Four years ago yesterday our family was blissfully unaware that our world was about to be turned upside down, inside out and would forever after exist in an altered state. Like you, we went about our lives unknowing. An unwelcome guest, one that had been lurking in our midst for months and perhaps for years, was about to make the surprise announcement that it was claiming permanent residency within our tightknit family.
It was a busy week. My husband Joe was in Florida to play in a tennis tournament or two. He wasn’t expected home until at least Sunday, March 7th. I’d spent much of Monday with Brandon after he’d had an outpatient procedure to remove the nasal polyps causing his frequent nosebleeds. He bounced back by late afternoon, and I thought no more of it as I went about the rest of my week. Thursday, March 4th, our family’s last day BC I taught a day-long seminar and later drove to the airport to meet our son Tony who was coming in for the weekend from New Jersey. His twin Joe(y) with wife Mia were driving in the next day from Chicago. In addition to their plans for a weekend catching up with high school and college friends, the family looked forward to having both of them home so we could celebrate their March 9th birthday a few days early. A family dinner was planned for March 5th, a Friday night.
Depending on your age, do you remember where you were when you learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the flying of planes into the World Trade Center? There are other dates, personal touchpoints, in the lives of every human when some profound truth is revealed that causes time to stop. Not only can one remember where she/he was, the minutiae of the environment at the time of the discovery may be recalled with sharply focused detail and the words of any conversation may replay in the mind like a broken record.
I was putting laundry away in the closet of our Master bedroom. The phone on a nearby nightstand rang. I ran and picked it up, hitting the “on” button as I returned to the closet to continue putting clothes away while I talked. I saw Brandon’s name on the phone screen and figured he was calling about some detail about the coming evening’s dinner menu, as he was to be the chef.
“Hi, Bran. What’s up?” I asked. I was not ready for the answer. If I lived one thousand years, I would never be ready.
“Mom, the doctor called this morning. I have cancer.”
I can still hear his voice, how it sounded, in my ear telling me this.
“All of the other polyps were fine. Just one had cancer.”
I could hear Brandon’s fear. I could feel my own. I clutched a shelf to keep myself from collapsing in a heap on the floor. Every protective instinct I possessed pushed forward. Instantaneously, my wonderful adult son was my baby once again.
My mind leapt back three days to the conversation with the surgeon after the nasal polyps removal. Something in his voice or its expression – or was it my intuition – caused me to mentally lurch when he said the word “cancer” as he told me he’d sent the nasal polyps to the pathology department for examination, which is standard procedure and I knew that.
“Did he say what you had to do next? Have you called your dad (a physician) yet?” I asked.
I can’t remember if he said he’d already talked to his dad, but I think he said he needed to hang up so he could call his dad next. I think he said the otolaryngologist was to get back with him after he’d discussed with a colleague who and what Brandon should do next. I can’t remember. I just remember hearing his voice repeat over and over, “Mom, the doctor called this morning. I have cancer.”
A fuzzy numbness was setting in and my mind seemed to have gone blank. I think I was taking off on my first business trip to Denial. I can hear myself thinking cancer’s not a death sentence, we don’t have enough information yet, Brandon will get treatment, he’ll be fine.