I cannot imagine what it would be like to face a diagnosis of cancer without a loved one beside you. My terror was so great; I remember the room went white and all I could hear was my pounding heart. I had never felt either so alone or so afraid. My husband David held me, but he also had to hold himself together. I couldn’t see or hear, and I certainly couldn’t think. He would have to do that for both of us.
One of the first people my husband called with the news was my good friend Melinda. Her husband, Kihan, was a surgeon and he had done his residency in Boston, and we wanted his advice. I had been assigned a thoracic surgeon, but neither David or I liked him. Kihan strongly recommended Dr. Douglas Mathisen at Massachusetts General Hospital. We were able to arrange a consultation with Doug for the following Thursday. In the meantime, a bone scan, MRI of my brain, and a PET scan were all scheduled.
David placed all the phone calls to our families and friends. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, nor did I want to see anyone. I was frightened, I was sad and I was angry. Being diagnosed at the age of 45 with lung cancer, having never smoked, felt every bit as random (and as unlucky) as being struck by lightning. I found myself wishing ridiculous things, such as, “why couldn’t I have gotten breast cancer instead?”: not only did breast cancer have far better overall five year survival statistics (100% at stage I, and 20% at even stage IV), but it had sisterhood, massive fundraising and pink ribbons. Instead, I had a 15% overall five year survival rate, the “did you smoke” question from just about everyone, and an invisible ribbon as a symbol of my disease.
I was no stranger to challenges in my life, but why had this one come my way? It all seemed terribly unfair.
I had a lot to learn. Life isn’t fair: not to me and not to anyone else either. I had to go to a very dark place to finally understand that, and to become, in an odd way, at peace. It was OK: not as in everything was going to be alright, but rather, it was what it was. I quickly tired of asking why and moved onto what. What do we do now? We would know more after our meeting the following week with Dr. Mathisen.