Part III: Confirmation

The third part of an ongoing series

A few days after being released from the hospital, it was time to visit the doctors who had been providing Ann’s care during her stay. First on the list was Dr. F, the oncologist.

At this point we weren’t quite sure why we were scheduled to see him. From all indications, and according to both doctors, the mass was not cancerous. Regardless, we kept the appointment.

This was the first time either of us had been to an oncologist. Fortunately, at least up until this point in our lives, the two of us have remained relatively healthy and free from any serious illnesses. With that in mind, let me tell you about an oncology office.

They are quite simply the most depressing places on earth. As we sat in the lobby waiting to be called, we could see beds beyond the reception area with IV bags hanging from shiny chrome stands next to them. Patients walking by with the stand receiving their chemotherapy with needles and tubes in different parts of their body. Relatives/spouses/children of patients walking out of the office in tears. Overhearing stories of what sort of therapy someone had to go through, then watching them slowly hobble out the door struggling to live whatever may be left of their lives.

It’s not an easy thing to see.

When Ann was called, we were directed to a room and waited for Dr. F. to arrive. Our room had a SpaceX poster autographed by Elon Musk. I stared at that longer than Dr. F.’s certifications that were hanging all over the walls.

Dr. F. finally arrived and greeted us. He brought along a laptop which had the results of all of the testing she had done at the hospital. He explained everything in detail but mentioned something specifically the needed attention.

“During the scan, we noticed these lesions on the left side near the hip,” he said as he turned the laptop to show us. “What we need to do is to determine exactly what those lesions are, which will require a biopsy.”

Ann’s bottom lip began to quiver as she held back tears. It wasn’t long before they started running down her cheek. Dr. F. handed her some tissue as he assured her that in most cases he had seen, the results are normally negative.

“We have to be sure it’s nothing. But based on what you feel and the location of the mass, I’m not convinced it’s anything to worry about.” In his professional opinion, the lesions were simply the result of arthritis.

We left Dr. F.’s office and walked back to the car. Ann couldn’t hold back anymore. She took a deep breath and looked at me. She had pretty much tuned out everything after the talk of the biopsy.

“So is it cancer?”

“From what he thinks, the lesions aren’t. But the mass on the kidney might be, which is why you need the biopsy to make sure the lesions aren’t.”

A few days later, we had a visit with Dr. P. Like Dr. F., his laptop was his window to Ann’s case and he went over his thoughts and how we were going to take care of it.

“The mass on the kidney is 5 cm. We could work to remove just the cancer itself but there’s no guarantee that it won’t return, so if you have no objections to it, I’d recommend removing the entire kidney which would ultimately remove the cancer as well.”

This was the first time we heard either doctor mention “cancer” during our conversations. Ann and I looked at each other and we both cried. Dr. P. immediately consoled us.

“Ann, I’m going to do everything I can to take care of this. The good thing is that kidney cancer is something that has a high survival rate once the kidney and cancer are removed.”

He then went over the procedure he would most likely be doing in order to remove it, complications, recovery time, etc. Any way you look at it, it was not a good day.

You always hear of other people getting some kind of cancer and you never think it will happen to you or someone you love. However, when it does, I can’t even begin to describe the emotions you go through.

Fear. Anger. Denial. Solitude. It will really mess with your mind.

When we got home, we all sat and talked about it. Despite the gloom and doom of the diagnosis of cancer, in the back of my mind I knew everything was going to be fine. It’s the only way to keep a sense of normalcy in your life after you get such shocking news.

But something happened to confirm this.

After the family talked things over, we got together and had a big family hug. We needed each other more than ever at this point. As we cried and talked about how we were going to be strong throughout all of this, I raised my head up to temporarily leave the discussion.

I sensed something strong in the room – a presence. It spoke to me and I smiled.

Ann looked up at me and asked what was going on. Still smiling, I answered.

“You’re going to be alright,” I said as I started to cry. “I just felt Uncle Lou tell me this. I saw him. He just stood there laughing, waved his hand and said ‘Bah, she’s going to be fine.’”

All you need to know about Uncle Lou can be read here. He was a great man and I miss him terribly.

Later that night, Ann asked why Uncle Lou would be the one to give me this news.

As I wrote in another blog post about him, “…he’ll just show up at your door unannounced. That’s not unusual until you consider that he lives in northern California, exact location unknown, and we’re in southern California.”

So for him to just show up the way he always did was nothing out of the ordinary. But being we rarely saw him, he hardly had the chance to get to know Ann and she was puzzled as to why I saw him and more importantly, why he would say she’d be fine.

Uncle Lou died on March 1, 2013. That’s just over 5 years ago.

Ann’s birthdate is March 1. The cancerous mass on her kidney is 5 cm.

