Sunday, July 20, 2014

The First Couple Days

This is the 9th of a series of posts chronicling Chris' battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

The first night of sleep after finding out you have cancer is not a good one. Counting sheep apparently works better than counting scenarios. Friday morning arrived slowly, as I tried to digest the new reality of my world. I have cancer

Life-shattering news aside, I really didn't sleep well. My back was aching, and I didn't know why. I walked into the kitchen and asked Karen to massage a knot. She started to, but then stopped abruptly. She didn't say anything at first, and lifted up my shirt to inspect more carefully. "This isn't knot," she said. "It's a lump." 

I ran to a mirror, and there it was. On the right side of my back, just below my rib cage, it looked as though someone had surgically implanted a racquetball under my skin. My heart sank. Karen and I told each other that it could be anything, but I knew what it was. I had no idea what was happening inside my body, and I had no control over it. Looking back, it's still amazing to me that I never noticed the lump before I found out I had cancer. 

On the bright side, I already had an appointment scheduled Friday morning with an oncologist. What are the odds?! Karen and I made the same drive to the clinic that we had made one week earlier, this time under very different circumstances. We checked in at Dr. Byrnes' office, and he walked us down the hall to meet the oncologist, Dr. Osafo. Originally from Ghana, Dr. Osafo has become somewhat of a fixture in Ruston, cycling and saving lives. He is a man with no enemies. 

I love Dr. Osafo. There haven't been many times in my adult life when I was truly terrified; this was one of them. But he gave me and Karen a sense of confidence and calm, to know that there are actually people in the world who could help me. I had been living in a cloud of worry and sadness for the past 18 hours, but Dr. Osafo was upbeat and happy. It's amazing what simple kindness can do for someone in need. 

Dr. Osafo told us we needed to do a bone marrow biopsy. This guy had my trust, so it didn't seem like a huge deal when he turned me up on my side and shoved a huge needle to the center of my hip bone. He said he extracted some marrow from my hip, but it felt like it came from my toes. That marrow would help us nail down a diagnosis. 

The bone marrow results would come in on Monday, and Dr. Osafo asked us to come back then to move toward a treatment plan. Before we left, I asked, "Dr. Osafo, I don't know anything about cancer. How serious is this?" He answered, "We have to assume it's very serious." 

That weekend happened to be Louisiana Tech Homecoming. My brother Patrick's family were coming in town for the festivities, which turned out to be a huge blessing. Rather than sit around and worry all weekend, I would be watching my kids play with their cousins, attending a football game, laughing, and being with family. 

The football game was cloudy and cool. I sat in the cold metal stands, feeling detached from the noise and activity around me. I thought about how much time I had spent at that stadium. Sitting in section DD, Row 35 with my mom as a little boy. (Dad was always working at football games.) Through those awkward adolescent years, I'd run to the far corners of the bleachers and sit with friends, far away from the shackles of authority and oversight. In college I switched to the East Side, where we'd stand through the whole game and scream our heads off. Now we had progressed back to the Old People Side, as Karen and I tried to wrangle kids of our own. I wondered if this would be the last season of Tech football I'd see. (If you watched last season, you know how great a tragedy that would be.) The thoughts, and the breeze, brought a chill to my core. The shivering accentuated the sharp pain in my back, which was never far from my mind. 

After the game, we took Jude and Owen down to the field - a treat they only get at these rare daytime games. They love seeing the turf up close, standing on the logo, looking back up into the seats, dreaming. I had sat for three hours looking at the life through my eyes. It was good for me to see it through theirs. We threw the ball, chased each other, fell down...

What's life for if not for living?

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