On Wednesday, April 9, 2003, at about 4:15 pm I was on my way out the door to go to a friend's house for dinner. Both of our husbands were deployed to Iraq with different units, and she had a 15 month old son. The phone rang and I contemplated just heading out the door. It could be Beth, asking me to bring something else. I was to pick up dinner at Taco Bell (yeah, we were going all out that night), so I answered:
On the phone: Hi, is this Cynthia?
Mommavia: Yes, it is. (I immediately recognized the voice) How are you, Dr. Witt?
Dr. Witt: I am well. I am very sorry to call and tell you over the phone, but I wanted to make sure you had this information before your appointment on Monday. I have the results of your fine needle aspiration.
Mommavia: Oh, good, I've been anxious to hear the results. (I had the FNA on April 3, the same day I shook President G.W. Bush's hand!)
Dr. Witt: I'll need you to get something to take notes. You will probably want to sit down. I'm sorry for telling you on the phone, but I thought you needed to know now.
Mommavia: Uh, okay. (I grab the closest piece of paper and a pen, thinking: needed me to know what?!)
Dr. Witt: The FNA came back suspicious for thyroid cancer.
Mommavia 2.0: Oh. (Thinking: CANCER? What? Where's Ian? CANCER?)
Dr. Witt: Papillary thyroid cancer is very treatable, this will not be the demise of you. We'll possibly remove the lobe first, then if cancerous take it all out. We are sending the pathology to Bethesda to have it checked again. But I will be surprised if it's not cancerous.
Mommavia 2.0: (writing notes) Oh.
Dr. Witt: It is not like breast cancer. Thyroid cancer usually doesn't spread, if it does it's slow. We'll do the surgery first, then you will probably need a radioactive iodine ablation.
Mommavia 2.0: Will I lose my hair?
Dr. Witt: No.
Mommavia 2.0: Will I glow in the dark from the radioactive iodine?
Dr. Witt: (small chuckle) No.
Mommavia 2.0: Well, that's too bad, I was hoping to have a little fun.
Dr. Witt stayed on the phone with me for another 45 minutes to make sure I was okay, did more reassuring that it was treatable, and gave me his home phone number in case I needed to call him over the weekend. I really appreciated him doing this; most civilian doctors don't do this, let alone a Navy doctor! Ian was in Iraq and I was scared, about him being there, about me having cancer. All I wanted was for my husband to be home, or at least at work so I could call him.
I was pretty much numb for the rest of the week and at my appointment on Monday I learned what I already knew in my gut: it was indeed cancer. Dr. Witt and I made a game plan: Get Ian home, have a thyroidectomy, have a radioactive iodine treatment. He took extra time to make sure I understood what the steps were and made sure I had every question answered in my notebook (I purchased a notebook on the way home from Beth's so I could write my questions down and take notes). And he repeated what became my mantra, "This will not be the demise of you." I was, and am still, very grateful for the care and extra time he took to help me through a scary situation.
That night I sent the Red Cross message and I got my 4th phone call of the deployment that Friday, Good Friday. Ian called from Iraq, he was all packed and waiting for his flight out of his location. I was so glad to hear his voice, and it lifted my mood so much to know that he was on his way home to me. It was 6 am, but I got out of bed after talking with him and started tidying up the house. I hadn't done laundry in a while, so I started that, washing some of his favorite clothes, the towels and sheets. I wanted everything to be fresh and clean for him.
The supply hose to the washer came loose and flooded the apartment. And the one below us, and the one below that. There was water everywhere. I called the emergency maintenance number since it was Good Friday and they cleaned it up. They tried to stick me with the bill, but the week before my water heater wasn't working and they came to repair it. The maintenance man moved the washer to get to it, and that's when the hose was knocked loose. See what I'll do to get clean carpets?
Later that day I started to call our families. I'd start with, "Ian's coming home this weekend!" Everyone would get all excited until I told them why. Several people wanted to rush out here for Ian's Homecoming but I asked them not to. As much I wanted his arrival to be a joyous occasion, the reason for him coming home was overshadowing everything; I needed to be with Ian, just Ian. The more phone calls I made, the easier it was to talk about having cancer but it didn't seem like it was me that I was talking about. It was hard to keep reassuring everyone that I was going to be okay. I wasn't sure if I really believed it yet myself. I knew once Ian was home I could deal with it, until then I removed myself from the situation as much as I could.
Ian arrived home on Easter Sunday, 11 days after the upgrade. And I was finally able to really deal with what lay ahead. We were able to deal with it together. I cried in Ian's arms that night, and he did exactly what I needed him to do...tell me it was going to be okay, that I was going to be fine. And he has continued saying that every time I got more bad news or was feeling scared.
So tonight we are going out to celebrate. Friends are joining us for dinner to celebrate my 4 years of Survivorship. Having cancer isn't something to celebrate, but living past cancer is.
*Credit given to "the Coach" for the name of this day.