It was his assistant who called. She said, “we need you to come back in for a spinal x-ray today. We have found a spot on your spine.”
I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but it was brief. I put down the phone and told Jen the news. I was due to go into the hospital the next day for my surgery. I didn’t really want to spend my last day there as well, but the caller had made it clear this was something “very important”. Truly, I have never been so scared in all my life. I had thought that mastectomy and chemo were bad, but even then I had been looking at recovery. This was something else.
Cancer on the spine is baaaad news. I called Del and told him. I remember standing in the kitchen, by back to my sister, leaning on the countertop with my elbows, white flip phone pressed to my ear, the weather hot and sticky, the room quiet. He excused himself from the phone rather quickly. This is the only time I have ever heard him struggle to keep his composure. I mostly remember the feeling of panic; a feeling of wishing to have back the previously terrible-seeming news from the other day. I didn’t know any hard facts about cancer on the spine, but I did know that that meant my cancer was metastatic (spread to other organs) and that that automatically upgrades my cancer to Stage IV. In one moment my cancer had gone from highly curable to “advanced”. For the first time I had a real fear of dying. Absolute terror thudded in my chest. And I had thought my inherent feeling of security was knocked out before…
Thank God for Del once again. Jennifer and I had been getting ready to go to an internet cafe. We needed facts; we couldn’t have our suppositions getting the better of us . (Del’s place had no internet as of yet.) Before we got out the door he called back and, in perhaps the smartest thing he has ever said to me, he adamantly advised against going online. (The implication of what he’d found there was doubly frightening.) I argued with him a bit about needing information. He stood his ground and insisted that I call the doctor directly instead. The internet, we had all discussed, was full of all sorts of information, much of it incorrect, sensational, or at the very least, claimed with some personal agenda behind it. “You really need to know exactly what they’re talking about. Do not go fishing for facts that may or may not actually pertain to you. Ask him what this means. That’s his job.”
In another show of what appears to be a pattern of my heroics of the time, I once again had Jennifer call for me. She got through directly to Dr. Awesome and I heard “uh huh…uh huh…oh!” Her posture crumpled in the act of releasing a held breath and 1,000,000 pounds of pressure psi. Her hand fluttered to her chest. “Whew!…(a nervous half-giggle)…thank you!…Ok… Ok…oh, Thank you!…Ok. Bye bye.” I was on top of her with anticipation.
“He thinks it’s just arthritis,” she got out before taking a moment to swallow deeply and still her heart. We processed and savored that for a few seconds before continuing. “There is a spot on one of your vertebrae. But because all of the blood and bone tests were negative, he thinks it must be a random spot of arthritis. They need to check to be sure though. He says you don’t have to come in for an x-ray if you don’t want to, but he fears you won’t sleep tonight if you don’t.”
In what is surely the most dramatic moment of my life, we stared at each other silently for a moment with big grins on our faces. What came next can only be described as emotional diarrhea. We roared with laughter at the release of stress. Heeee heee hooo hooo haaaa haaaa. (Urm…Yes, that’s what I sound like when I laugh.) We positively howled. And somewhere in the middle that laughter turned into sobs. I am embarrassed at revealing such an intimate moment, but I said I’d be honest here. We were clutched in a tight hug by the time we finished. Then we pointed at each other and giggled again at our outpouring of theatrics. We were a right old couple of Spanish TV novela starlets!
My previous “worse then expected” diagnosis was looking like an awfully good deal about now, and I was eager to have it back. While indescribably relieved, I was not home free. A random spot of arthritis seemed strange at the age of 30, especially to manifest itself on my spine the very week I was being diagnosed with cancer. Such an easy resolution seemed too good to be true at this point. So off to Leuven we would go.