Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The start of a weekend.

 My weekend of May 4th, more or less began at 4:30 Friday, when my
phone rang. I was at work, staying late to wrap up some loose odds and
ends. I looked at the phone and saw the number. I knew who it was, I
recognized the extension. When I put it to my ear, I recognized my
surgeon's voice. Three days ago she had performed the open biopsy on
my leg. The large sample was taken in order to try and help identify a
fast going lump that a needle biopsy had failed to ID two weeks

I wasn't expecting results yet, we were all braced for a two to three
week wait. But news had come early.

"And the news isn't good," she said. It was cancer, specifically Lymphoma.

"I'm sorry" she said, but I cut her off before she could elaborate.

"Don't apologize." I said firmly. "This isn't your fault, and you've

already done more, and behaved more honorably than many who came
before you. You did you're job, and there is no need to apologize for
that that." I wasn't mad, but my first instinct was that I wasn't
going to survive on sympathy. This was Cancer, a disease that we
don't even fully understand the cause of. There was no blame to be
assigned, so getting mad wasn't going to help me any more than apology
from the doctor.

The surgeon promised me that she was going to get me referred to an
oncologist as fast as possible; I should expect a call Monday morning.

Even in the regretful tone in her voice, I hear the resolve that told
me she would back that up, my cause was in good hands for the moment.

The first people I told were my supervisor and coworker, a choice
based on happenstance; they were there when I hung up with the doctor.
Jamie had overseen my whole team at Dell since our first week of
training, and knew that I was dealing with an unknown (even to me)
medical issue. Robbie and I were classmates with a shared background
of corrections and emergency service. Two barrel-chested titans with
enough in common to bond in true explosive male fashion. Now we were
team mates, on the front lines of Dell's ongoing struggle against bad
parts, lazy customers and any other disaster that could befall a
modern computer.

I called them into one of the conference rooms, both of them bewildered at
my grim-faced summons.

I remember distinctly understanding the phrase "someone walking over
my own grave"  in a whole new way when I said the words "its cancer"
to them. It’s not that I thought I was going to die. Far from it, my
decision to fight was codifying even then. But for the first time in
my life, I was realistically looking at a challenge where defeat
literally meant death. The stakes of this game had just been set, and
it was my life on the betting table.

Jamie was in an interesting place, a manager locked into the strict
rules of confidentiality and legal red tape. But still, she'd shown
already that she was ready and willing to go to bat for her team, and
I knew I would need that in the months to come. The look on her face
when I told her the news rather exactly mirrored my own emotions. I
suppose we all knew the possibility existed; but so does getting hit
by a bus, and that doesn't make the event any less devastating.
Perhaps the most oddly comforting words that day were when she said to
me "You do what you have to do, I'll take care of scheduling."

Robbie had the type of pain in his eyes I long ago learned to call a
"warrior's ache". He, like myself, is a man built, body and spirit, to
confront an adversary head on. Had we been pedestrians on a dark
street, suddenly confronted by a mugger, there's no doubt that Robbie
would be ready to charge if it came to it. But here, violence offered
no answers, leaving people like us with only support to offer. He
offered that, and I knew that if asked, he would move heaven and earth
at my request.

In the end, I told them both that while my medical history is nobody's
business but my own, the reality of the situation would become
apparent to anyone soon enough. I told them both "Look, obviously I'm
not looking for advertisement, but if someone asks an intelligent
question, please, don't insult that intelligence." I guess in the end,
it little more than permission to verify the obvious I was giving
them, but still, I wanted to offer some assurances, some protection
from the mountain of legalities and technicalities that hang over
everyone's heads these days.

As Jamie and Robbie filed out of the room, I pulled out my phone to
tell my spouse. Ever since our days as a dating college couple, she'd
referred to me as her "better two thirds", in reference to the fact
that I was almost literally twice her mass and a full foot taller than
her. Meggan's strength has always been a matter of quiet resolve that
feeds off of my own titanic emotions. Together there was little that
could shake us.

But today we would not be together, at least not the way we always
were. I wouldn't be there to hug her and hold her as she processed the
news. There was no model for this event, no way for me to know how she
would take it. I dialed the phone, heard her voice and just said it.
"I heard from the doctor, it's cancer."

Had our roles been reversed, I don't even think I would want to guess
how I would take such a statement. A threat of any type to the woman I
have decided to spend my life with would put fire in my heart, and
possibly break my spirit outright.

