At 2:30 in the morning of October 3, 2015, I was a typical 64-year-old woman with graying hip-length hair in a ponytail, a bad case of pneumonia, and a searing pain in my shoulder, riding shotgun in my husband’s Toyota truck, barely able to breathe – on the way to our local hospital’s emergency room.
By 5:12 am, I had cancer.
On September 29, I visited our local urgent care with a pain in my right chest and a cough that could wake the dead, nearly fainting from taking the 35 steps between parking lot and registration desk.
It Only Hurts When I Breathe
The folks with the CT machine took a peek; the nurse-practitioner took a listen to the wheezing and crackling, and announced that I had a nice case of pneumonia. That’s ok. Throw enough antibiotics in the way and pneumonia departs. Boom.
Went home, started taking the pills – all’s fine and dandy until Saturday morning.
Around 2AM, a small pain under my right shoulder transformed into a javelin that pierced scapula, trapezius, bundles of muscle and nerve, ligament and cartilage, and emerged from my right chest. I did my best not to cough while waiting for the pain to go away. It didn’t. Reluctantly, I woke Erik and asked him to drive me to the ER.
The on-call physician ordered a CT with contrast. Off I went in a chauffeured wheelchair, biting back coughs and invectives until a magical dose of pain meds kicked in.
An hour or so later as I rested in the ER, dizzy and groggy from pain meds and lack of sleep, the doctor came back in.
I can’t give his exact words. I don’t remember what they were. But he did not start with, “You’d better sit down and be very calm because…”
He started with something like, “Well, the CT showed the pneumonia is a bit better than… oh and by the way… cancer.”
” … which would explain the pain in your shoulder blade because …”
” … and by using the contrast, we are able to see … ”
” … so I’ll refer you to … you will want to see an … ”
“Gimme a C!!”
” … blah blah oncologist blah blah diagnostics blah blah confirm blah blah biopsy … ”
By then I’d tuned out everything but the echoing CANCER word that kept bouncing off the walls of the examination room.
“Gimme an A!”
Erik and I stared at each other, then at the doctor. He kept babbling. Using words. None of which were getting past the elephant in the room with the big brass sign on his neck that read CANCER.
“Wait. What?” The elephant belched, and the big brass CANCER sign shimmered in the bright ER lights.
“By performing the CT with contrast, they were able to … ”
“Gimme an N!”
By then, the numbness was starting to fade, replaced by a vague feeling of disbelief. Nahhhh. We’re asleep. This is just a bad dream.
“GIMME A C!!”
“Of course, there are several oncologists on this list that you will want to call as soon as possible, as well as surgeons.”
The rest of the morning was a bit of a blur. I think we went home. We must have.
I know I called my middle sister Laura, who showed up ten minutes later from 1,300 miles away and stayed right by my side through the first even-more-blurry weeks – the surgeon visit, the biopsy and bronchoscopy, —GIMME An E!!!— the vague sensation of walking, the surreal feeling that everything was happening at the far end of a kaleidoscope, four lightyears out in space. I know Erik made his plane to take his trip Back East, although I have no idea how he did that magic. More importantly, I know he made it home as rapidly as he could—cutting his trip short by days.
“GIMME AN R!”
And sure enough, when all was said and done, and all the poking and prodding, CT and MRI scans were complete, biopsy performed, frantic phone calls and hectic trips to oncologists and surgeons and treatment centers and imaging services…
What’dya know. Cancer elephant farted…
… and, by golly, I’ve got cancer.