First it was an ultrasound, just to be safe. Then it was a biopsy, just to be safe. Next, we are sitting across from a Harvard educated Ear, Nose, and Throat surgeon just to be safe. His empathic, bespectacled eyes search our fluorescent lit faces as he informs us that my twenty-four-year-old husband might have cancer. My vision started to tunnel and the kindly doctor’s voice started to grow distant and fuzzy in my ears. My heart dropped so severely it felt as if it plummeted twelve stories down, ricocheted off the bedrock back up through my body, settling in the strangled throat. We walked out, shaken, holding each other. We waited until we got to our car to collapse in on each other, two youthful stars struck with a stark dose of reality.
Plans were rearranged. Surgery was scheduled.
The day of surgery arrived. I stared at my closet trying to pick out sweat resistant shirt. I get sweaty under stress. Sam appeared cool as a cucumber in his surgery day comfy clothes. I turned away from him as I ate the toast he could not have.
We were in good hands. “We’ve got HAHR-vAHrd guy,” I proclaimed in a bad Boston accent to be both reassuring and funny.
After almost dropping Sam off at the wrong hospital, we arrived at UW and were admitted to pre-op. Sam was prepped, dressed in a purple gown and hair net. Big hugs, kisses, and longing looks were given as he was roomed back to the operating room to have half of his thyroid removed.
Hospitals are at once completely comfortable to me as a healthcare professional while being completely unnerving as a patient support person. At times a felt I knew too much. I tried to focus on the adept skill of the surgeons, the comforting sterility and drama-free procedure that I witness in the operating room regularly in my work, but at the same time I could not escape visions of Grey’s Anatomy style disasters befalling my beloved. In order to cope, I repressed and compartmentalized many of the worries to such a degree that all the stress manifested itself in hip pain that made it impossible for me to sit in the waiting room. I did laps outside in the September sunshine while updating family members.
Hours later, my T.G.I. Friday’s style pager went off (seriously is my husband out of surgery or is my table and jalapeno poppers ready?). I rushed back to the post-op area to great a sleepy Sam munching on teddy grahams and apple juice.
“Dilaudid is nice,” he said in a raspy whisper. I got my guy tucked back into our apartment with an ice cold Slurpee and an endless supply of Jello. Then we waited. Our phone ringers were up for the next week waiting of the results of the pathology. No call came. Doctors usually don’t wait until you are back in the office to tell you that everything is fine. Our worst fears were confirmed as HAHR-vAHrd guy told us that the lesion on Sam’s thyroid was cancer.
In the grand scheme of life and cancer, thyroid cancer is very low on the totem pole of worry. The prognosis is extremely good. No chemo, no traditional radiation. Sam will be closely followed for the rest of his life but his treasonous thyroid will mostly likely not cause any more issues. Hearing you have cancer at twenty-four, however, is quite scary none the less.
Sam was lucky. We were lucky. We were surrounded by loving family who offered to hop on a plane at a moment’s notice. My wonderful mother-in-law who offered to move in and help take care of post-surgery Sam. We were blessed to have amazing insurance, great doctors, and understanding employers. Not everyone is as lucky as we were.
In order to help, Sam and I are running the MadCity Half Marathon May 27, 2018 (our second wedding anniversary) for the American Cancer Society who help fund research and provide support for cancer patients. Please help by following the link below and donating to our fundraiser.