Friday, December 26, 2008

Real Men Wear Gowns And Fight Dragons...

I begin with saying that I want any who read my blog to know that my blog is STILL a happy place. I struggled with writing here because although I have declared my blog to a "happy place" sometimes what life offers is not happy. That said, in the midst of unhappy things I have to find happy things. That is my goal -- to find happy spots in the unhappy events of life. So you know, I have not achieved my goal but that doesn't mean I am not trying.
Just a few short weeks ago we were minding our own business in life and tending to the responsibilities of being grown-ups when a dragon stepped out of nowhere and reared its ugly head. In a matter of a day our lives were turned upside-down. What a difference a day makes.
On Wednesday, December 10th Tim noticed that his lymph nodes were quite swollen on the left side of his neck. He discovered it by accident -- just by innocently placing his hand on his jaw he realized that he couldn't feel his jawbone and that his neck was swollen. He was able to get into the doctor that afternoon. The doctor checked him for strep (surely the swelling was from an infection of some sort and THAT would be the reason for the enlarged lymph nodes...) but the rapid strep was negative and so was the overnight culture they did. The next day, Thursday, December 11th they had Tim go in for blood work. On Tuesday, the 16th, they called to say the results of the blood work where normal and sent him in for an MRI of his neck. That is was the first glimpse of the dragon through a very dense fog.

Wednesday, December 17th found us in another doctor's office where we first heard the name of the dragon we had only glimpsed the day before. The dragon's name is Cancer. Cancer of the tongue. How could this be happening? How can someone who has never smoked cigarettes, chewed tobacco or drank alcohol have cancer of the tongue? How can someone who is loved by everyone who meets him have cancer of the tongue? How can my husband and eternal companion and the father of our 6 kids have cancer of the tongue?
The doctor's bedside manner was lousy -- there was no "we want to do further tests to rule out cancer" or "we don't know for sure but you may have cancer". Instead it was, "I am 90% sure you HAVE cancer." I have since learned that statistics say that when a patient hears they have cancer they hear only about 10% of what is said after that word -- cancer. I am here to tell you that statistic is true. I have since forgiven the doctor's horrid bedside manner and understand that it was important to give it bluntly because you *have* to hear them. No one is ever ready to hear those words. When the doctor left the room that day I felt like I couldn't breathe between my sobs. Tim was simply stunned and as much as his head must have been spinning with the news, he held it all in. He still has not come undone about it. I think it is a guy thing -- you've got to be "tough" you know. After all, he's fighting a dragon.

That day in the doctor's office the poking and prodding began with a FNA -- a Fine Needle Aspiration. Tim affectionately called it the "F Needle" and he says "F doesn't stand for FINE"! Six needle sticks into the angry, swollen lymph nodes to tell if the dragon has invaded. Then a scheduled biopsy of the base of the tongue six days later on Tuesday, December 23rd to determine if that is indeed the dragon's lair as suspected.

By 9:00 a.m. on biopsy day we are at the hospital and the hunt begins. The nurses as well as the anesthesiologist find it hard to believe that their 51 year old, non-smoking, non-drinking patient takes no medications and has never before had anesthesia -- this is very unusual. If I tell them I can count on one hand the number of sick days their patient has taken in the last 23 years they will find it even harder to believe. I don't say it though. What difference does all that healthiness make in the face of the cancer dragon? I don't say it but I so want to. I want to say it out loud as if saying it will make the feelings of injustice go away.

My suggestion for Tim's attire to the hospital in case he can leave his under clothing on.... :)

I am not sure why he didn't take my suggestion...

Tim is prepped and taken away and I find my way to the waiting area. I try to keep myself busy with Christmas cards that still have yet to be written. What do I say? Is it considered the height of tackiness to wish a Merry Christmas with a "P.S. Tim has cancer."? Maybe he doesn't have cancer...maybe it's all a mistake...a misdiagnosis. I promise we won't sue over the mental stressed caused by saying he had cancer and finding out he didn't. We would celebrate the mistake instead of punish it. All kinds of things run through my head while I wait to hear he's out of surgery.
Finally he's out and Dr. Comer comes to talk with me. We go into a "consulting room". A more appropriate name for that room would be "consoling room" because that is what I feel we need -- consoling. He matter-of-factly tells me it is just as they thought. All hopes for a misdiagnosis are gone. I am brave while I listen to what he tells me and I look to my notebook where I have listed the questions Tim and I both had. If I didn't write them down I might not remember what to ask. I ask our questions and with each one he says, "That's a good question...." then goes on to answer it. Maybe he tells everyone that but I want to think that we are thinking beyond the typical questions and getting to deeper, more important ones. (Tim will want to know if by cutting into the cancerous tongue will it spread?... just as he asked if sticking a needle into the angry lymph node would let other cancer cells escape through the puncture spot.) It is as though by asking "good questions" we can out smart the dragon. The dragon is not expecting us to be so alert about what is happening so maybe we can get him before he gets us.

Tim is ready to be discharged from the hospital, still groggy and nauseous but wanting to get back home. It is then that Tim, his sense of humor still very much intact even under anesthesia, tells me, "Real men wear gowns" referring to the hospital gown he got twisted up in trying to get dressed in his own clothes. Of course, he makes me laugh even under the weight of the cancer dragon being a reality. When we finally get him in the car it is raining. Somehow it is appropriate that skies are crying for us.
Now we wait....we wait for Tim's throat to heal and he will go back to the doctor on January 6th to learn what the next step will be on the road that leads into the dragon's dungeon. It is there that Tim has to descend if there is any hope for survival. The wait feels long -- too long in so many ways. The dragon is never far from our minds and maybe that is how it needs to be. We are going to battle and we have to prepare.

Preparations begin...mentally and spiritually. Mental preparation is hard as the mind plays tricks and makes us question what is to come and how get through it. How do you keep it together when the weight of the world rests on you with responsibilities piling up? Perhaps it is the unknown that adds to the weight. Spiritual preparation is bitter sweet -- in bitterness I cry out to save us from this dragon but it is in sweetness the angels come. The angels, both seen and unseen. We have seen many of them and only heard about others. Those angels are offering up many prayers in our behalf -- some we know personally but others that we don't know are doing the same. "I was a stranger and ye took me in....." Yes, they have "taken us in" to pray for us even though we are only a friend of a friend or a relative of a friend. The angels have come to wrap their arms around us and have offered their help before we even know what we will need. So yes, there are angels all around us, both seen and unseen. What a sweet gift to cherish in such difficult times.


Sierra said...

I really admire your spirit and attitude through all of this. You are such a good person and you will be blessed for having to endure this trial. Blaine and I are praying for you and keep your family in our thoughts. Please let me know if you or your family ever need anything - dinners, prayers, hugs, etc.

Julie said...

Loretta, this is so beautifully written. I am so proud of you for sharing the facts with us,as well as your personal insight and feelings. The more people who know about the ugly dragon that has invaded your life, the more people who will be joining your army. The Beylers have put on their armor, please count us among your numbers.

Patty said...

Loretta, I have been thinking, and praying for you and Tim. Thanks for opening a very private part in you to share this with others. I have been waiting and wondering and know that on this side of the country, someone is worrying with you. And having hope. I will email more!

julianne said...

OK - so I'm a blog stalker, and it's a good thing too! Otherwise I wouldn't know of your joys and triumphs as well as your heartache and struggles - all things I love sharing with you. I'm so sorry to hear of your battle with the dragon. Tim is a valiant Knight - surely he'll win the fight. We pray for you and your family, and hope you'll allow us to help in any way.