Thanksgiving Morning, 2010

November 25, 2010

Background: In Fall 2008, My husband Dave went through a series of medical test starting with a CT scan for his one remaining kidney. A spot was detected and something was noted in his lung. New tests. Turns out he needed to biopsy a spot there, too.  I can’t forget sitting through the pulmonary breathing tests as I followed along. (how’s my breathing as an ex-smoker?) Then, it was on to get results from the pulmonary doctor.

COPD. Lower capacity breathing. I wasn’t too surprised because I would hear the labor in his breath as Dave  climbed the stairs in our home. This meeting – with the pulmonary doctor – changed me in terms of seeing the future of Dave’s health.  Slice after slice of the CT scan the doctor waded through the picture of his lungs. “Here’s a spot, here’s a spot, this is emphysema. Spot, spot. Spot, here, there.” Then he stopped at a specific location. “This one needs a biopsy.”

Somehow from a so-called routine kidney check up we were now looking at his lungs. Serious problems. After an hour and a half history taking and review the doctor was talking about a biopsy and partial lung removal.


And if that wasn’t enough to absorb, on the way OUT the door, he asked. “ Has anyone talked to you about your thyroid?” Stunning. Dave and I both sat jaw open. I think we began laughing. How ludicrous. The thyroid was eventually seen by ultrasound for a closer look, then there was another biopsy.

That fall, for a couple of very long weeks, through all the test and procedures, we were considering that Dave was potentially looking at three major surgeries in the coming holiday months.

Long story short: By Spring of 2009 the thyroid had non-cancerous benign nodes; the lungs biopsy was inconclusive – not yes, not no; and the kidney spot could be taken surgically with  a procedure known as cryoablation (freeze the sucker off) , which was performed in March, 2009.

Fast forward to 2010.

A “routine” lung CT scan on October 16, 2010 showed a new spot. Biopsy requested. Biopsy done October 27 in Tacoma. When the phone rings within a 24 hour window of a biopsy you know the news can’t be good. It wasn’t. From the doctor: There is cancer, but it is yet to be determined as to the type. Could be, and very  likely is, renal cell (kidney). Make an appointment with oncology. Surgery is not an option.

22 years ago – from Halloween 1988 through October 1989 – Dave underwent chemotherapy for Hodgkins Disease Lymphoma. Diagnosed at stage 4 advanced, Dr. Ann Williams of Group Health Cooperative (GHC) was his oncologist. One of the most outstanding statements she made at that time was “we can cure this.” And they did.

In 2008, while waiting in the GHC radiology for Dave’s thyroid biopsy appointment, Dr Williams appeared. Just walking by. She is retired,  but had been called back for some temporary work. Filling in. How nice to see her… briefly!

Dave called oncology immediately. “ By the way,” he asked, “is Dr. Ann Williams available?” Yes, she is on assignment and can see you tomorrow as a matter of fact.

Familiarity. Confidence and trust. If anyone can deliver the news and treatment, Dr. Williams is the best for us.

She said. “I won’t keep you in suspense. It’s lung cancer. Stage 4.”
Stage 4? How could it be Stage 4 when a person is watched medically all the time?

My dad had lung cancer at age 69. There was only about five months between the time of his diagnosis and his death. There is no way I can’t parallel the two cancers. It scares the hell out of me.

What is disconcerting is that this cancer is in the bone. That automatically makes it Stage 4. We didn’t get much  more information on this aspect, so at the moment I don’t even understand how far it has spread.

Dr. Williams laid out the stats. So many people make it to see one year with treatments; so many make it to two years. A statistical game. What I heard loud and clear: treatment prolongs life. Eventually the cancer will take over. This, barring he be run over by a car, will be what cause his death. There is one other precipitating factor: The traditional chemo drugs for adenocarcinoma lung cancer that Dave has are metabolized in the kidneys. Even this treatment will have to be adjusted or not even viable.

Ugh. What a punch in the stomach.

The alternative is to use a recent protocol “smart pill” drug that targets the cancer cells directly. It has less side effects and good results. Yes, please! But, there are genetic markers to identify before he can be accepted as a candidate for this option. Dr. Williams sends his biopsy fluids to the lab for testing.

So, Thanksgiving morning, here I sit. After almost four weeks of  waiting on test results to begin treatment, we expect the results tomorrow. Yes, target therapy, or no, some form of traditional treatments.

Not knowing sucks the most. We’ve done so much “hurry up and wait” over the years.

I couldn’t stop crying yesterday. It was a “poor me” day. I struggle with all sorts of anxiety about being alone, having the comfortable life financially, being my “authentic” self. Can I separate my life from my work? I am immersed in death. I am immersed in life. Can I motivate myself? Can I be a leader? Do I take advantage of this current journey of grief and potentially capitalize on it? Is this wrong? Can it help people and myself  if I do?

Does my work spring out of my life experience? Absolutely. So why feel guilty? Is that what I am going through?

Ah, cathartic writing. It helps to release the questions that may give me a sense of shame.
Right now I want to succeed. I want to have a flourishing viable business. I want to help others in their grief – to discover, question, think and assimilate this journey of life.

I want to help others celebrate life. I do so believe our worldly experience is about the human connection. This is why story is so critical.

I’m feeling better already.

I will write and gather information. I will consciously take this journey where it leads. I will work to bring Dave’s qualities I admire into my own heart so I can feel his support forever. He always knows how to listen and what to say. Maybe I can channel a bit of that myself.

Dave’s “kids” are coming around. That is so good. They need to connect. Dave needs the unstated love and perhaps forgiveness. As do they I suspect. I hear him tell the stories in retrospect.

I must find a balance between grief the work, grief work and self. I am doing this here. (journal) The line is very thin between me and what I do.

About the Storybooks For Healing Start to Finish Writing Guide eBook*… I must work on Dave’s story with Leah. Writing mom’s story was so profoundly important for our relationship. I want the experience for Leah, too.

Words do heal.

As Dave consoled me during the crying spell yesterday. “I believe in you. I’m not ready to tell you to hang it up” (SFH business.) I blurted out, “What am I going to do without you here to believe in me?” There was just silence. We haven’t gone there yet. This is a tough conversation.

We won’t go there yet as no other words crossed our lips on this subject.

I have to trust that what work I am accomplishing in SFH is helping. The victories are small. But perhaps one thought at a time I can console others. I can ask questions to help people see, think, feel in a new way. That, for me – thinking in a new way – is really the affect I am seeking.


* This ebook is no longer available. Storybooks for Healing was the grief program work leading into what is now Navigating Grief.
2 replies
  1. Brenda
    Brenda says:

    Thank you Joan, I just found your site and wanted to start from the beginning. Your piece brought tears to my eyes and that’s okay.


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