“It appears you have lymphoma,” the oncologist said.
Carol and I sat in stunned silence.
“This is where you talk,” he said.
“I… what? How, what?” I replied.
“It’s a very aggressive form of lymphoma but it’s very treatable. We must keep you in the oncology ward as it requires intense treatment.”
“It’s Friday, so it’s too late to get you in this weekend,” he continued, “but we expect to have a room for you on Monday.”
“Can it wait until Tuesday? I have a concert to go to on Monday.” It was the only thing that came to my mind at the moment, other than I will not survive this treatment. This is how I die. Cancer at age 30.
The oncologist laughed, “Certainly. Tuesday it is. We will give you a call when your room is ready.”
He looked at us for a moment. “There is a support person you can talk to right now if you need to.”
We accepted and were sent to a room where a psychologist of some sort was waiting for us. I told her my mind was a mess and I don’t know what to make of anything. She performed a guided meditation. When she was done, I felt calmer. Next to me, Carol was crying.
Just before we left, the oncologist poked his head in the room. “Just to clarify, we will not be starting the treatment on Tuesday. We have to run a few more tests to be sure what it is. Although our tests so far show that you have the genetic markers for this type of lymphoma, it is, as I said, a very aggressive type. You should be in a lot of pain right now but you are not, so we will run more tests in the oncology ward first before beginning treatment.”
You’ll have to forgive me if I’m not remembering his words correctly. It was 8 years ago, and I’m certainly no doctor. I keep remembering “5 months” from this discussion, as in the chemotherapy would last that long, but I’m not sure if that sounds right. Being an inpatient for 5 months? I don’t know.
We left the hospital and I stood there, breathing the cool January air and looking at the light blue sky. I wanted to stay in that moment forever.
I called my dad and managed to get out the word, “I” before my throat closed up and I had to hand the phone to Carol to give him the news.
I spent the weekend looking up treatment alternatives then discussion forums on this particular lymphoma. Posts that said, “Help! My husband/sister/aunt/brother has this,” and the update several months later, “[relative] has passed away. Thank you for all your support.” I was a dead man, as far as I was concerned. I was in my last months of life.
I enjoyed the Monday night concert and on Tuesday, I tried to carry on as usual. As it got later in the day, I started to feel hopeful they would never call. I thought that would be great, then I could go out and have fun in my last days instead of having chemicals put in my body and die a miserable, slow death.
The call came in the late afternoon. I answered while Carol was on the other phone with a relative. I began packing in a panic, losing my mind. Carol got off the phone and asked what I was doing.
“I’m packing. I gotta go. I’m packing. I’m just packing!” I cried then left for the bedroom. I screamed into the pillow. I wanted to jump right out of my stupid, failure of a body.
Carol came up to the bedroom, holding Sam. “Please no!” I yelled, “Please, you can’t let him see me like this! He can’t remember me like this!”
They both hugged me as I repeated, “I can’t… I can’t… I can’t do this.”
The first week in the hospital, nothing happened. I was going stir-crazy, stuck in a room with a laptop and some movies. Carol would bring some things from home to me but I was too cranky to be appreciative. One night, the doctor allowed me to leave for the evening. I went to the mall with Carol and Sam. It was a nice distraction from being alone in a room, surrounded by rooms filled with cancer patients. I never spoke to any of them. I just couldn’t.
After a week, one morning a doctor came in my room and told me to stop eating breakfast. They were going to remove my spleen. It wasn’t going to be a normal splenectomy either, they needed to make a large incision to remove the whole thing intact to perform their tests.
Let’s get this over with, I thought.