It could have been anyone, but I’m not disappointed or surprised it was Uncle Lou. I can still see him and hear him saying those exact words.

Everything was going to be alright and there was no real reason to question it. Despite this, the next few days would be some of the worst I would ever experience when trying to deal with Ann’s diagnosis.

Part II: Hospital Stay

Part II of an ongoing series

With Ann staying the night in the hospital, I had to make some calls and send emails. First, I had to call her parents then send an email to the boss and my coworkers letting them know I would be absent at least for the day.

The latter was easy. The former, not so much.

Ann’s mom doesn’t speak to you in most cases. She questions you, and I was ready for a barrage of questions upon calling her. And that’s exactly what I got.

“Oh, so she’s staying? Well, why didn’t you take her to the ER in the first place? How long will she be there? Do they know what it is? Why do the have to keep her?”

The list can go on but I did my best to answer them all. Everything was still too fresh and I didn’t have all of the info to properly respond during my interro…conversation with her.

Ann lay in the triage waiting to be put in the queue for two different types of imaging: an ultrasound and CT scan. Apparently the ER is a rockin’ place for such things on a Thursday morning.

It would be hours before she was wheeled away for the ultrasound and I went along with her.

She was taken into a dark room and then went into the restroom where she donned her aforementioned hospital gown. The technician described what they were going to be doing and she was okay with it; nothing she hadn’t already experienced during her pregnancy.

I was watching the technician intently as she was doing the ultrasound and it looked all too familiar: zooming in on blobby imagery and taking measurements. In the case of pregnancy, that means they are measuring the size of the fetus but when you know it’s not there’s obviously some cause for concern. Right then I figured something wasn’t right.

Ann was then wheeled down another hallway into a room for her CT scan, one of many she would have over the duration of her hospital stay.

And hospitals are freaky places. Cold, freaky places that simply are not home sweet home. This was my takeaway as we followed nurse after nurse after technician down what seemed like endless hallways that all lead somewhere – really Twilight Zone-ish.

As I followed her and the technician down another hallway, we were greeted by a group of police officers who were standing at the doorway of a room. I’m not sure of the circumstances but they were all looking in the room at who I believe was a suspect of some kind. A female officer smiled and waved at Ann as we passed.

I wasn’t allowed in the room as the CT scan was performed which is understandable. I sat outside the room where my wife’s body was being bombarded with radiation, each flash of the “X-RAY IN PROGRESS” sign above the doorway letting me know when it was happening. After the scan, she was taken back to the triage where we waited for the results.

The day dragged on and Ann and I talked about what was happening. She told me she was scared and rightfully so. I held her hand and bowed my head thinking about just what in the world may have been going on. Finally, a doctor came by with some news.

“Looking at the ultrasound, there appears to be some kind of abnormality around the uterus. It’s hard to determine exactly what it might be at this stage but one possibility is an ectopic pregnancy.”

That news alone was a heart-wrenching. With an ectopic pregnancy, there’s no chance of survival for the fetus and it’s likely that the mother could suffer from internal bleeding which could kill her. It’s just a reminder of how many things can go wrong during a pregnancy, and how a pregnancy that produces a healthy baby truly is a miracle – women are indeed stronger than men.

As painful as it was to hear that news, we knew that a pregnancy was out of the question. We’re not exactly spring chickens anymore.

When the results of the CT scan came back, the abnormality shifted from the uterus to the adrenal gland and it now had a size: 5 cm. Now the course of action was to keep Ann at the hospital for blood work and a daily urine sample in order to check the hormone levels in her system. If the abnormality was on the adrenal gland, the hormone levels would be low.

I stayed with Ann as long as I could until she told me to go have dinner and get some sleep. We left Anthony at home and sent him updates as I found things out.

Her first night in the hospital was strange. The bed at home felt so empty. I felt so alone. After 25 years, this just didn’t feel right.

Her hormone levels remained acceptable her entire stay. The second day, she was visited by a urologist (Dr. P) and oncologist (Dr. F). Dr. P had a little more detail on things. I arrived in time to hear him speak.

“Looking further, it appears that the mass is on the outside of the kidney and not the adrenal gland as we had originally thought,” he said. At this point, the abnormality was just referred to as a mass but Ann was worried after a visit from Dr. F.

That’s because an oncologist studies cancer. He was called because the scan showed not only an abnormality but also what appeared to be lesions in her hip bone, so he needed to let her know there’s a possibility of something else going on inside her body.

As if, already scared, she needed something else to worry about.

“I will look at it and if it’s nothing to worry about, you won’t see me again,” Dr F. said as Ann lightly sobbed.

After Ann was released from her three-day hospital stay, we would be seeing both doctors within a week.

That nothing was something after all.