But in the moments following, I heard the type of quiet strength that
even now can't fully understand. "I understand." she said calmly. "You
do what you have to do there at work, then come home so we can talk. We
will get through this just fine, dear." She said the last like she
was explaining to a child that she sun would indeed rise in the east
the next morning. The quiet assurance of the given, the strength of a
wife's resolve that dares even the strongest of specters to challenge
her. Even now, days later, I don't fully understand how it is that she
can be this strong in the face of something so scary, but she is, and
I all the more grateful for it.

There was one more person I wanted to tell. When my team first hit the
floor after training, our coach was a soft spoken, but earnest and
sincerer black man named Taurrie. He'd left his mark with consistent
pressure, kind words, enthusiastic praise and honesty. Since then, the
coaches were shifted around like an administrative game of musical
chairs. Still, the friendships formed in those early weeks held fast
for some of us, and in the months and weeks leading up to this, I had
sought council and conversation with Taurrie as I patiently waited for
modern medicine to name my ailment.

Now that the news had come, I owed the man a face to face statement.
In true Taurrie fashion, he received the news with true quiet resolve
and returned the effort with quiet strength in his own words of
support. It was what I expected from the man, and I wasn't really
surprised to hear the words, but that the same time I was glad for
them. he asked if I was going to be okay, obviously asking how I would
do over the rest of the weekend. I told him I would be fine, honestly
I don't think I know how to "lose it" under pressure. I may well make
bad decisions, but I'm not going to just snap and run around like a
crazed person.

Still, one thing nagged at my mind; how was I going to tell my six
year old son?

I'll never forget Taurrie's answer for as long as I live. "Well,
here's what I would say. I'd sit him down, and tell him that daddy's
sick, and the doctors are going to make him better, but it’s going to
be a lot of work, and take a lot of time. And what Daddy needs you to
do to help him out, is to find something new every day that will make dad smile."

For the first time since getting the word half an hour ago, I finally
had a way to engage the youngest member of my family with the hardest
news I had ever gotten. My wife already knew, and I knew that soon the
rest of my friends and extended family would know as well. I knew deep
down that attitude would be a huge part of this fight, and behind
that, support of friends and family.

By the time it was all said and done, I walked out the door around
5:30 that afternoon. I was still shaken, still scared and still
completely unsure of what I was going to do when I got home. But at
the same time, I knew that hope was not gone from the situation, and
that if nothing else, I could count on my friends, and my own fighting spirit, to press
through to the end of this.

Even in the darkest of hours, hope was there for me.


  1. Gosh-dern-it you made me cry, meanie. You have a beautiful writing voice and a particular way with words that paints your circumstances like I was right there over your shoulder the whole time. I know I told you this yesterday, but you will be in my prayers continuously throughout this whole process of getting well.

  2. Ivo, I heard of your circumstances through a mutual friend.

    I was diagnosed with diffuse B-cell non-hodgekins lymphoma about a year ago. My doctor never did recognize the symptoms, and it was only discovered when I forced her to get me some extra testing, By then, I was at stage 4B with metastasis to my lungs, liver, heart, pancreas and dozens of individual tumors throughout my chest and abdomenal cavity. The original mass which probably started under my chin had grown to the back of my head where it caused deafness in my left ear, nerve damage to the left side of my face, and was trying to force its way through the dura into my brain. I was rapidly approaching heart and liver failure due to the growth of masses and tissue destruction.

    By the time I was able to start chemo, I had lost 60 lbs, was losing more than a pound a day and probably was down to living another 2 weeks or so. In the middle of all this I discovered that my dad, who I thought had died of lung cancer due to smoking and his work a specialty welder, actually died of lymphoma - and lasted less than 3 months after his diagnosis.

    I tell you all of that, to tell you this: Treatment of lymphoma today is far ahead of the state of medicine when my dad died. I was treated chemo only, using R-CHOP, and my cancer was driven into complete remission in just 6 rounds. All the palpable lumps dissolved after the FIRST round! I've been in remission since last November and follow-up scans continue to be clear. I have my health, hearing, and weight back.

    I have my life back.

    For you, the battle has now begun. I know of the warrior spirit in you, and have no doubt that you are already standing firm in defiant resolve against the enemy in your own body. Also stand firm in your faith, allow yourself to rest in the help of your friends and family, and above all, believe in your own recovery and remission. And I will pray for you myself, as I'm sure many others are also.

    If you wish, you can reach me at: