When I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in 2000, I came face-to-face with my own mortality—and learned some profound lessons that transformed my view of reality. I would never sign up for my cancer experience, but neither would I trade away the treasures mined from it.
Above all, I learned to live with the awareness that we all really do have an impending, inescapable appointment awaiting us. We all have an appointment with God. No matter how busy or distracted we are or how distant that appointment may seem, one telephone call can change everything.
My call came when I was a 40-year-old mother of two preschool children and a happily married wife. The following post is Part 10 in “Snapshots of a Mother’s Cancer Experience,” a series that chronicles my journey through diagnosis, surgery, and beyond. (You can find a chronological list of the previous Snapshots here.)
Monday, July 31
Heat waves rise from the blacktop as Roger drives down a residential street to avoid the late afternoon traffic. We pass a playground and the scent of fresh cut grass accompanies the drone of a lawnmower. The landscape glows lush green in the sweltering humidity. These sights and sounds seem surreal.
This is new territory for us. The boys are with “Miss Rhonda,” one of the many friends from Church who recently stepped into our lives to offer help. We have rarely left the boys in the care of others, but we trust Rhonda, and the boys are excited to be with her. A few more turns take us beyond homes to a blur of commercial buildings. Shiny copper windows reflect slow-moving cars crowded on a busy roadway. This glass building contains the office of my oncologist. (My oncologist!?!)
Escaping the haze of exhaust fumes, we enter an interior that begs for bleach and updating. I hand the receptionist my insurance card; she hands me a form on a clipboard. “Fill this out and wait for the nurse to call you.” I take a seat amid a few patients who stare at a television soap opera. The room seems troubled and tired.
* * *
It is only a few minutes before a young nurse calls my name. We follow her into a spacious office furnished with bookcases, a spotless credenza, and three chairs positioned in front of a massive desk. She motions for us to sit and joins us, taking a chair beside me. After she runs through a list of questions, we talk about my babies. She tells me that her sister recently made her an aunt (and she cannot imagine her sister in my position).
The oncologist arrives. I guess him to be in his early sixties. Short. Stout. Surprisingly stubby fingers grasp mine in a firm handshake. Jovial. Thick European accent. “Hello, Mrs. Farrell. I spoke with your doctor. He told me all about you. Do you know why you’re here?”
Do I? Sure! I’m here because I’m dreaming. But, frankly, this is a bit of a nightmare, and I’m ready to wake up now….
The young nurse departs as he settles into the executive swivel behind the desk and reviews my biopsy results. When he says he wants to examine me, another nurse quickly appears to lead us into a larger room loaded with medical equipment. She hands me a green cotton gown and instructs me to strip. “Put this on and have a seat. The doctor will be with you shortly.” She gestures to a curtained dressing room, and then to a chair with stirrups.
She leaves. I comply. Roger stands beside me.
* * *
The door bursts open and the oncologist advances. Landing heavily on a rolling stool, he commands me to lie down and tilts back my chair. As I begin to study the ceiling, I hear him say, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Farrell, but I have to hurt you.”
Suddenly, I feel a sharp pain. I clench teeth and grip chair arms. I should have recognized that contraption.
When he finishes this surprise colposcopy, he says, “Good news, Mrs. Farrell. I think I can cure you.” And then he leaves the room as quickly as he came.
Why didn’t he tell me what he was going to do? I suppose he could argue that he had warned me—but I generally need a bit more than two seconds to prepare. I blot my bleeding and hobble to the dressing area.
Roger asks if I’m okay. I shake off my discomfort. Any offense I might take has been extinguished by hope.
* * *
We return to the oncologist’s office and take our seats. From his executive swivel, the oncologist says that although I do have cancer, my prognosis looks good—if we act quickly. He can operate next week.
I’m wearing shorts and, as I shift in my chair, my thighs stick to leather for a second. I want to believe him. Dr. T recommended him. After a brief pause, we agree to schedule the surgery. Then we ask questions.
The oncologist smiles broadly. He dramatically dictates surgery instructions to his nurse. Then he stands, hands us his card, insists that we call with any concerns …
… but he never quite answers our questions.
When the door closes behind him, the nurse hands me another clipboard with a waiver and consent form for me to sign.
* * *
As we drive home, Roger and I agree our encounter with the oncologist felt rehearsed—like a performance—staged and dreadfully impersonal. Dr. T. had assured me of the oncologist’s competence yet warned of his bedside manner. (Now I understand why.)
“Well? What do you think?” I ask.
Sounding calm, Roger quietly replies, “I don’t believe him.”
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Have you faced (or are you facing) a serious health situation? We would love to pray for you. Stacy is taking a short break, but she will be back on Monday, May 26th. In the mean time, we would love to pray for you! Share your prayer requests below.