I was about to get a chance to ask lots of questions when the phone rang one Monday morning back in October of 2005. I answered in my normal, cheerful way... then my periodontist said to me, "Bruce, you have cancer!"
In reality, Dr. Stacy Matheson said a lot more than 'that' before she said 'that'... but I don't remember anything but... "Bruce, you have CANCER". That's a pretty short sentence, with a long meaning. Years Long! Sometimes smile to myself when I think about the five Double-U questions of that comment...
There were some answers I quickly recognized... the 'who' was clearly... me! The 'what' was a little more complex... but I quickly got the answer that it was 'squamous cell carcinoma'. I immediately knew that I would be reading a lot about this really weird name, for which I had no clue of a meaning. Sounded bad, it even smelled bad... really squishy!
The 'where' was also pretty simple... at least it started out that way. My cancer was right where the fourteen stitches were in my gums, just above my front, right tooth. My tongue instantly stretched forward, shooting between the upper lip and gum to touch them... stringy, a couple of strands out of place... no blood taste any more... they were still there though... no swelling remained around them. My teeth were still there as I ran my tongue over them... strong, straight, porcelain, expensive, newish... squishy?
Dr. Matheson had put those stitches in on the Thursday before the phone call. I was scheduled to visit her later in that next week to get the stitches out. After all, she had just taken out a little tissue. I couldn't see what she took. The hole was sewn up, and I didn't get a look at what was on the tray where she had the silver tools. I did see a scalpel, and the thread and curved stitching needle. I wished I had looked at what came out! I did know she was sending it for pathology testing, but that was routine. Next time, I thought now, I will ask!
This Monday morning phone call had disturbed my peaceful coffee and Yahoo reading. I knew that the perio work I had had done was more extensive than I had anticipated, but nothing to worry about. I mean that fourteen stitches was right where I had had a red and occasional bleeding spot at the gum line, for about four years. My dentist had never shown any concern about it, only cutting it out a couple of times and just a stitch or two. He had recommended I see a dentist in Nova Scotia when we moved there. He wrote a referral, and so I ended up with Stacy who did exactly the right things. She removed the suspect tissue and had it sent for pathology tests. But all looked like it was routine, so "No worry" was what I had told Lynnda when I got home... as I took some pain killers... I mean it was only nine stitches!
|Original Nine Stitches, October, 2005|
All of that had taken a matter of five minutes... She asked me if I had any questions, and I was so stunned that I said, "No". As I said no, already I realized that that was not the right answer... the silence on her end of the line confirmed her surprise... "right after you see Dr. Robertson, come and see me, I will take out the stitches" she said into my fog. I wrote that down...
It would be the last time I would be saying "no questions" for about five years. Lynnda was out when the call had come in, so I was alone in my fogged hole of disbelief. I don't remember what I first thought about the news... it took some time to regain my thoughts that merged with the reality of my crash course in squamous cell carcinoma based on this new thing called Google... there was a lot of information... thousands of pages!
All of this conversation was taking place in our winterized cottage which we had moved into just a couple of months before. We were living in Oyster Pond, which is located on Jeddore Harbor in Nova Scotia. It is on the most easterly coast of mainland Canada. Lynnda and I had moved there from Colorado Springs in the summer so we could be closer to my Mother who was suffering many late life frailties and illnesses. On that Monday morning it was cold, foggy, a little rainy... I mean, it was a normal day down that way...
Charlie and I would have to go for a walk... that's where Lynnda was, walking with a couple of the neighbors. They did several miles every morning, quick time... then tea and coffee somewhere. I would have lots of time to myself before I would confront her and them, with my news. In fact, Charlie and I did take a long walk... in the other direction, down the shore road to where we could see the Loons and maybe some seals. I walked with Charlie, but I talked with me. I don't think I could have been sadder, some moments tears would mix with the fog, the fog in the air. On that walk, I never did get out of my fog... I never did figure out what to do... and I always know what to do... this was to be the new me... fogged!
|Looking into the mid-day fog from the |
Oyster Pond Cottage Deck, 2005.
On the walk, I talked with me about the 'when'... the initial discussion didn't go well! It was the first time I thought about 'when' I had the CANCER in the first place. I didn't know the answer to that during the walk. Certainly Charlie was no help, although he had been around for all the times I had had that red spot treated in the past, in Colorado Springs. But he was keeping mum about how he felt. I resolved to leave the 'when' alone for that walk... but also to call my dentist back in Colorado to find out what he thought about my diagnosis.
