Those were the first words I heard when I came to after my colonoscopy this last February 10.
I’d had some symptoms over the Christmas holiday last year – some bloody stools, a general sense of weakness, and so on – but was hoping against hope that it was just a terrible diet plus middle aged aches and pains.
Nope – it was cancer.
Hearing that news made the world go kind of grey – I felt both numb and terrified when my brother Luke gave me a ride home from the endoscopy center where I had my colonoscopy.
The doctor had found a malignant mass in my upper colon, and said my next steps were a CAT scan and surgery to remove the tumor. He referred me to a surgeon, who ordered a CAT scan and then scheduled surgery.
The CAT scan was to determine whether the cancer (whatever kind it was – that’s what the biopsy/lab results would show) had spread beyond the tumor in my colon.
Interesting side note: none of the medical professionals who treated me ever used the word “cancer”. When the gastroenterologist called me with the biopsy results, he said that “it’s what we thought it was.” When he later called me with the CAT scan results, he said it showed “the area we are concerned about” but no evidence it had spread.
When someone you know has a life-threatening illness, it can be hard to know what to say or how to approach them, so I wanted to share what I experienced within a day or two of my diagnosis.
I got the following message from a co-worker:
Hi Matt, I couldn’t help but notice you weren’t at work today. I just wanted to let you know you’re not alone. You have several folks at work, including myself, who all care about you and want to do whatever we can to help. Don’t feel pressured to write back, but I just wanted to let you know that I care about you.
Maria and I have another close friend with cancer, so I am familiar with the treatments & needs of those with it (from a distance.) Neither of us have children so we probably have more free time than the average family. I just want to say, I’m here if you need help. I’m a decent cook and I don’t mind delivering. Also, if you ever need an ear or want to talk, I’m here.
Please try not to worry and let us who want to surround you with love, laughter, tears, and friendship be there when you need us.
That’s a pretty good template. I had tears in my eyes when I read it.
The diagnosis was actually the worst part of my experience – every piece of news after that was good: the cancer was colon cancer, and not some more aggressive form of cancer that had spread to my colon. The CAT scan showed promise that it had not spread beyond the primary tumor. The surgery went well; the surgeon said there were “no surprises” (in terms of distant tumors or signs of spread); the pathology report said the tumor looked moderately aggressive, but had not spread beyond the wall of my colon; the doctor took out and sent over 30 lymph nodes from near the tumor site to the pathology lab, and none showed any signs of cancer.
During the time I had cancer and under treatment, I wen’t very often to daily Mass, and my prayer life underwent something of a renaissance – it’s amazing what a reminder of your mortality will do to clarify things!