There was no warning, there was no testing. Once Brian’s doctor got the chest x-ray back she called and told him it could be cancer or possibly be pneumonia. Brian didn’t think much of it, but I didn’t think he had pneumonia symptoms, and he had a backache that had been problematic for awhile, which had been a symptom when my father had lung cancer.

How can a doctor say, simply from an X-ray, that you most likely have cancer, I wondered. I thought cancer had to be diagnosed with multiple tests and a biopsy. The chest MRI was scheduled the next day. Results delivered to us that night. 

Still cancer.

The doctor had a thoracic surgeon friend she could get us in with the next day (day 3). We went to that appointment and I made sure to take notes. I began to understand that any mass over 3 cm in the lung is considered cancer until proven otherwise. Brian’s mass measured 10 x 9 x8 cm. 

It’s hard to hear yourself say, “My husband has cancer,” after only 72 hours. You actually can’t say it. You get to the word ‘has’ in the sentence and go silent awkwardly.

It’s like saying Voldemort at Hogwarts. 

 But I was still holding out hope. These two were small town doctors (he was diagnosed in Denton), so what do they know? Someone I work with was kind enough to ask around the medical community for the name of a great lung cancer specialist at UTSouthwestern.

Now we’re talking. Big City doctor, real answers. But actually, Big City doctor can also translate to Big City problems.

Calling the UTSW doctor was an introduction to a new way of life. You can call numbers, but you can’t call any doctor directly. A main hospital switchboard helps you with questions you might have. If you’re an existing patient, you can send an email. If not, you are SOL.

They call you and you better answer because it will be a beat down returning the call or getting them to call back. Your appointment is not booked at your convenience. If you are lucky enough to get an appointment, take it.

I had completed an online form for a callback from this doctor, whose résumé included MIT and a fellowship at MDAnderson, the holy grail of lung cancer expertise (I did lots of research in a very short time). Ignoring the ‘please wait for a call back,’ Brian persisted. When Dr. Chui’s nurse did call back, she informed Brian that the doctor was only taking patients with masses larger than 8 cm. 

It was our lucky day! After asking him a battery of questions, they set an appointment for almost 2 weeks away, but she said she would try to find another appointment. We ended up with one less than a week away.

It seemed a little extraordinary. With every nurse or doctor we spoke to or who saw our test results, we found ourselves at the front of the line. But with the cutting in line comes the reality that the medical community around you is taking this very seriously. And that is some scary shit. 

Sleep and concentration become sketchy. Anger rears its head. You’re not yourself.

We’ve been married less than a year. Don’t we deserve to enjoy each other for a bit before some tragic circumstances? This is how we’re spending our first holiday as a blended family? Or just the classics, ‘why me? Why him? Why now?

But nones of my questions will be answered. We will just stay strong, make solid decisions and forge ahead, hand in hand.

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