Got the Call
Five years ago I was sitting in my office at work when I finally got The Call. I had been nervously anticipating the news for the last three or four days, worrying about the terrified look in the nurse’s eyes after she’d taken a scoop out of the coal-black, ulcerated spider spreading its spindly legs across my scalp; moments earlier, the doctor’s friendly albeit slightly rout and disinterested demeanor grew pensive and serious when he pushed back my hair and examined the mole that had morphed from a tiny black grain to the nuclear fallout, orangutan assassin on my head.
Melanoma (the worst, most deadly form of skin cancer) is known to be 95% curable if caught in its infancy. Unfortunately my doctor botched the job, badly. His partner, who subsequently called and delivered the news, trembled when he spoke, his voice quaking over the phone. I remember fragments of what he said. The words are like hot shrapnel in my brain. When I think about them too long I am reminded that forgiveness is a practice:
“Clark’s level 5 primary tumor| Breslow depth 13mm | 22 mitosis | Ulceration present with suspected vascular invasion to lymph nodes| It’s very deep Leland.”
That moment was promptly planted with a small but powerful, mostly disturbing, undoubtedly life defining collection of flagpoles on my version of planet earth. I would struggle to tell you what I had for dinner two nights ago. But I can recall with perfect clarity where I was and what I was doing when I heard that Ronald Reagan had been shot, the Space Shuttle exploded, the Berlin wall was torn down or the World Trade Center buildings fell. The phrase ‘It’s very deep Leland’ feels no different.
My life had just changed for the rest of my life, however short that might prove to be.
Four or Five Days Earlier…
I sat nervously on the crinkled corner of an examination table in the dermatologist’s office.
“Probably nothing,” I said, hoping to bait the doctor into saying reassuring words,”Another false alarm in the life of the misguided hypochondriac, eh doc?”
There had been many frightful trips to the Dermatologist previously. I’d been going for years. Everything had been benign, chalked almost humorously to worrying. I wanted this time to be no different, another case of LVCR (Lacking Viable Cognitive Resources), microdeckia (not playing cards with a full deck), ineffective-copia, ridiculitis ginormous worryfromundus, symptomatic terminal whining also known as whinnoria, JHM (Just a Hot Mess), globus stupidicus maximus, or some other form of fictitious psychosomatic condition on my part. I wanted to blast from the office, past dolled photos of dermatologists arranged above the waiting room like lessor Greek Gods, exiting sparkling glass doors to the parking lot and the comforting arms of warm Colorado sunshine, happy to get the hay out of that place and sooo-sooo glad to have been positively mistaken, again, to call Sarah with gratitude in my voice and the Disco Biscuits pumping in the background.
Told you,” she’d tease, “it was nothing you Goof!”
None of that happened this time.
“Okay,” the doctor replied flatly, his thoughts suddenly somewhere else, “let’s see what the biopsy says in a few days and go from there okay Mr. Fay? I will call you as soon as I get the results.”
You don’t really want a Dr. addressing you formally. In my experience that’s an emotional stiff arm, signaling they don’t have time for niceties or need to a retreat into the comforting arms of emotionless, clinical jargon.
My nightmare was finally real.
After falling prostrate on my face, a frantic series of conversations with Sarah, family members, insurance representatives and receptions at doctor’s offices, I eventually found myself in full frontal, totally immersive, research mode. My tool of choice was of-course the internet and my surfboard was a laptop in bed (not with covers pulled over head but that provides a nice image and is in line with how I felt).
First the largest elephants in the room needed tackling.
How long do I likely have to live? What are my chances?
Let’s see, at the time, though no one had yet given me an official staging, I determined with the characteristics of the melanoma and the invasion into the lymph nodes, I was Stage IIIc. So that was like a 40 or 50% chance of survival. While terrifying at the time, 1:2 ain’t too bad in hindsight. In a matter of a few short months I would stared directly down the hallow barrel of a Stage IV, terminal, diagnosis with less than 5% chance and 6 weeks to 6 months, the latter if I was lucky (like Powerball-winner lucky), to live.
So Wait, um, Why?
Why relive this moment here? Why rehash the day I got the call from the teary voiced dermatologist describing the terrible misdiagnosis perpetrated, where a benign “fatty cyst” transformed into a highly virulent mega-monster melanoma-frankensaurus?
Well, it’s really a rather circuitous way to announce that we are now well past April 2017 which means that I am now well past the 5 year mark since my ‘pole in the ground’ moment.
I mentioned it last post but it was somewhat felt overshadowed by my letter to the boys. I thought such great news deserved a little more press for the 2-3 people reading this post here 0-; or for anyone who has stumbled across 98braintumors.com looking for some hope in whatever dark place they find themselves tonight.
I am now officially a 5 year cancer survivor!
5 years ago, 5 years felt like an awful long time. Got this quote in my inbox @ that time – last April 2017 – and thought it apropos in this context.
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” MLK JR.