 22nd.
That night, as I lie on my cot I start using an evil thing called google to play doctor and learn a little more about what we are up against. It takes exactly 3 minutes for me to turn as white as the sheet that covers me and feel a painful hollowness forming deep in my gut. My wife notices but I can’t tell her until I have discussed my findings with the nurse. A half hour later, after aging 10 years with this new knowledge that I have acquired from The University of Google, I finally step outside to seek out a nurse. There she is, in front of her mobile computer! I walk over to her and with a weak arm I lift my phone. A slow, hesitant finger points to the diagnosis my extensive investigation has unearthed. The nurse looks at me in shock, and smiles at the same time. “Don’t look up things like that! Look at her perfect blood work. It couldn’t be that.” The relief is instantaneous. I go back into the room, X out of that google page forever, and explain to Kathy the strange behavior that she has already sensed in me. Also, the nurse I had spoken to tells the nursing coordinator, who in turn tells the doctor, which leads to me being reamed out in a very polite way. Lesson learned…the hard way.
Sooo, NEVER, EVER, EVER use google to look up symptoms. I learned then that there are layers and layers and layers of factors that go into figuring out this complicated disease. It’s laughable when I think about it now but I will never forget the terror this venture caused me. Be patient and the correct information will come to you from those that spent many years studying it.
Wednesday, November 22nd – Biopsy day arrived with Katie, the youngest daughter, and her husband Lou knocking on the door. Our eldest daughter, Danielle, works in the medical field and is sick with worry from afar, unable to escape work to be with us. Text messages from her are blowing up my wife’s phone with love and encouraging messages. Katie has climbed onto her mom’s bed and placed her head on Mamma’s lap. I think to myself, how can this be?
As noon approaches, and the morning slowly slips away we begin getting testy with the nurses. Nurses, by the way, that are angels sent from heaven in my opinion. Finally, we are told there is someone on the table and once their procedure is complete Kathy will be next. We wait…and wait…and wait. Finally, we are informed that the procedure has been cancelled, Kathy will be discharged, and we will have to return in 7 days, on November 29th for the biopsy to be done through out-patient. WHAT!!
Understandably, the valve on the pressure cooker fails. Things are said without thinking them through. Angels are made to feel shame by me as I go into the hallway for a private session away from my wife. All for nothing. These ladies can do nothing, only pass on the message. “I want to speak to Dr. Fruchter immediately!” I say as I head back into my wife’s room.
I mention all of this because I acted on impulse, and in error. I learned of my error as soon as I reentered my wife’s room and sat down beside her. Can you believe that my wife, this beautiful person that has just begun a fight for her life, is the one to make me see things differently? With tears in her eyes she says, “Who am I to take that spot on the surgery table if an emergency came up and someone needed to get help right away? If that’s me one day I hope they will do the same for me.”
My anger, fear, and confusion seem to melt away, followed immediately by a wave of quilt as I think of how I had behaved. Within minutes I receive the call from the doctor that I had requested in anger out in the hall.
“Michael, I don’t know what happened.” I actually hear his voice crackle with emotion as he goes on, “I came as close as I ever have to quitting medicine when I heard about this.” Of course I tried to take the blame from him but I was still frazzled with emotional drain and I couldn’t get the point across as clearly as I wished too.
Before we leave, I go over to the nurse’s station and apologize for my anger. I tell them all that I love them and mention that they are angels sent from heaven to comfort my wife. My wife does the same and is in tears as she gives them a hug. The first thing I do when we get home is call Dr. Fruchter’s office. I am able to, with a much clearer head explain to him how thankful Kathy and I are for him finding this cancer so early. I don’t think many doctors would have ordered the chest scan with the symptoms she was showing. I explain that with this early detection, and not knowing how long this mass had been in her lung, another week to wait is nothing. The relief I hear in his voice proves to me that I have done the right thing.
I want you all to remember that if you find yourselves in the same boat as Kathy and me then you will be meeting the kindest, gentlest, most caring people in the world. Please think things through before you hurt them, okay.
Thursday, November 23, 2017, Thanksgiving Day – The next morning, Kathy and I wake up in our own bed. While lying there we discuss this blog idea – wanting to help others destined to follow us on this path to recovery. Already, we have both learned that mistakes, misunderstandings, high expectations, and let downs are going to form countless bumps and barriers along this journey. No one should feel that they are alone when these bumps and barriers present themselves, and everyone should be prepared for it when they do.
Our first mistake is to expect speed – to assume that we will go straight to laying a plan out with our chosen oncologist to fight this thing. It’s like a pressure cooker in your core, ready to explode because of the steps you must to go through in order to get started healing! Confusion, fear, anger, and uncertainty only add to the build-up of pressure.
The importance of a support system is just now becoming apparent to me. We definitely have that in our loving family and numerous friends who have offered prayers, either from them alone or in prayer groups at church or through starting prayer chains. Kathy and I are firm believers in the Power of Prayer and these offers are more important to us than you can ever imagine! Thank you!!
Also, the true meaning of love becomes crystal clear in this time of fear and confusion. You want to protect, you want to take the place of, you want to take away the fear, you want to comfort, you want to…you want to…you want to. Your helpless, afraid, confused, and hurting inside. You walk around all day, lost in thoughts of the sounds of laughter or the special light that shines in the eyes that are directed at you because you said something corny that caused laughter from someone who truly loves you. Memories of good times permeate your thoughts throughout the day, causing you to drift off into another time, a happy place, an unforgettable moment.
You must get that fire burning bright and hot in your belly to fight this bastard!