Sunday, October 12, 2008

Not supposed to happen

Here it is.

My husband has cancer.

Though we've known now for almost 2 months it is still blowing my mind. The worst part was the two weeks of waiting for a diagnosis. See, he woke up one morning and his armpit was sore. He was worried it might be something bad (always the optimist, that hubby of mine), and I made fun of him and told him he'd over-used his arm. A week later he called me from the kitchen.

"Hey, honey... wanna check this out?"

I sighed and put down my book.

"Look at this," he said, holding down the collar of his shirt.

On left side of his neck, right above the collarbone, was visibly swollen compared to the right. My stomach dropped.

"Feel this," he said, pushing around with is fingers.

I was almost shaking as I did to my husband what I've done to probably hundreds of patients--palpated for lymph nodes.

I've never felt a left supraclavicular node on a person before, but I've answered lots of test questions about what a firm, non-tender node in this area usually means: cancer. And there it was. A firm, non-tender left supraclavicular node.

On my husband.

My heart started pounding.

Strangely, at this point, he got more optimistic, while I began sinking into despair. "Maybe I have a weird infection," he said. "I've been taking care of a lot of dudes with TB, maybe I have that."

"Maybe," I said. I didn't mean it.

"Or Cat Scratch Fever."

"Yeah, maybe."

I wanted to go to the doctor right away, but this was a Friday afternoon, so we had to wait until Monday. We were there when the office opened Monday, but as he was a new patient, they wouldn't see him until Tuesday. Those days were awful, but they weren't anything compared to what was coming. Tuesday morning the resident examined him and said he probably had an infection. A trial of antibiotics, he said.

"I'm worried about cancer," I said, trying to sound like I was wondering if it would rain or not. "Specifically, lymphoma or testicular cancer."

The resident shrugged. "Well, we could do a chest x-ray just to be sure."

"Great," I said. "Thanks."

The report came back showing a mediastinal mass, a large one. Just like how, though most people might have blown it off, I knew that his node was bad news, I knew what this meant. I had been sort of rooting for testicular cancer, something that had a pretty darn good prognosis. But a mediastinal mass meant lymphoma, and that was the kind of diagnosis that could carry less than a 50% 5-year survival rate.

It was another week and a half of CTs and lymph node biopsies before we had a diagnosis. Each test looked more like the diagnosis was lymphoma, and it was more wide-spread than we had realized. The problem is that there are lots of types, and some are pretty OK, prognosis-wise, and some are horrific. So I tried to hope, but it was hard, knowing that it was more likely he had a horrific kind (they are more common) than a pretty OK kind.

And that's what life was: hoping for the least horrible kind of cancer.

Finally, we got a diagnosis. Hodgkin's Disease. It was the best diagnosis I could have hoped for given what we knew. His labs came back--again, the best labs we could have hoped for, given his stage. They started Chemo the following week.

I never even really had much time to think. How did this happen? He's 31 years old! Healthy! Never smoked, excersises, eats well, hardly ever drinks, and then only one or two beers. This isn't right. It isn't fair. I take care of people all stinking day who have abused their bodies maliciously for 50, 60, 70 years, and they are still hanging around, complaining that they cough (You're kidding, Mr. 100-pack-years? You COUGH??).

I'd find myself thinking a lot when I had to tell people, "My husband has lymphoma." Husband doesn't really say it. It's not right. It doesn't mean to everyone what it means to me. I wanted to say, "The love of my life, my best friend, my soul mate I never thought I would find, has cancer. He could die. And I'm supposed to keep showing up to clinic, keep doing laundry, keep eating and sleeping like any of it matters."

I would overhear people talking about their problems and want to cry. "My wife got in a fender-bender, my computer died, and I lost my wallet," I heard one person lament. "Could my life get any worse?"

For your sake, buddy, I thought--I hope not.

That's all I can write for now. Things are going as well as can be expected. He's tolerating the chemo okay. Having to watch him go through so many horrible procedures, tests and therapies is torture. Waiting for his PET scan, where we find out if his cancer is responding to the chemo, is hell.

But I am still doing my rotations (on his insistence... he always makes me do the right thing). I am studying for Step 2, which I take in two weeks--just days before his PET scan. I'm still going to clinic, and doing laundry, and eating and sleeping, because I guess that stuff does matter, somehow.

Just not as much as it used to.