It was the last day of October, but I melted to the concrete sidewalk like a used piece of gum in mid-July. My mind raced with thoughts, yet failed to work at all. I tried to speak and instead I cried…I made an effort to collect myself and recognized that a couple of words slipped out of my mouth, but to this day, I can’t recall what those words were. “Mr. Archibald…” she continued, “I know this is really hard news to hear…do you want to come back to the office and talk?” “Talk?!”…what is there to say other than you telling me I have a brain tumor, I thought…what was the silver lining?…at least we know what is wrong with me??? “Mr. Archibald, please grab a pen and paper if you can…I need you to write this down.” I opened my bag, shakily grabbed my legal pad and pen as Dr. H began to tell me the plan. I felt like I was receiving nuclear codes, but I didn’t know where to plug them in. Her words were slow and reassuring, but I felt as if I walked on to a Charlie Brown cartoon, hearing only, “Wha whaaa wha whahaha…” She told me I would be meeting with yet another doctor, Dr. K, at Georgetown University Hospital tomorrow. “Tomorrow”, I thought, great…it took me months to figure out what was wrong with me, and now I am VIP all of sudden…I knew it wasn’t good. We talked for what seemed like a lasting second and then the call was over. In mere minutes my life was flipped and now my life-line on the other end of the phone was gone. I looked around at my puddled self on the sidewalk drowning in the waves of emotion. Shock was rooted deep at this point and I could not believe this terrible nightmare that refused to wake me.
I was near Dupont Circle and could have taken the Metro to my apartment in Cleveland Park, but what was the hurry to get home. After this news, work was a noun, no longer a verb and no longer an active concern. I walked for a long time, a slow march trying to distance myself from what seemed like the scene of a crime. It felt like I was shuffling the Green Mile, and I knew that what was to come was going to be more painful than anything I had just experienced.
I looked at my phone…stared at the name “Mom” a thousand times until I could get up the courage to tell her the news. My father died 6 months ago, and after 40 years of marriage, my mom was just trying to restart her life while dealing with an incredible sadness and responsibility to make sure her two boys were OK. Ring, ring, ring…”Hi Mom”…my lips trembled and my body shook with the violence of an earthquake. I decided it was best to apply the band-aid rule. I counted to three and pulled the edge of the sticky words from my tongue, “Mom, I got the MRI results and I have a brain tumor.” I could hear her universe shatter and a deep void of sound filled the air. We cried, sobbed, talked, and pretended everything was going to be ok, but the conversation was echoing off the inside of my brain…I was involved, but my recollection was cloaked in a sadness and disbelief that it might as well have been a foreign tongue. I told my Mom that I had an appointment with a neurosurgeon tomorrow and that I would have more info.
“Have you told Sarah?” she asked. The question I dreaded more than the action itself. “She is at work so I left her a message to give me a call when she had a break,” I said. We talked some more and I told her I would promise to call her tomorrow after my appointment. I knew the night would be more difficult for her than it would for me, and to this day, I still don’t know the pain it caused. I was 32 years old…young, vibrant, in love, and her son…I know not what it is like to have to hear those words from one’s child, and I hope I never have to feel that.
I continued my shuffle, wanting to call my mom back and tell her that it was a mistake, but there were no words to heal the wound I inflicted. I entered my apartment building, turned the handle to the door of my unit and there was Shadow. Shadow and I had been best friends ever since my brother and I adopted him in Berkeley together years ago. He was a small kitty then and we had gone through a lot together. He stood in the doorway…he knew…as odd as it sounds, he knew. I picked him up and squeezed him harder than that damned blue ball in the MRI room and I cried. The salty tears ran down my face, chest, arms, and legs…I might as well have jumped into the ocean. I looked in the mirror in my bathroom and hated what I saw. It was the same blurry face I had seen for the past two months, but this time I knew there was evil lurking beyond my view. It is an odd sensation to love yourself as a human, but hate a part of yourself at the same time.
I turned on a hot shower to try to wash the tears from my body. I stood there, re-absorbing the water that leaked from my eyes and then my phone started ringing. The name on the front read, “Sarah.” I stared at the name for what seemed like an eternity, turned off the water and said, “Hi baby.” Sarah was working at a psych hospital in Boston as she completed her NP degree, so the noise of the break room was in the background. Knowing she was on break and at work, I did not want to tell her. It was the perfect excuse. But I also knew that hearing what I was about to say would be devastating and at least she at support by her side. “Baby, I have a brain tumor……” Again no noise and then an eruption of emotions washed over us and it felt like I was getting repeatedly hit with a baseball bat to the heart…I was broken…I broke her…I broke us. I heard her cry and mourn at the same time. I tried to mitigate the blow, but just as I had my reaction, she was going to have hers. I told her the MRI result and the plan to meet with Dr. K, telling her I would have more to relay after my appointment tomorrow. She left work in a state of shock and panic and was determined to be with me for my neurosurgeon meeting the next day. Sarah had been with me almost the whole time my dad was sick and was by my side when he passed. I loved her before that, but fell to an even deeper level then…and I was now breaking her. Telling people you love that you were diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor is an awful thing…I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. That night was long. There is no other way to describe it. The waiting had begun, and as I would soon learn many times over, waiting idly can be as dangerous as cancer itself.