When I got back I took the next day off and escorted my wife to get her biopsy done. The doctor explained what was to be done and quite frankly it seemed barbaric. Apparently they had to insert a rather large gauge tube into the breast tissue and then insert a tool through the tube to snip a piece of material from the suspected area. The tube was to be guided with the assistance of some sort of real time X-Ray. My wife hates needle and this was like living her worse nightmare. What’s worse is that the tube had to be inserted twice because they “missed” the first time. When the procedure was done I could see the ordeal that my wife had gone through without her even saying a word to me. Clearly painful and she looked emotionally and physically drained. We were told that they would send the results to her doctor and the he would call us in a couple of days. More anxious waiting days….
We finally got the call three days later from the doctor that he had the results and would like us to come in and discuss. I knew better than to ask for the results over the phone. We arrived at the doctor’s office and were met by a grim, serious face. He wasted no time in telling us that it was indeed cancer. This was the first time we both had actually heard him say the word “cancer”. I became acutely aware of myself focusing in on the doctor’s voice, face and mannerisms…. I was able to tell that he was nervous, and a little shaken. Again I tried to take the lead and started to question him about what this all means. He basically explained that he would like to schedule surgery to have a mastectomy done right away to “deal” with the cancer for it was rather large. I got angry and queried as to how that could be. I pointed out that my wife had been getting her mammograms and checkup on a regular basis. Again the doctor appeared nervous and tried to explain that cancer was a very difficult thing to detect even with the best of efforts. He suggested that we seek a second opinion but said that we need to take care of it right away. I looked over at my wife and again could clearly see that she was depending on me to manage this situation. I thanked the doctor and we left.
On the drive home this time there was a lot of dialog between me and my wife. We were clearly fighting for her life now. I was angry. I was angry at the clinic for saying that they were trying to contact my wife and had to send a letter. We had been going to that clinic for years. What did they mean they did not have the correct phone numbers? I was angry at the doctor for not making me feel at ease and confident in him. I was angry at the world for having this happen to us.
I am a project manager. I began to deal with this as I would any other project that I have been given to manage. I started defining tasks, assigning resources, establishing timelines, determining risks and obstacles and developing criteria for success which was to keep my wife alive. I began in earnest to research all that I could and find out everything there is to know about breast cancer. I asked for copies of all the lab work, X-Rays and the biopsy results. Fear is driven by ignorance and I was not going to let my wife down. My life’s purpose had now changed dramatically. I can tell you that I learned more about cancer than you would care to know. But I was not afraid anymore. Cancer can be beat and is not the death sentence that it once was. Through my research I determined that the best place that was going to give my wife a chance was The City of Hope in Duarte, CA. This hospital was just 20 minutes away and is recognized as a leader in the treatment and research of cancer. I made an appointment to see a breast cancer specialist for a second opinion.
Knowledge Gives Hope
When we arrived at the hospital I could already tell that this was going to be our home. As we walked in the doors we were greeted by a very kind older gentleman who introduced himself as Franklin. He was a volunteer that made us feel like we were walking into his house. He asked he could help us get started and escorted us the appropriate desk for us to start our journey. We would become very fond of Franklin in the months to come.
I could tell right away that everyone in the hospital was caring and compassionate. They all knew what we were there for and understood our fears and anxieties. There were always smiles all around with caring eyes. We met with a representative of the hospital who squared away our paperwork for the insurance and such which even that seemed to go effortlessly. He then called for someone to escort to the “women’s center” a branch of the hospital that deals exclusively with breast cancer. When we got there we were met with a counselor that helped us determine what the next steps were and arranged to have a battery of tests done before any type of recommendation of treatment was to be made and that the tests were to begin immediately. Everything was like clockwork. The whole place spoke of nothing but efficiency and experience. We were then escorted to another part of the hospital where we were processed to get every type of scan known to man. Pet Scan, Cat Scan, Bone Density Scan, Muga Scan, EKG, X-Rays and yes unfortunately another biopsy.
The biopsy was equally as painful but the difference was that my wife felt like she was part of a family. They held her hand during the entire procedure and insisted that I be present to make her feel at ease during all of the tests that were given to her. They provided earphones and hot blankets during the tests so that she could relax and listen to music. This biopsy also served to mark where the tumor was located by placing a small “clip” for the surgeon anticipating the option of doing a lumpectomy as opposed to a full mastectomy.
There was no waiting for results and in a few hours we were again like clockwork we were escorted to another part of the hospital to meet with her team of doctors. We met with the surgeon, the oncologist, and the radiation specialist. The explained in great detail the results of all the tests and had already formulated a plan of treatment to “cure” my wife with several different options. The option that they recommended because of the size of the tumor was to start chemo therapy to shrink the tumor so that they could save my wife’s breast and remove the shrunken tumor with a lumpectomy rather than performing a full mastectomy. This was to be followed by radiation therapy to provide additional treatment for any remaining cancer cells that might linger behind. They made no attempt to sugar coat anything and let us know up front that this was going to be an ordeal that was going to last about a year. They also let my wife know up front that it was going to involve losing her long beautiful hair. They scheduled an appointment to see an ”image” counselor at the hospital that specializes in dealing with the affects of cancer and it’s treatments and how to fit and care for wigs and care for the skin. They explained that of course it was going to depend on how her body and tumor responded to the chemo and radiation and that many adjustments may be necessary along the way. During the entire consultation there was nothing but confidence and positive vibrations. This was something that they deal with everyday all day. As a project manager I immediately felt as if I had chosen the right partner for this project and felt like the odds of success which again was keeping my wife alive was excellent.