Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Tiniest Word

Indefinite Article
Used before nouns and noun phrases that denote a single but unspecified person or thing: a region; a person...

a cancer...

We were driving along, slurping slushy Del’s Frozen Lemonades and relishing the unique-to-Rhode-Island taste when his cell phone rang. The number displayed didn’t look familiar. He was about to ignore it. Then I asked: “What if it’s Lahey Clinic?”
But that didn’t make sense because they told us the biopsy results could take 7-10 days and here it was, little more than 48 hours later.

I pulled into the parking lot of the Garden City Whole Foods as he answered the phone.
Yes, it was Lahey. More precisely it was Dr. M. She is young and smart and skilled in her speciality and in surgery. She is a natural teacher and she has a wonderful bedside manner.
He pressed speaker on his cell phone.
“Hi it’s Dr. M”
She told us everything that mattered, in a way that showed he mattered to her.

After he hung up I dictated into my cell phone everything I could remember of what Dr. M had said.
The most important things I remembered were “this is the best possible type of cancer under the best possible circumstances” and “don’t panic”.

I broke the notes up into manageable blocks and texted it to his sister who is also an MD. His sister is such a fine doctor that she could have mentored Dr. M.

The sun was shining brightly even as it dipped lower in the sky. We sat in the parking lot for several minutes. We heard a siren and then more sirens. Cars zipped by; carriages wheeled and clanked; doors slammed shut.

We continued to drive home. We talked, were quiet, choked up, laughed, ran a couple of errands, talked and laughed some more.

At one point he said: “I have cancer.”

It suddenly struck me at a deep, intuitive level and I replied: “You have A cancer.”

Both of us are old enough to remember the way cancer used to be written caps-lock on people’s hearts; screamed out in people’s minds, but it was spoken of aloud only in hushed, fearful tones.

And we both have lived long enough to have family members and friends die of cancer. One friend died Monday; one family member died in May.

We also have friends and loved ones who have cancer written on their medical charts, but for whom it has receded. Yes, receded. I’m not talking about remission or cures or watchful waiting. I mean that a cancer diagnosis and treatment is something that they went through. They have certain ongoing responsibilities. But the experience has taken its place among all their other life experiences.

“You have A cancer.”

That tiny word; that perfectly named indefinite article of “A”, is helping to restore perspective; transform our understanding of this cancer and make it into something manageable.

I wrote this in August 2015.
Today is Chuck's first day of 42 radiation treatments.
As we have told our family and friends, all will be well.
That message was echoed by all of his doctors.
Yes, all will definitely be well...

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