I got news that I have cancer 2 days ago.
It’s a form of lymphoma, but it’s not the worst kind of cancer. In fact, my lymphoma is not even in my lymph system…it’s very localized to some tissue around my eyes.
I got the official word in a text message. I asked my doctor about the results of my biopsy in a text message, so, not surprisingly, she responded in a text. In fairness, at my first office visit, my doctor warned me that my condition was likely cancer, but that was preliminary, only a possibility. This was the official word. Big news for me; expected news for my doctor.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should go back to the beginning of the story, when God graciously interrupted my life.
* * *
Every year in December I visit my Optometrist. I value my annual vision checkup because I wear glasses. Usually it’s very routine visit and results in nothing more than a tweak to my glasses Rx. But 2016 was different. My doctor was looking more intensely at my right eye. He told me he was concerned about an indentation in the lower lid of my right eye. He mentioned the possibility of cancer, but it was so remote that he wondered out loud whether he should refer me to a specialist or not. He finally decided he would send me to a specialist but it would probably be nothing. In fact, I think he said, they will probably laugh that I referred you for this.
A combination of issues caused it to take several months to get into a specialist. First there was the insurance network problem …upon arriving at my appointment and showing my insurance card they said that they don’t accept my particular Anthem health plan. Then there was the “me” problem. Since I had no symptoms, I wasn’t open to much trouble or cost. I walked out of my second appointment when I learned at registration that it would cost $500, all out of my pocket.
In May I saw my primary care doctor for a general matter and he asked about my health. I told him about my eye referral, and he strongly advised me to follow my optomtetrist’s advice and see a specialist. He even suggested a specialist who would not charge as much. So, armed with a little more urgency, I scheduled a visit with the specialist in May. And I followed through with this one.
The ophthalmologist looked at my eyes… back and forth between my eyes, he kept looking. Finally he said that he had no concerns about the indentation on my eyelid, the thing I was referred for, BUT…
But what? It felt like time was slowing down when he said that word.
He said he saw some tissue in my conjunctiva of my right eye that didn’t look normal. So he referred me to a local eye surgeon.
That visit was in July. The eye surgeon told me that the tissue was abnormal and would need to be surgically removed. He said it could be cancer and gave me a choice. Either he could take some tissue for a biopsy that day or he could refer me to an oncology ophthalmologist in Cincinnati. Since I would need surgery either way, I chose the referral.
The visit with the oncology ophthalmologist was scheduled for late August, then rescheduled to mid September. Things were still feeling very normal to me. Life and work were very busy, I had zero felt symptoms from whatever it was in my right eye.
I had rushed to get to the oncology ophthalmologist on time, but I had to wait. I waited and paced so long that I considered bailing and going back to work. Finally, I was called in. Blood pressure, pulse, other general testing. Everything was good. When the doctor finally saw me, she looked carefully over my right eye, and confirmed that I had tumors. She described what she thought the tumors were – a form of lymphoma – but we would need a biopsy to be sure. Then she looked at my left eye and at first seemed to see nothing wrong. But then she caught herself and said that she saw some tumors in my left eye also. She said it was unusual for this condition to be in both eyes. That worried me.
She finished with three recommendations. Schedule surgery to remove the tumor tissue surrounding my right eye. Before that, I needed to have a complete oncology oriented physical with labs. And a CAT scan of my face to make sure the tumors had not invaded other tissue.
I’ve always been slow to appreciate changes happening around me. Maybe that’s a form of denial. I should have kept my wife in the loop more and invited her to this visit. She is much better with reality than I am, and would have had a better grasp of this. But as I drove home that evening, I was beginning to feel my world may had changed. A cancer testing process had begun.
We asked friends to pray. We went up front at church every Sunday for prayer.
When the physical, the labs and the CT scan all came back clean, we were grateful.
On Friday October 20, 2017, we checked into the University of Cincinnati Hospital for my outpatient surgery. The surgery was interesting because I was awake for the entire 2 hour procedure. More on that later.
I was told that the biopsy results would take about a week, so the following Friday, October 27th, I called the doctor’s office. I left a voicemail and then I sent her a text: “Good afternoon, Dr —–, Have you received my biopsy results yet?”
Within the hour, she responded: “Yes. Just yesterday. It was a MALT lymphoma indeed. I will go over the results during our next appt.”
Indeed…exactly what my doctor expected. Not exactly what I expected. I had passed all the previous tests with flying colors, so I was hopeful about the biopsy.
My wife and I did some quick research on MALT lymphoma. We comforted ourselves with information suggesting that it’s not the worst kind of cancer, and it’s not usually in the lymphatic system.
But unknowns abound. We may be beginning a significant journey. Who knows?
I should add that I have never needed a lot of excitement to be happy in life. I’ve been called boring, but it is who I am. I prefer living in the land of knowns and normalcy. But my God doesn’t always accommodate my preference for normalcy. He loves me too much for that.
There are some knowns and we are hanging on to those. We know we have a lot to be thankful for. Like…that my optometrist went with his gut and referred me to a specialist. That, after I gave on in the referral process, my regular doctor urged me to follow through. I’m grateful for the health care we have in the USA. The doctors and nurses whose skills exceed my comprehension. I’m grateful even for my health insurance because I know some of the costs of this treatment that my insurance is paying for my care.
But above all we know this – the One superintending this test has told us what His loving purpose is, “… that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1)