We continued to walk and I got to the 'why'. Wow, that question is a Pandora's box. Any time a person gets CANCER, I recommend that they not ask that question! Self-loathing is such a debilitating mind function that one shouldn't get into it. I know... now, that that walk was the beginning of my narcissistic search for a cause of my CANCER. It lasted for a few years, and I read hundreds of pages of opinion, research and social data. In the end, I came up with several reasons to believe that I had brought on my CANCER... but the real answer to that didn't arrive for five years, so I will leave the 'why' until later. Suffice to say, it is much better to bypass this question, since there is little that can be done about it... unless one is considering doing it again!
When I got back to the cottage, our renovation and construction crew was there. We were having a two car garage built, and even though it was fogging, the guys apparently decided to work... they weren't there when I left, but they had arrived. I guess when you live on the Eastern Shore, they would loose so many days if they didn't work on fog days, that they just decided to get wet. That's why the folks on the Eastern Shore sometimes complain of having moss between their toes... in the rest of the world we call it Athletes Foot!
It was great, having the guys there to talk to... it took my mind off the 'me' part of the cancer. I didn't say anything to Kim, Gary and Thomas about the call I had gotten. I got back on the computer and I just read, and printed what seemed like the important things. A lot would depend on what stage the cancer was when it was found. I didn't know that answer. I learned that morning, if there were metastasis it could be in the lungs or brain... that wouldn't be good. There was a lot of data, but I wan't certain what to believe... there was conflicting information. I retained those pages... they are still on the Google Pages, too.
Lynnda came back at around eleven and we had a cup of tea with Kim. Kim Aaboe is a Danish boat builder; come post-and-beam home builder; come sailor and expert knot tyer. He is also a dry philosopher who could discuss practically anything with a matter-of-fact manner, that we had come to really enjoy. While he was building the garage, he was also helping us design and build out the kitchen, the down-stairs laundry room and practically everything else in the cottage on the point. He would become one of our strongest support partners, like his big beams, he was already keeping our minds off our problems with the cottage, and my Mother. I knew, even then, that I would be able do depend on Kim when the going got tough.
After tea, Kim went back to the building of the garage, and I had a chance to face-to-face with Lynnda. I put my best one on, and 'mentioned' that "Dr. Matheson called". I don' know if it was the look on my face, or the fact that there was an unexpected call from my periodontist... but I could see steel forming in her back, at the same time as her eyes searched mine. I went over the conversation I'd had with Stacy, and with Lynnda's lead, I put some steel in my upper lip. We had a discussion around the fact that we really had no information. What I had found on the internet really had no basis in fact... it needed to be vetted... and I didn't go over it with her. In retrospect, I suspect that she was on the computer within minutes of our conversation... lots of wasted paper!
It was amazing, the pressure was off, I'd had the discussion with Lynnda and everything was OK. At least it would be, so there was no reason to over-react. We would wait for the meeting with Chad Robertson before we over-reacted. Already we were smiling at our own fake bravado...but that's CANCER.
I decided to hit the books. I had signed up at Saint Mary's University for the EMBA program that started in August. I was doing very well and my papers were getting very high marks. I knew however, that if I did't do my reading assignments, I couldn't rely on my experience. Everyone in the class it seemed had great experience, and I knew I needed to be prepared for the discussion groups and to work on the team for which I had been chosen. The rest of the day went quickly...
Lynnda and I had dinner early... even though it seemed late. The sun goes down early in Nova Scotia the later into the fall we get. It had been cloudy all day, even though the fog had lifted by noon. We washed the dishes... and went back into the office to do more reading. At around 8:30, I mosied over to Ron and Bev Smith's. Ron always had his thinking cap on, and I had already grown to rely on him for great arguments about politics, business, life and the English language. Ron had retired from teaching English when he was about 55, and Bev had also retired from teaching... but she had grown tired of Ron's and my enthusiasm for discussing things over glasses of red wine, till the wee hours.
It wasn't long before I brought up the appointment with Dr. Robertson. I remember Ron's words so well, as if it was yesterday... "fuck... life's not fair".
So, we had another glass of red, and whined about the fairness of life...
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