It must be my morbid sense of curiosity. Blame it on a girl who decided to be a journalist when she was about 6 years old (until she realized the dark side pays better). I’ve always wondered when I heard of people who get life-changing diagnoses, how did it feel? What did you decide to do when you got that news?
Well, God has a sick sense of humor, doesn’t He?
My D-Day (Diagnosis, not WWII) started out with no indication of what was to come. My mom had been visiting and I needed to get her to the airport to send her back home, so my husband brought our girls to school. The airport drop off was chaotic to say the least, and although I got a gate pass to help her through security, it was ME who wound up needing help.
See, I had come down with the worst back pain I’d ever felt the Sunday before. Just woke up that morning and felt terrible pain. As the week progressed and my usual back pain remedies didn’t help, I went to urgent care, who said I must have strained a muscle (HA!). Strangely though, my legs had begun to swell. We’re talking pregnant lady swelling. By that Thursday, my birthday, I had to wear a maxi dress to dinner because I couldn’t fit into pants. I remember lifting my dress up so my husband could see my legs and ankles, and he cracked that I looked like Martin Lawrence in Big Mamma’s House (in his defense, I did!). I had already set an appointment with my primary care by then, but they couldn’t see me until the next week. I knew something was wrong, but I figured if it had been too off-kilter, urgent care would have sent me to the ER.
Now, back to D-Day. I apparently looked so awful after getting my mom to the gate that the guy who had wheeled her there offered to wheel me back to the parking area! By the time I got back to my car – sweaty, clammy and out of breath, barely able to move – I knew this was a crisis. I called my primary care and got them to move my appointment to later that morning. I went into work, left for my appointment after a couple of hours, then was told something was definitely wrong (you think?) and that it might be my kidneys. They said they would send me for some scans within the week.
When I got back to my car, I called my husband and cried, but by the time I got back to work, I was still worried but figured I was being a hypochondriac. That evening as I left my office, I joked with my team that I was waddling like a pregnant woman, and I told them I’d see them in the morning (again, HA!).
When I got in my car, one of my closest friends called and tried to convince me to go to the ER in case the fluid that was built up in my legs made its way to my lungs (I had about 15-20 pounds in my legs by this point). I later found out my doctor-adverse husband had actually called her asking her to convince me to go, since he knew if he told me to that I’d freak out knowing how he is about doctors and hospitals (he knows me well). I was a bit shocked though that when I got home and asked him if I was crazy for wanting to go to the ER that he agreed immediately.
Long story short, at the ER I did a bunch of tests and scans and waited. And waited. And waited some more. I finally got back to a room in the early hours of the morning. I then waited even longer. My husband asked the nurse if he had enough time to go smoke before the doctor got there. She said, “Well, you probably should stay here. The doctor has some test results he needs to go over with you both.”
Cue Huge Red Flag.
My mom brain kicked into gear, already feeling guilty we’d dragged the kids with us to the ER rather than leaving them at a friend’s house. I asked the nurse if my kids should be in the room when the doctor came in. She looked at me and said, “Well, it’s hard for me to answer that because I’m not their mom or dad, but if you want, I can have them come hang out with me when the doctor comes in.”
Cue Gigantic, Massive Red Flag. I know ER nurses are not babysitters, nor do they hang out while working.
My husband whispered to me after she left, “I think you have an infection and lost a kidney.” I said, “Yeah, but people live without a kidney all the time, right?” I knew ok, this isn’t good. But cancer still wasn’t on my radar.
But when the doctor came in with a kind, concerned and serious look, I knew, “Oh shit.” And I knew then why people don’t normally detail out their D-Day. Because you have trouble remembering the details. I remember him starting to talk to me and I remember shouting for someone to get my kids out of the room as I’m already starting to cry. I remember him circling my CT scan report, and before he even said it, I knew he was going to say “tumor.” I remember him saying I needed to get to USC or UCLA as soon as I could, and that he’d already spoken with a urologist in town who was going to coordinate me getting there. I remember crying harder than I ever have in my life and screaming while feeling my husband grab my hand and put his head on top of mine. I remember getting tunnel vision and feeling the walls were closing in on me. I remember wondering, “Am I going to die?!”
But I also remember how compassionate the doctor was. How when I asked to see the PA who had seen me in triage and had argued with the doctor to get my scans done because she knew something wasn’t adding up, she came into my room so I could thank her and we both started crying. How my husband somehow kept it all together as much as he could so I could look at him and try to calm myself down. How my nurse wheeled me out to our car and hugged me hard when I got out of the wheelchair.
The truth is, my D-Day wasn’t the end of my life. Well, it was in a way – my old life, pre-cancer. But it was the first day of a new normal. It was the first day of my marathon, which is why I found today’s Gospel at church so personal:
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” – Hebrews 12:1-2
We were reminded in today’s homily that God doesn’t promise us an easy road without challenges while on earth. He just promises that we are never alone, even when times are difficult and dark.
It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. And it’s remembering what’s important when you’re being beat up and tossed around.