Just My Luck – Chapter 9-2
A Game Changing Call
Day 1 + 3 Weeks + 3 Months + 1 Week + 1 Week
A week after taking the biopsy Dr. S. called me at my office to give me the results. I didn’t expect to hear them directly from him, usually a physician’s assistant reports out that sort of thing, at least when the news is good. When I heard him announce himself after “Hello,” I thought perhaps he was bringing me the news because I was the guy on the table when the chain saw revved up.
That wasn’t the reason.
“I’m afraid I have some difficult news, Jim,” he said.
A wave of disbelief washed over me. I felt a chill down my back and the blood abandoning my face and ears.
He continued, “The biopsy shows that you have prostate cancer. Seems you’ve had it for a while because it measures stage 3 out of 5.”
I closed my eyes. The ringing in my ears became appreciably louder. I took a moment to digest the report while Dr. S waited patiently. When I prepared to speak, I realized I didn’t know how to reply to such news so I just latched on to the last thing he said and asked, “How long do you think I’ve had it?”
“That’s hard to say, really. The important thing is that it advanced as far as it has, but it’s not so far along as to be untreatable. We have a couple of options here that I’d like to discuss with you in my office. In the meantime, however, our first concern is to find out if the cancer has spread anywhere else.”
That statement hit me really hard. My ear ringing was louder than ever. “Is that likely?” I asked.
“It’s possible,” he replied. “We have to make sure of what we’re dealing with here. I’m going to have my assistant schedule the necessary tests for you over the coming week, then we’ll know for sure. Can I assume you can make it to whatever times she can get.”
“Yeah, sure, of course,” I said. “I appreciate that you’re doing this for me.”
“No problem. She’ll call you to let you know when and where. Should she use this number or call you at home?”
“Please have her call me at home,” I answered, “I don’t think I’ll be back in the office for a while. Thanks.”
Fortunately, I was alone in my office when the call came. After it was over, I got up, closed the door, returned to my desk, sat down, leaned forward, put my palms on my forehead and elbows on my desk, and stared down blankly at my desktop. “Cancer,” I thought to myself, “I have Cancer. Oh God, what now?” I was numb. I couldn’t deal with the thought, I just sat there looking at nothing, feeling nothing, letting time pass, accomplishing nothing.
Eventually I had to do something. Anything. I had to tell someone. I didn’t want to tell Doris about this over the phone. I called Bob.
I described the diagnosis I’d just received and he immediately said, “Stay there. I’m on my way. You’re in no condition to drive home. I’ll be there in 15 minutes. Just hang in there, I’m on my way.”
As an aside, I want to note that I don’t know what I did to deserve the great friendship that Bob and I share. We have surprisingly similar backgrounds and life experiences and share much the same viewpoints and values. If I’d had a brother, I doubt that our concerns for one another’s well-being could have been as strong as the concern Bob and I share. We are both 100% heterosexual men, who simply have an extraordinary friendship. I’m sure if it came down to it, either of us would walk through fire to save the other.
He and I had been friends for about 25 years at that point. We joined Marsh within a year of each other, we worked together on several projects and eventually became an unofficial quasi-team at work. My abilities complemented his and vice-versa. At work we shared triumphs and tragedies, we challenged and fought egregiously self-centered and unscrupulous office adversaries and we befriended and championed colleagues who understood the value of teamwork. He had been hired (and then he hired me to help) to create something new in the company, something that was inherently contrary to the existing management style and business culture that had been unable to garner an appreciable share of large, complex Fortune 500 clients. We came from a business culture at Marsh that promoted teamwork and knew how crucial that was to persuading large clients that we could perform well for them. We built our teams at Aon and became avid readers of books and business reviews on the subject of change management and made progress on several fronts in five years. But all that came crashing down with the buildings on 9/11.
At Aon, I spent nearly as much time in Bob’s office as I did in my own. On 9/11, as Bob was stepping into the skylobby he saw me at the other end of the 78th floor as I stepped onto the express elevator to the ground floor. When the second plane crashed into our building, he knew I was already safely on the ground, but I didn’t learn that he was okay until hours later. Shortly after I did, he had taken an express elevator to the main lobby. He had just exited the building a few steps out towards Liberty Street when the second plane hit the building directly over his head. He managed to duck back under cover in a doorway before an avalanche of glass and metal fell right in front of him. His survival story was more harrowing than mine.
