This is part two of our story by Patrick Durand
After Melissa completed a battery of tests: EKG, Echo, CT Scan, Pet Scan, etc. we met with Dr. Thomas to review the results. Over the past two weeks we had come to terms with the cancer. We accepted it. Of all the cancers to get, this one didn’t seem so bad. The treatment was straight forward and its success was proven. There was a 95% chance of survival. And now, we just wanted to get this whole ordeal behind us so we could move on. We were in good spirits.
Dr. Thomas walked into the exam room, greeted us, and got down to business. Starting from the top, she explained the results:
“OK, the brain is clear, so that is good. The lungs are clear, we’re happy to see that. Lymph nodes are clear. We have cancer in the breast, but we knew that. The stomach is clear. So those are all good things.” She paused.
I thought “Just like we expected. All clear. When do we start chemo?”
“But” she continued. “We did find spots on the liver.” I was just as surprised at the news as I was to see her wipe a tear from her eye – which made me realize seriousness of this revelation. “That means it’s already metastasized, it’s stage IV. “ She regained her composure. “No longer curable, but treatable”
Melissa just said “ohhh” and she looked down at the floor.
The small exam room filled with silence. I put my hand on Melissa’s knee, she grabbed hold of it. We were speechless. Completely shocked. In a matter of seconds we went from stage I curable to stage IV. I thought at the worst we go to stage II. Somehow we skipped stages II and III altogether and went straight to IV.
When we arrived home that afternoon I went upstairs to my office while Melissa stayed in our living room. I assumed she would relax a bit and try to clear her head. I wanted to learn more about the stages of cancer, specifically what this diagnosis meant. I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that we went from Stage I to Stage IV. I didn’t know much about the stages of cancer, but I knew stage IV was bad. I knew there was no stage V.
And so I consulted Dr. Google. In the future we would learn that Dr. Google is like a canker sore. It hurts when you bite it, yet you can’t keep yourself from biting it to determine if it still hurts.
Especially when you’re new to the game, Dr. Google can be merciless. I’ve since learned that if I’m going to Google for answers – I have to include positive words with the search. For instance “metastatic breast cancer NED ” (which stands for no evidence of disease) or “metastatic breast cancer remission.” Those searches can bring hope. I’ve also learned that you have to pay attention to the date of the articles. Articles written ten years ago are grim. So much has changed in just the last few years. But at that point, I hadn’t learned any of those valuable lessons. So I searched the words “metastatic breast cancer liver prognosis”.
After I pressed the search button, my monitor instantly filled with responses – I clicked into them and was stunned at what I was reading. As little as six months. Most said two – five years. One fairly prominent study listed an average of 46 months. Can this be right? She looks perfectly healthy! How can my wife have less than four years to live?
As I continued reading, I noticed most of the posts were questions from people – just like us – recently diagnosed, seeking wisdom – or rather hope – from those that have been around the block. I noticed that the ladies who responded to the questions included their “stats” on their profiles. Their stats listed the date they were diagnosed, the location of the cancer, the stage, and their various treatments. As I scanned these profiles I quickly realized these ladies had been through hell. First diagnosis, surgeries, chemo, radiation, more scans, second diagnosis, more chemo, resections, more surgeries, more scans. Some went three to four rounds. They would kill the cancer in one area, but it would quickly return – more aggressively – to different parts of their body. Starting with the breast, and then spreading to the lungs, liver, bones, brain. And all within a few years! This is what our future looks like. My wife is about to go through about the nastiest, ugliest thing you could wish on anybody – and there is nothing I can do but be by her side.
I could only take so much of Dr. Google – I decided to see how Melissa was fairing. I didn’t want to share anything I had just read – we needed a night to process the diagnosis before we started talking prognosis. Right now I just wanted to be with her and not think about cancer. As I came downstairs I noticed that she was outside – her cell phone was lying on our kitchen table, still turned on. I saw a text that she had written to our pastor, it read “I just hope I make it five years”. Then I knew. I knew she’d done the same thing I had – consulted Dr. Google – and got the same sobering responses.
I looked out our glass door. Melissa was sitting on our backyard patio, draped in the September sunlight – as if this was any other day. Just enjoying a beautiful Minnesota fall day in the backyard that we had created together. We had built that patio ten years ago. I had prepared the site, leveled the sand, and she handed me each paver – one by one – until we had covered the entire site in pavers of random sizes and colors. Kind of like a real life Tetris game. It was beautiful. She was beautiful.
I left my perch and sat beside her. “I just hope I make it five years” she said as I sat down, “I’d be satisfied if I make it five years. Abbey will be graduated from high school. Emily will have completed her first stint with the Marines.”
I don’t think I said anything. It seemed like a strange concession to me. To surrender her hopes and dreams, realizing that most of them are never going to happen, and to be content with what would occur in next five years. It was heart wrenching. Even more heart wrenching was knowing we really didn’t have a choice in any of it. Two years, five years, ten years, even 20 years. We were merely passengers on this journey.