Posted by: Ken Wheatley | July 4, 2008

Bad day…bad news…

Dr. B and the nurse never called back yesterday to give us the results of the CAT scan. And our inclination anymore – and our history throughout this process – is that no news doesn’t usually mean good news.

So Sheila called the on-call radiologist this afternoon to find out the results. The doctor called back and said that while there doesn’t appear to be an embolism, it does look like she may have pneumonia in her left lung (the last time it was in the right lung), but worse…the tumors have started to grow again and have increased 50% since last month. So that’s most likely the source of the pain Sheila’s feeling in her chest and neck.

We spent the better part of a half hour crying on the bed and holding each other. What are we to do???? It’s breaking our hearts. We’ve just started our married lives together….

Earlier today, before we got the news, we were sitting down looking at our finances and planning what would be covered by our joint checking account, changes in investments, buying a home together, etc. and I could tell that Sheila just wasn’t engaged. She had a distant, sad look on her face as she propped her head on one hand. I asked her what was wrong and she started to cry and said, “What does all this matter? I won’t be around very long for any of this to make a difference or be important.”

I tried, as I have countless times before, to assure her that she’ll outlive me, that we will live a long and active life together. We have many dreams yet to fulfill. Many places to visit and adventures to be experienced. Friends to be with. We found each other and have an amazing, passionate love affair. It can’t be cut short, damn it!!!!!!!!!!

As much as I truly try to believe that and convey sincerity in my voice, after having said it so many times, with the setbacks we’ve had, it can’t help but sound futile or perhaps even disingenuous.

The other day when she was crying about the clot and pain in her leg, I said something about other patients beating the odds and “living long” and started listing off the years that I had heard or read about and she sternly locked eyes with me and almost angrily said, “there’s no one in the support groups that has made it that long.”

I was momentarily brought back to the first time I went to a support group meeting with her at Scripps. After the meeting I was in the hallway talking with two patients while Sheila stayed back in the room to talk with another. The two women somberly reflected on those members who had passed away – citing their names and illness duration. I remember constantly looking over my shoulder to see where Sheila was, because I didn’t want her to hear the depressing news. Little did I know that she already knew. 

I regrouped and lamely tried throwing out lesser numbers, and she just shook her head, no, while big tears streamed down her face. I felt so useless, so helpless. Yes, I know that being with her and comforting her is a help. But it isn’t enough. It just isn’t. I don’t know what to say or do to help her overcome the fears she’s confronting on her own mortality.

The inescapable reality – barring good fortune/luck – is that the mortality rate for lung cancer patients is quite high.  We’re reminded of it quite often at the hospital.

It’s very difficult to reconcile all this with the, outwardly, healthy woman who shares my life. By all measures Sheila appears fine. Countless people commented at the wedding about how great she looks. You can just tell that they are inwardly thinking – “..she doesn’t look sick at all. She’s recovered quite well.” Sheila doesn’t look like the stereotypical cancer patient. She never lost her hair and her weight loss has been minimal. It’s all inside of her.  

So the mere process of planning for our future painfully reminds us of the nebulous definition of “future.”

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