Though I was the first of us to take time off to recover, he eventually had to do the same. We went to the gym together almost every morning and had lunch together afterward. We’d gone to several of our friends’ memorial services and helped each other decipher the fast and furious changes in our lives.
We both lost our positions when we took leaves to recover. Our hard work to establish change at Aon was at a crucial crossroad on 9/11. Bob was scheduled to meet with the Chairman of the Board, the man who hired Bob and approved Bob’s intent to hire me, at 4:00 pm that very day. The Chairman was enroute to NY when the attack happened, and his plane like all the others in the air over North America that day, was forced to land at the nearest airport. The meeting never happened. The sharks circled while we were away. Our careers were derailed. But we were alive.
We were and remain like brothers.
Calling Bob at that moment of need was absolutely the right decision. He got me home and was either with Doris and me or in touch every day of the ensuing week of medical tests. Bob’s wife, Ann, a Registered Nurse and a real joy, was of incredible help as well.
An Entirely Different Encounter
Day 1 + 3 Weeks + 3 Months + 1 Week + 1 Week + 1 Week
The week of tests was the longest week of my life. Cat scans, MRIs, X-rays, blood work, and more – all of it looking to see if the cancer in my prostate had metastasized into my blood or any other organs. Medical technology has advanced so far in many areas that many computer images and test results are very quickly available. I wanted to know what each of the various test administrators saw and knew when they looked at my results, but they all refused to tell me, saying only that the test findings would be sent directly to my urologist and he would give them to me. It took a while, but eventually I caught on. If any of my test results showed cancer, it shouldn’t be the tester who had to break the news to me. And if they only gave good news, the first tester to refuse to tell me the results would be admitting they were bad.
My anxiety level was off the chart. This was an entirely different type of encounter with Death. When I had my coronary episode, the Grim Reaper chased me for maybe three or four hours before I was stable in the Emergency Room. A couple of days of more or less routine plumbing repair and I was good to go.
On 9/11 I had no idea the Grim Reaper was even in the neighborhood until I had left it. My realization of what almost happened was entirely retrospective. The threat was over before I was aware of it.
But now I could feel the breath of the Grim Reaper on my neck as he strode behind me every waking moment, everywhere I went during that long week. So far, I knew I was a cancer patient with a historically treatable strain, but if it had spread beyond my prostate, or if it had been spawned at another source and spread to my prostate, I might sooner than later belong to the specter tailing me.
By rights, this week deserves a full chapter. It was much longer and more agonizing than I’ve given justice to here. But to tell the truth, other than knowing how really afraid I constantly was, the events of that week are now a blur. I know that I tried to present myself as calm and confident, but I also know that I wasn’t very successful in the effort. Doris knew I was trying to act as though I was fine, but wasn’t. She and Bob and Ann helped me deal with my fears through those days.
But when I went where, for what, eludes me.
At last, the day came when Doris and I went to my urologist’s office to get my test results. That day, unlike the previous ones, is etched deeply in my memory. As I opened the door from the parking lot into Dr. S’s medical offices I softly told myself, “I could be walking into a death sentence here.” All the tension was coming to a very sharp point.
This was the most urgent yes/no verdict of my life.
Doris and I were ushered into Dr. S’s office and sat down to wait. We held hands, each needing to connect to the other. When Dr. S joined us he didn’t waste a moment before saying, “Good news, it hasn’t metastasized.”
It wasn’t a piano being lifted off my back, it was the Grim Reaper being lifted off my soul that produced my huge sigh of relief.
Dr. S took a few moments to read aloud his list that claimed the all clear: – lungs, clear – liver, clear – pancreas, clear – colon, clear – etc. It felt like a proclamation of victory.
He finished the list, looked at me, smiled and said, “Now, let’s focus on your prostate.”
(to be continued)
Time for some stupid comic relief:
They told me to “Keep lion still in the cat scan.” She’s still there but she’s gettin’ hungry.
©2016 James Ash