This is the 8th of a series of posts chronicling Chris' battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
Thursday, October 10
"Chris, it's Dr. Byrnes."
"Hi, Dr. Byrnes. Thanks for calling."
"We finally got your biopsy results in from the reference lab. Again, I'm sorry it took so long. I don't have very good news. Basically what we know is that it's some form of cancer. The lab identified your tissue as either a lymphoma or a myeloid sarcoma, but we'll need to run some tests to know exactly what type of cancer we're dealing with. I need you to come to my office tomorrow morning at 8am, and I'll walk you down to meet the oncologist, Dr. Osafo. We'll start answering questions tomorrow."
"Ok, thanks for your help, Dr. Byrnes."
I hung up the phone, and just sat there. It's funny the things you remember in those moments. I was on the white recliner in my living room. It was a bright afternoon, and the sunlight flooded in through the blinds and bathed the room in light. I remember the peaceful whirring of the ceiling fan over my head. I have cancer. For the next few days, that was the thought that I simply couldn't shake from my mind. Is this real life? I had a thousand questions, but honestly, I didn't really feel like doing much research on the subject. I have cancer.
I should tell somebody. News this big isn't something you should keep to yourself. Karen was gone picking the boys up from preschool; besides, I wanted to tell her face to face. So I called my brother and told him. Then I called my dad. I told them what I knew, which wasn't much. I don't remember many specifics of those conversations. I was in shock.
A few minutes later, I heard the garage door opening. How do you tell this kind of thing to your wife? This new reality was going to impact her life more than it would my own. I met her in the garage as she pulled the car in. She stepped out, and knew in an instant that something had happened. The kids were still strapped into their seats.
"The doctor called."
I think we hugged for a minute. It's a really significant thing, but one that is easy to overlook: whatever we were walking into, we would walk into together. That changes everything. We pulled the three kids out of the car, unpacking them into this new reality of our lives. Karen tried to tell the kids that we just found out that Daddy is really sick, and the next phase of our lives would be different and challenging. They wanted a snack.
I wanted to tell the guys at church. So I drove to the office and asked all the staff guys who were there if I could talk to them for a minute. I can't remember who all was there. I think Skin, Len, Jeremy, Jason, and Sutton were there. Maybe Slate.
"Well, it's cancer."
I watched as the news sunk in. Me having cancer would impact these guys nearly as much as it would my own family. I was transitioning into an expanded leadership role at church. Sunday morning was my primary area of leadership. I was going to preach half the time, and lead worship half the time. I would mentor Sutton as he discerned the next steps for his life. These guys weren't thinking about how my absence would impact their plans, but I was. I thought about how thankful I was to have a group around me as strong as this one.
Skin was the first guy to say something. He's the best pastor I've ever known, in the sense that when you're walking through something, you really feel that he's with you. All he said was, "We're all terminal." Three words. I'm not even sure why those words comforted me. Looking back, they don't seem all that profound, or all that comforting. But in that moment, he took the fear I was dealing with and reminded me that we'd all face it at some point. I wasn't isolated. I wasn't alone. I was just like everyone else. It was a powerful thing for me. We prayed together and then I went home.
That night I had a phone conversation with my primary care doctor. Jake is a friend as well as a physician. So when he heard the news, he gave me a call. He knew I was scared, and he knew that there weren't many questions that had answers. He gave me some clarity about lymphomas vs. sarcomas. I asked him which one I'd rather have, and he said, "I think you'd prefer a lymphoma." Uh oh.
"Am I looking at chemotherapy?" I asked.
"Probably, but your oncologist can tell you for sure."
"The next phase of my life is going to be pretty difficult, isn't it?"
"I would think so. I'm here if you need anything."
I went to bed, full head and heavy heart. I stirred most of the night. Each time I woke up, there was an optimism, a sense of relief that maybe this nightmare had ended. Then the fog would clear and I'd realize this is my life. I have cancer.
About halfway through the night, I began to be bothered by an aching in the right side of my back. Great. I have cancer, and I slept funny and have a sore back. Insult to injury.