Brandon and our entire family’s journey with cancer – with terror, with hope, with denial, with a vivid joy, with crushing sadness and grief - officially began four years ago today, March 1, 2010. It hadn’t started as a particularly good year for me. I had a health scare of my own that January, which was finally resolved in late February.
In late January or early February, Brandon told us he had an appointment with an otolaryngologist. He’d been experiencing nosebleeds several mornings a week since the fall of 2009, and he wanted to figure out the cause and take care of it. “Mom,” he said, “You’ve always told us that if we’re bleeding from a place we shouldn’t, we should get it checked out. So, I’m taking your advice.” Nasal polyps were diagnosed and the “no big deal” outpatient surgery was scheduled for March 1st.
“Mom, Christina (then his fiancée) can take me to the surgery center and drop me off, but she has a meeting at work that morning and can’t stay. Would you mind coming to pick me up?” (Like me, Brandon was more a night than morning person, which was the reason there was even a question about being there with him for an early morning surgical procedure.) Of course, I said I didn’t mind! And I really didn’t – even if it was a bit early in the day for me!
I made it to the outpatient surgery center not long before Brandon was wheeled in for his procedure. No big deal. Nasal polyps. Lots of people have had these. Lots of people have had nasal polyps removed. I’m a nurse. I knew it was a “no big deal” procedure. I settled in the waiting area with a People magazine. I can’t remember whether it was the current issue or weeks to months old. It didn’t matter. Mindless entertainment was the objective, and it achieved that objective.
Before I knew it Brandon’s surgeon was beckoning me to a more private “consult” room. “Everything went well,” he said. “Brandon’s in Recovery. They’ll call you back as soon as he wakes up a bit.”
Was there a change in his voice or did his expression change somehow before he then said, ”The polyps were sent to Pathology for microscopic examination. They’ll look for cancer or other complications.”
As I said earlier, I’m a nurse. I know it’s standard procedure to send tissue removed during a surgical procedure to Pathology for examination. Still, something the surgeon said or, perhaps, something in the way he said it, or it may have been some weird intuition, but my antennae were suddenly up and standing on end. I can only say that something seemed “off,” although I can’t say precisely what it was. It was one of those moments when I felt that I stood outside of time. If you’ve never felt it, I wish I knew how to describe it more clearly.
(A year or so later I had an opportunity to ask the surgeon if he’d suspected that one of the polyps was cancerous, and that suspicion may have affected his facial expression or the tone of his voice when he talked to me after the procedure. He said, “Absolutely not. I saw nothing out of the ordinary” with visual inspection. “I was as surprised as anyone later that week.”)
The moment outside of time passed. The surgeon had to move on to the next patient and the next waiting family. Brandon began to wake more, so I was called back to his cubicle in the Recovery area. Before long I was driving him to our house, so his dad or I could be with him until we knew he was fine. As I recall, he was ready to head to his own home within another couple of hours.
Brandon got back to his life, and I got back to mine. I was busy that week because one of our younger sons and his wife were coming for the weekend. I forgot about the moment in the consult room. The source of the nosebleeds had been removed, and Brandon was back to work without missing a beat.
The procedure was done on a Monday. Our family’s world was to be forever changed only three puny, normal days later, and all of us were completely clueless…