He had the scan on Friday, which can be described as ‘uncomfortable’ at best. Then, we wait an excruciating weekend. Excru-u-u-u-uciating. The only way I can get through is to believe it’s sarcoidosis. And it’s never anything else anyway. Life is almost always just fine, isn’t it? Don’t you agree? Except, of course, that one time eight years ago with my brother, Mitch. But that was an anomaly. Dramatic things don’t happen in our lives. So, I put on my ‘big-girl’ pants, stepped away from the wall and carried on living as best I could until today. We head in to the oncologist’s office for the second time. It’s Cliff’s ‘real’ oncologist this time. Toni Trenshaw.
We go in happy, confident and calm. Since last week we’ve researched everything it could be, matched up his symptoms and came up with the definitive conclusion that it’s sarcoidosis. Because his cousin had that, it’s probably a genetic link. Cliff is a molecular geneticist, so we’re on that train. And genetically he looks and seems to share a lot of similarities with his cousin, so there’s all kind of evidence, right? Anyway, finally, today, we can go and get this thing cleared up, get the steroid pills and move on.
Toni comes out to get us from the waiting room. She’s young and short and nice and greets us with a big smile. She reminds me so much of one of my best friends, Melanie Stanton. I like her already but, of course, I don’t need to like her because she is just going to send us to a respiratory specialist, who will give Cliff some steroid pills and we’ll never see her again.
She guides us to the chairs in her office. She starts to talk about the biopsy result and what they found. She talks using only big words.
How can you fit that many big, scientific words into a sentence without any little words in between that give me a hint to what you’re saying? I’m sure she’s talking about what they found in the biopsy and that they’re quite clear about what they found. But I have no idea what she is saying they found. And no indication from her demeanour whether this is good or bad. I say, ‘Excuse me, I’m really sorry. What does that mean?’
Ever so kindly, sweetly and gently she reached out and took my wrist. She held it up above the electric fence that stretched between us. All the while, apologizing and looking straight into my eyes with clear, plain sympathy. I saw her lips moving but I couldn’t hear anything. She opened my hand out flat, turned it so my palm faced the wire and wrapped my palm and my fingers firmly around the live, electric wire. I was attached.
She said, in lay-person’s terms, ‘That’s cancer.’ I back off like she’s slapped me.
I blink a lot, trying to clear something from in front of me. I think she just said cancer.
There’s a pause. Cliff and I look at each other. We look back to her. She continues talking. At least she keeps making noises and her mouth is moving. Yes, the sun is streaming in the window, Cliff is next to me, there is a nice doctor in front of me, who just told us Cliff has cancer. Yes. That has just happened. O.K. That happened. That can be confirmed to have just happened. O.K. What’s next. Because stuff is still happening! I’m just not keeping up. I look at him. I look at her. She’s still talking. I have no idea what she’s saying. Not sure if I’m stupid or just stuck on the only word I’ve heard since we got in this room.
I think she might be talking now about what this means. I interrupt again. ‘Forgive me. Is this serious?’ Because I think she might have just been explaining to Cliff in some medical language whether this is serious or not, but I still have no idea if it is just one of those annoying little cancers that can be snipped off or kept at bay with drugs or whether we’re talking about something else here.
In the most apologetic manner, she reached for my other wrist. Again, gently and simply, she opened my other hand, turned it over and placed it next to my right hand … on the electric fence.
‘Yes. This is serious.’ Again with that! Plain, straightforward news that she’s meant to be giving someone else. This is getting annoying now. ‘How serious?’ I ask. Because with a little luck her serious is not really what we would call serious and this whole thing can be taken care of with a few visits and drugs and boom, done. Cleared up.
Oh. She’s pausing. What is she pausing for? She sighs. Why is she sighing? ‘We think Cliff has six months.’ Another pause, a gap, she looks to us. ’Maybe a year, if he is lucky. You can hope for more.’
What the fuck?
I look at Cliff. I look back to her. I stare at her.
‘I’m sorry,’ she says.
Oh, my God. I wrap Cliff in my arms and weep… while everything changes.