“Who decided you should come here for an X-Ray?” the Urgent Care doctor asked eagerly. Paul and I looked at each other for a moment and then I replied, “I did!” “What is your profession?” he asked. It felt a bit accusatory, so I sheepishly replied, “I’m a theater educator.” “Hmmm…well it was a good call. You were right on!” His gaze shifted to Paul. “The X-ray showed a large mass sitting atop your right lung.” It was the first time in my life I didn’t want to win the “prize” for being right.
The word “mass” hung in the air for what seemed like forever, and we were both transported to a place we didn’t want to go. I’m not sure I remember much of what happened next. We were sent a few miles down the road to the hospital emergency room for further testing. I really don’t remember that ride or the hours of waiting, testing and admittance to a room. After Paul was admitted and asleep, I drove home in the wee hours of the morning. I have a faint recollection of pulling off Route 6 as the realization hit me and I couldn’t see through my tears to drive. I went to bed that night in shock and curled up in a ball.
I awoke a few hours later and called my sister, knowing she would be awake early. My words spilled out in a flurry of choking sobs. She could barely understand me. “They found a large mass on Paul’s lung” I tried to say. I was unintelligible. When she finally got the message, she comforted me in the only way she could.
After the call, I got ready to go back to the hospital. My mind shut down, and the normally organize part of me was overshadowed by that one word…”mass”. I was numb. In that one fleeting moment in Urgent Care, everything in our lives had changed forever.
Next, were the difficult and emotional calls to all four children, and then a flood of confusing events. A wave started rolling and picked up speed as my mind tried to catch up and snap to attention. A whirlwind of family visits began, with doctors and nurses fading in and out. We quickly had to educate ourselves with a new language as we navigated aimlessly through a sea of doctors, nurses, MRI’s, CT Scans, PET Scans, oncologists and radiation oncologists. Hospital trips, a collapsed lung, lost biopsy material, back and forth cancer diagnoses too place, and then finally on to Dana Farber Cancer Institute. “Stage four non-differentiated Thyroid Cancer”. Cancer…the one word which would now define our lives every day. Words and phrases that also swirl around in my brain continuously are “ metastasize”, “aggressive”, “tumors”, “incurable”, “chemo”, “whole brain radiation” and a plethora of new words and phrases pertaining to my husband’s illness. “Get your affairs in order!” That was the phrase that hit us the hardest.
Almost a year has passed, and I still shake my head wondering how this could’ve happened to my amazing husband, friend, and the love of my life. This man, who is such a loving father and grandfather, who was and still is loved by his former students and the person who is at the center of my heart. Paul taught music in a public high school for over thirty years and rarely called in sick. Now, every day we have Cancer at the forefront of our minds as we deal with Paul’s treatment and the havoc it has wreaked on his body and our lives.
We had moved to Cape Cod just three years ago to enjoy our lives together in a place we love. It took us years to get there. We spent most of our thirty-four years together giving of ourselves to others and we wanted a little piece of mind in a place we love. We wanted to walk on the beach, smell the sea air, enjoy the quiet off season and spend real time with each other and our family and friends. This is the script we had written for ourselves. This is what we had to look forward to. The script has been rewritten without our permission.