I hope you’ll forgive this rather personal post. Hopefully I’ll get back into the concerts and sports thing shortly. I just needed to get this off my chest.
When I remember to do it, I enjoy this blogging thing. It is sincerely amusing for me to share good music, to think about the joys of sports. This mode of writing is a simple, effective escape, a diversion from the other ups and downs of life. Even the hockey lockout is amusing in a way, as an outlet for anger, a step away from politicking or whatever else there may be.
But for today, I’m taking a brief detour from hockey and music. It can wait a moment.
We’re going to cross into something a bit more serious, if only this one time, to discuss the most meaningful “NHL” acronym in my life, and one that is likely to dictate things with at least some part of my family for the foreseeable future.
Earlier this year, my father was bothered by a lump on the back of his head, to the point where he decided to see is doctor. This wasn’t immediately a concern (his mother, he, and I have experienced normal, harmless, hereditary cysts before). But this one was a bit different, the particular location was a somewhat concerning and also slightly painful to sleep on. His doctor decided that a more involved surgery would be desirable. So on May 1st, he went to get the lump removed. Some 500 miles away, I sat in a classroom in Ohio, taking a graduate statistical mechanics exam that I thought, naively, would be the biggest event of my day.
I left the test, tired and a bit angry (it was difficult, after all), and went into the basement, down to my lab to read some other things, to clear my mind. I had completely forgotten about my dad’s appointment. In the basement office, cell phone signal is weak. I missed a number of text messages and a voicemail. As I started to leave for the day and went up the stairs, my phone was flooded with the previously-missed contacts from my mother. I suddenly remembered the surgery, so I called her.
The rest of that day gets a bit fuzzy, but I remember particular feelings. She sounded upset, exhausted by the day. Her voice quavered. The surgery had gone on much longer than expected, and the reason was the trouble. The lump wasn’t a usual cyst, she said, they couldn’t completely remove it so they took a sample and sent it for confirmation tests. They were afraid… she was afraid…. afraid it was something else. I think I heard hints at that “c” word. A cold shock ran through my body.
No no no, this can’t be. This cannot happen.
My mom noted that dad was still slightly sedated from the surgery, and that he might not be fully aware of the situation yet. It seemed a trivial post-sedation condition, but mom was concerned that she would have to inform or re-inform him of his potential diagnosis when they arrived home… another shot of ice down my spine.
The doctors had told her that test results on the lump would be available by the end of the week. So perhaps this wasn’t what they thought, right? And thus started one of the most surreal waits I can remember. Every day was either one closer to relief… or was it one closer to the worst news? Any given phone call could be uplifting or earth-shattering. My brain couldn’t settle on denial or terror, and instead floated somewhere in the between.
On Saturday, May 5th, I put my shoes on and was ready to walk out the door. I was going to see The Avengers with friends. My phone, on vibrate, started buzzing. It was a text, asking me to call home when I had the chance. I stopped, pulled open the contacts menu and nervously hit send. It was my dad. He had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
I can’t say I felt how someone probably should at The Avengers. I was disengaged, removed. Sure, the movie was good, but I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t stay in that moment. My mind wandered.
The solitary post-move drive back to my apartment was the worst. I felt fear, disgust, terror, anger, and sadness all at once, and I couldn’t escape it. They hadn’t even given the cancer a stage or my father a prognosis (that news was yet to come), but I was anticipating the worst. Of course that’s the wrong reaction, but my brain was racing, exploring the worst-case without any regard for reality. I consider it one of my lowest, weakest mental moments. 500 miles never felt so massive a distance from home.
A few days later, the realism and fear collided, only to form a more complicated whole. My dad had been diagnosed with Stage IV NHL, the most progressed version of the disease (that is, spread to more locations than the initial lymph node)… but a fairly low-threat version of it. It was confusing. The cancer had spread, but he was otherwise healthy, a very strange situation that I now realize isn’t a paradox.
But that’s not the end of the story. Rather, today marks the end of that first chapter, the diagnosis and coping with that news. After added months of testing, more time meeting with doctors, talking with other doctors, and doing still more tests, today starts the new part of my father’s NHL experience and my family’s journey.
Today my dad starts chemotherapy. Today he, and we, start fighting NHL, fighting cancer.
And in this newest chapter, we have learned from the first. The prognosis is decent, the doctors believe he’ll respond well to the therapy. While the chemo will probably never fully cure the disease, it’s very likely the lump will be reduced, the impact of the cancer probably decreased. His doctors suspect this treatment regimen will buy him years, quite possibly many years before we have to worry again. He is, after all, essentially untouched by any symptoms of NHL (save for the lump on his head), he’s reasonably young, and (besides having cancer) he’s quite healthy.
In short, this treatment has been and likely will be exceptionally effective. Quite the turnaround from a confused car-ride home in May.
Even more encouraging to me, my father continues to be his confident, caring, optimistic, and dad-humor-filled (yes, really) self. He is always positive when discussing appointments with doctors, and is leading the battle.
But the battle officially starts today. We do have to get through this. And so I’m humbly asking for a bit of help from those who read this.
First, I’m going to (somewhat selfishly) ask if you can spare a brief moment to keep my dad, and my mom in your thoughts/prayers/reflections (or whatever similar mode you like, if you’re so inclined). Yes, even with the best doctors and the best treatment on your side, a little extra positivism genuinely means a lot; it’ll mean even more for my mom as she looks after the soon-to-be chemo patient in the house.
Next, I ask, only if you can, to consider a donation to help fund cancer research. So many people already do this, and if you are one of those people I humbly and eternally thank you. Cancer diagnosis and treatment doesn’t become this kind of optimistic conversation, doesn’t so suddenly change a sour outlook without what you’ve done, the advances that have been made thanks to your funding. If this was a journal entry so much as 10 years ago, it’s unclear what kind of diagnosis or prognosis I’d be discussing.
Only if you can, and if you are interested, there are two very worthwhile avenues for donation in the world of cancer research. The first is the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, an organization that specifically focuses its efforts on blood-related cancers. LLS helped fund and spearhead the research of the monoclonal antibody Rituxan, the very chemotherapeutic agent that will, hopefully, aid my father starting today. The second is the Cancer Research Institute, a group that explores immunology in treatments for cancer. Both charities do great things to aid the advancement of cancer treatment.
A little over five months ago, my world was sent completely off-kilter by shocking news about a lump on my dad’s head. Today, my father takes his first chemotherapeutic steps in his fight against Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. I hope my family will eventually remember this day as the first one away from cancer and toward prolonged health and happiness.