26 April 2012

War...and Peace, Part 2

One of the hardest things a person can ever say and/or hear are the three words I have cancer. It doesn't matter how tough you are (or claim to be), it's one of those phrases that brings sadness to everyone involved (and even to those who aren't involved). It's real. It's heart-wrenching. It's sobering. Those three little words remind us of our own mortality, that our absolute appointment with death is closer than we may have originally thought, and it hurts like hell. It doesn't get any easier to digest after you've heard them, either. I can bear witness to that.

The image of a phone conversation with my brother in September 2010 still resides in my brain as if it were 5 minutes ago. No matter how hard I try to forget, I am constantly reminded of that exact moment when he broke the news to me.

I was waiting in line to pick my son up from school and suddenly I saw my cell phone ringing. I should have known something was wrong when I saw his number on the caller-ID, because he's not the type to just call me up to discuss the weather. He's just like me when it comes to talking on the phone (i.e. - we hate it). It's funny how brothers can be alike in so many weird ways, yet be totally different in others. But anyway, I digress.

I remembered that he previously told me he had a doctor's appointment because he had been abnormally sick for several weeks after returning home from Afghanistan, but I never in a million years would have imagined that he would have cancer. That's just not something that goes through your head when you get a phone call from your brother. I was expecting him to tell me something about where his fiancee (at the time) would be stationed after she completes her training (she's in the Air Force), but I never thought I would hear him telling me that he had cancer. He wasn't supposed to say that.

Talk about a bombshell. After he told me, I was in a daze - like I was in the middle of a bad dream and couldn't wake up from it. To this day I'm still trying to face the facts and understand that he really did tell me that and it wasn't something that I made up.

The hardest part was not knowing what the future would hold. There was a lot of uncertainty in regards to treatment options, quality of life, likelihood of survival, etc., and it was a very trying time for me and my family because we couldn't just "know". I often wished that I could look into a crystal ball and see that everything was going to be alright, but I couldn't. Knowing that I couldn't made it hurt even more.

I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to help. Feeling helpless doesn't make matters any better, because I'm the type of person who likes to solve problems. Approaching the unsolvable is something I prefer to avoid, and something that I'm not accustomed to. I was a fish out of water for most of the time after his diagnosis, and that bothered me.

It bothered me that I couldn't solve the problem. It bothered me that I couldn't do anything to make his pain go away. It bothered me that I couldn't do anything to make my pain go away, and I couldn't make my parents' pain go away. I wrestled with the feeling of helplessness for a long time (hell, I'm still fighting that feeling today), even though my brain knew that there was nothing I could do - my heart wanted to do something so bad it couldn't stand it, and it couldn't handle the reality that there was nothing that could be done.

The doctors gave us a glimmer of hope by telling us that he could go through a few rounds of chemotherapy and then have surgery to remove the tumors that were in his body*, and after that there was a chance that following a round of radiation treatment he could make a full recovery. They cited his age (28 at the time) as a benefit in his fight because he was young enough and strong enough to fight off the ill effects of the chemotherapy, and he was still young enough to have something worth fighting for.

* - He had tumors in his rectum, liver, and one of his lungs.

He managed to stay relatively healthy (considering the circumstances) during his chemo treatments, and he was scheduled to go through surgery in December to remove the cancer from his body. When it came time for his surgery, he was in good spirits (again, considering the circumstances), and even though we were worried beyond belief, we tried to maintain a positive outlook for him. (This is much easier said than done.)

While the surgery only took about 6-8 hours*, it seemed like an eternity to me and the rest of the family as we sat in the waiting room, anxiously awaiting updates from the surgeon. Hospital waiting rooms are like that though. They make it seem like time is at a stand still. You sit, and you sit, and you sit some more. Then you get up and walk around to ease your butt from all the sitting (and because you're going stir crazy sitting in the same chair for so long), and then you return to your seat and sit again for hours on end. Then, you look up at the clock and realize you've only been sitting there for fifteen minutes, even though you feel like you've been trapped in that chair for hours on end.

* - I have forgotten exactly how long the surgery took, but 6-8 hours is a fair estimate.

Finally, after what appeared to be about five days worth of time, the surgeon came out to discuss how the surgery went. The news was good, but not as good as we hoped it would be. The surgery went well in terms of he went in and came out alive, but the surgery didn't go so well in terms of the surgeon accomplishing his goals in the surgery. They were only able to remove part of the tumor because of extenuating circumstances they encountered once they opened him up.*

* - I'm not going to go into graphic detail, but it took them several hours to clean his bowels because they were so impacted due to the location of his tumor.

Because of the problems they ran into once they opened him up for the operation, they weren't able to remove the tumors from his lung and liver. They decided that it was best to get the biggest tumor out of the way, and they were able to take all of it out. The down side to the surgery was they had to set him up with a colostomy bag because of the tumor's location, but they were hopeful that it would only be a temporary setback until they were able to do a second surgery to completely remove the cancerous tumors.

Unfortunately for my brother, it wasn't temporary. But that was only the beginning of his struggles.

To be continued...

No comments

Post a Comment