Today is the twenty third anniversary of one of three days that changed the course of my life forever.
Tears were streaming down his face when he said, "You have Hodgkins Disease." He did not say the c word, even when pressed. We asked what we were to do next and words like further testing, surgeries, and oncologist were uttered. I left Dr. Gozum's office in a fog. I called Dr. Salmi (my general practitioner) to try and get in later that afternoon to figure out what we were to do next. The receptionist told me there was nothing open. My mom took the phone from me, and rather bluntly told the receptionist to open something up because I had just been diagnosed with cancer and we needed to get some answers. Miraculously something just happened to be open at the end of the day.
Dr. Salmi DID say the c word. He also had recommendations for two different oncologists, both out of the same practice. One male, one female. He had a higher recommendation for the male, Dr. Sborov. So, because I had no issue with male doctors, I chose him. This turned out to be an excellent choice for a number of reasons that may be revealed in a later post.
It is really weird how I can remember the details of that day. Because I have always had kind of a muddy memory for stuff like this. The sun was shining that day when we went to both doctor's offices. Between appointments, we went to Applebee's for lunch (and for years, I could not set foot in an Applebee's because it was too emotionally painful, in retrospect we should have went to Bennigan's because they are all out of business now!) Sunny days in February are actually fairly infrequent in Minnesota. Sunny days in February that are not accompanied by subzero temperatures and windchills are exceedingly rare. It was sunny and warm (by Minnesota winter standards).
I remember going to visit some friends at the House of Too Many Rooms that evening and breaking the news to everyone and just crying in the living room of the house. I am grateful that I am still friends with a lot of the people that were there that evening. I am also exceedingly grateful that they were all there. I would have never made it through all that without their love and support. They loved me when my body was broken and dysfunctional. They loved me when my hair was falling out, and when my skin was burned so bad from the radiation that it had turned purple. They loved me when I was overcome by all the emotional shit one goes through when faced with catastrophic illness. They allowed me to just be where I was at, no judgment, just love. And they helped me fight. I have a special place in my heart, always, for one person in particular, who, by serendipity, was closest to me through this, and handled the intensity of it all with grace, sensitivity, and humor. My friends and family were strong when I could not be.
The next month was filled with doctor appointments, "minor" procedures (both the lymphangiogram and the bone marrow biopsy could be classified by the Geneva Convention as torture modalities), CT scans and ultimately the abdominal surgery, which removed my spleen, my appendix, and several lymph glands. The cancer had not advanced to my abdomen. I started my radiation therapy when I was still in the hospital recouperating from the abdominal surgery.
My life became daily trips to the hospital for my rads, daily fluoride treatments for my teeth because my saliva glands were knocked out by the radiation, and weird dietary considerations because most foods were too difficult to swallow. For months, I lived on mashed potatoes, gravy and Ensure "shakes". Note to anyone who may end up having to drink Ensure for their nutrition: avoid the strawberry flavor. I joined support groups, I took a leave of absence from work, I hung out with and clung to my friends, and I went to the doctor, a lot. I was thin even before the cancer, but because I was not able to eat a variety of foods, I lost weight and became rather anorexic looking. Real sexay....not! In those days, I looked like walking death. It was really frightening to look in the mirror.
I am still not really all that sure if the old adage, "what does not kill you makes you stronger" is true. I survived it, but still have a lot of lingering baggage from it, both physical and emotional. I am not sure one ever truly gets over cancer.