Three Little Words

A few weeks ago, someone said to me those three little words.

No, no, not those. The words everyone hopes never to hear: “You have cancer.” The person saying them was my doctor, following up on an abnormal finding on an otherwise routine colonoscopy.

In all honesty, I was not surprised. I have had issues, minor and low-grade, in that part of the body all my adult life. But in the last couple of years they had gotten just a little bit worse, and I had run out of excuses, so it was time to deal with it.

At some level I welcomed the clarification. Knowledge is power and all of that. But on pretty much every other level I was terrified. Just saying the word “cancer” is like a malevolent incantation. To know you have it feels as though you have a time bomb ticking in your gut.

Intellectually, I knew the thing was probably on the lower end of dangerous: There was no pain, the symptoms were minor. Indirect indicators of overall health were good. A physical back in May had shown excellent results.

Furthermore, tumors of the lower GI tend to grow very slowly. This thing had probably been in there for years, if not decades. It had lately gotten just a tiny bit worse. We had probably caught it early. Blah blah blah.

But as is its wont, the lizard brain wouldn’t listen to logic, and chose to freak out instead. A low-level panic became part of my daily experience. When the breathing exercises and the visualization exercises and the other psychological tricks failed, a good friend “loaned” me some Xanax, which brought instant relief. But it felt rather like cheating.

Everyone reacts differently to a cancer diagnosis. Some people want nothing more than to be left alone. But I suddenly wanted to be surrounded by reminders of life and its sights and sounds every waking moment. I craved companionship.

I told only a select few people. A few close friends stepped forward and selflessly gave of their time. A few others disappointed. They made excuses, were suddenly busy, said they would be in touch. But the stricken looks they wore in my presence said everything.

Yesterday was consult day. Live-or-die day. What’s the stage; what’s the plan? How much time do I have? A week of mental preparation dissolved into redline-level stress. BP 174 over 95, pulse rate 110. Stroke territory.

After sincere apologies for being late the doctor got right to the point. Bloodwork was normal, no spreading; the MRI was definitive; the tumor was well-contained. Stage one, surgery only, no chemo indicated. Pretty much best case. Subject to change of course but all indicators good. I heard all this as though in a dream.

Surgery is scheduled for April 7, with 2 or 3 days in hospital, followed by light duty for a few days. Back to normal in a week or two. I’ll blow through my rather large deductible, but beyond that all will be covered by insurance.

With any luck I will be on the other side of this thing in a little under a month. Touch wood, cross fingers.

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