Four Years Ago Today
Four years ago today, I heard the words "there is a lesion on Colleen's femur". I was alone with Colleen at Triangle Orthopedics. This was our second or third visit. Colleen had been complaining of knee pain for a couple of months. She was a year round swimmer and she was still swimming every day but in the evening the pain had gotten so bad she would cry every night. Our previous visits resulted in a knee brace, over the counter pain medicine and no relief from the pain. The last visit even included blood work, which reveled nothing unusual. The doctor was about to refer us to a Rheumatoid Arthritis specialist when he stopped us halfway out the door. He asked me if I thought her thigh was swollen. I told him that I didn't notice anything unusual. He suggested that we take a film of her thigh. They had previously only taken films of her knee, which were all negative. Colleen and I waited patiently in the room for the doctor to come back in with the results. He came into the room and invited me into the hall. He said, "well you are right". "She has a sizable lesion on her femur" as he pointed to this cloudy area on the film. It was odd. My sister is a physician. My father died of cancer just 8 years earlier. My cousin had cancer. Cancer and I were not strangers. However, I had absolutely no idea that the term "lesion" had anything to do with cancer. Looking back, I think this was God's way of helping me through that particular day. I had to keep it together. The doctor told me that we had to go get an MRI. We were at the Raleigh office and the only office that could take us that day was Durham. They wanted us to go there now, so Colleen and I traveled to Durham.
Before leaving the Raleigh office, the doctor explained that there was a "special doctor" at UNC that handled lesions like this. He never used the word Oncologist. He would contact him to make an appointment for us. I explained that we were going to the beach for the weekend and I asked if we should cancel our plans. He said no. That was the last vacation we took together. I wonder if the doctor knew that and that is why he told me not to cancel our plans.
Colleen and I went to Triangle Orthopedics in Durham for the MRI. I had to stay in the waiting room while she had her test. After a short time, the radiologist came out and asked me what the doctor had told me. I told him exactly what I had heard about the lesion and the special doctor at UNC. He said, "your daughter definitely has a tumor and I would like your permission to inject her with contrast to get a better look.” That was the first time I heard the word tumor. My stomach is retching even now as I relive the moment. It was a horrible feeling sitting there all alone, in that waiting room, processing that. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know if I should call someone. Do I break that kind of news to Vince on the phone? It was the first, worst moment of my life. The nurse came out and explained that they were having trouble with Colleen and asked if I could come back and help. I had to put my belongings including all of my jewelry in a locker due to the magnetic properties of the MRI. At this point, Colleen had been in this MRI for over 90 minutes. She had to go to the bathroom and they did not want to let her as they just hooked her up to the IV with the contrast. I tried to encourage her to hang tight until the test was done and she eventually completed the test. However, the process of that scarred her for the rest of her treatment. Whenever she had to have a test done, she would be overwhelmed by an urgency to pee, I believe it was psychological as a result of that initial test and their reluctance to let her go to the bathroom throughout that lengthy test.
When we left Triangle Orthopedics that day, the technician showered her with gifts. She left with a tote bag, a stuffed animal, a flashlight and a pen that looked like a syringe. She felt like she hit pay dirt. All I could think was that this must be the sickest child they had seen in a very long time.
Over the course of the next two weeks we saw all the specialists and Colleen had a multitude of tests. On Monday, October 1st, Colleen's Oncologist delivered the horrifying news that Colleen had Stage IV cancer and will likely succumb in 9-12 months.
Our lives and the lives of everyone we knew were profoundly changed forever.