Without opening my eyes, my first conscious thought was, “I have lung cancer.”
Somehow, my life began to blur and my mind moved to going over every detail of the past two months.
At this point the word cancer didn’t seem etched in stone, but I knew something was not right. I didn’t have any idea of what, or how much, or what happens next. I did feel the numbness of shock at the news.
During the warm weeks of December, before I caught my husband’s cold, I walked two miles everyday in the sunshine. Sometimes, I ran for short bursts to build my stamina. I love to run. It was glorious. Around Dec. 22, or maybe a little earlier, my coughing began.
In January, my walks were shorter, but my excuse for shorter walks was the north wind, not the dry, irritating cough. It may have been a beautiful day behind the trees protecting our property, but once exposed to the wide-open fields of corn stubble and snow drifts, I felt the north wind make its inevitable appearance known.
Walking down that road, alone in an endless winter wonderland, provided time to think about things, unwind, be creative or admire the early sunsets full of winter whites, oyster shell blues and pinks. It was the season of snow, and the winds sculpted glistening white waves full of sunshine sparkles. North Dakota winters are beautiful. The cold makes your cheeks blush and feel like being a kid again. You know like when your mom says, “Why don’t you go outside and get the stink blown off you?”
What thoughts go through your mind when the unknown happens intensify in the chill air and isolation of a healthy walk. I didn’t know what to think or even how to talk about what would happen next.
Trying NOT to Google any more information in the five days until the PET scan set for Feb. 15, I ran through list after list of how this news would change my life.
Heck, I don’t know what I was thinking would happen, but how could it be good? How could it end well? My friend Holly had died about a year after telling me she had lung cancer. Was that my fate? I was preparing for the end and hadn’t even had a full confirmation diagnosis yet. I knew something was wrong with my body. I had felt it in late December when I began doctoring for the dry unexpected cough. We went through the usual discussions and meds knowing that I was a very healthy old lady. Or at least until now, I had been.
Rarely did I visit my doctor outside of the usual checkups. But here I was. My doctor and I decided the cough was not contagious and it was okay to go to South Dakota for the birth of my granddaughter. I remember telling my doctor something was not right. “You know,” I said. “Like when I was young and went home for a visit and told my dad, “there’s something wrong with my car. I can feel it.” He never believed me until I was stranded somewhere with a broke-down car.
The cough did not disappear by the middle of January, so we went with an antibiotic. At the end of January I went back to South Dakota for a week, and the cough seemed to be coming from an area deeper than before. I made the next appointment.
We decided a second round of different antibiotics (I am allergic to penicillin) and a chest X-ray were the next logical steps. We were looking for pneumonia. I filled my prescription and was home. It was after 5 p.m. when the phone rang with a “medical” number on the caller ID. It was my primary care physician. Was I holding my breath because it was apparent something was wrong? The radiologist said something much worse than pneumonia showed up on that X-ray and suggested a CT scan. You know, to further investigate.
It was cancer, she said. Going out of her way to help, Dr. Curl called a surgeon cohort. She reached him at home after hours and asked him to take a look at my x-ray, or maybe the CT scan, as soon as possible. Somehow I cannot recall and there’s no documentation about this conversation anywhere.
Could surgery rid this “thing” from my lung?
His name escapes me at this time, but he personally called me and said there was nothing he could do, it was cancer and I should call an oncologist.
“I don’t know any oncologists.”
“I will ask my nurse to schedule an appointment for you.”
However, before I saw an oncologist, there was the upcoming PET scan.
It was difficult to not Google the possibilities.
Waiting was the worst. Trying not to get ahead of the doctors was impossible. I was stunned and preparing to accept my fate and die. I had joked about my cough being lung cancer with my daughter. She told me to just “shut up.” I softly brushed by the topic with my husband saying, “it is what it is.”
It is? It is what? We had no one in our immediate family that had cancer. How could this happen? How bad was this thing in my lung?
The CT scan confirmed everyone’s initial impression of that x-ray. Somehow, I was preparing to die not knowing anything else, including what was coming in the next few weeks.
Here I was for the first time in my life, stranded on the island of the unknown, with a broke-down body.