We all have days in our life that we remember. The fun ones – wedding days, graduations, births – we regularly celebrate. We throw parties and send cards to mark and celebrate these occasions.
And then there are the bad ones. The days that we never forget, but typically are the only one to recall. Sometimes, if you are lucky, these anniversaries slide past you without a single notice. Often though, at least for me, these days hang over me and are reminders of the most difficult and trying times of my life.
As you might have guessed, today is one of these days for me. There are many days between January and April that pop out to me from my first bout versus cancer in 1996 and, more recently, round two. First oncology appointment. Surgery. Diagnosis day. First treatment. I’ve been through all of this. Twice.
But, for some reason, March 13 is one that I remember very uniquely. Back in 1996, I don’t really have a sense of when I noticed the large mass on my neck. It was a few weeks or so before I even went to the doctor. But, in 2011, when the Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was back, I distinctly remember the circumstances that led me to find the lump.
The first weekend in March 2011,while in Boston for work, I learned that a dear colleague of mine at Harpoon had been diagnosed with breast cancer and she was jumping right into surgeries and treatments. I was fairly devastated by this news. It really shook me up. But, when I got back to Baltimore, this news got pushed to the back of my mind quickly. I flew back to Baltimore and Michele left for 12 day trip to Moscow and Siberia. Yup, Siberia. I was on ‘Daddy Duty’ with the then 17-month old Shannon. I had daycare to help during the week and some weekend dinner/playdates planned. By the time, Sunday evening, March 13th, came, I was exhausted.
After putting Shannon to bed that night and cleaning up the house to get ready for the week to come, my thoughts went back to my recently diagnosed friend. I hadn’t reached out to her yet. I hadn’t checked in. I thought about how I wanted to do that, to not push, try to remember what it was like 15 years before when I was going through what she was going through. I decided I would do a better job writing that email in the morning and went to hop in the shower.
When I finished my last annual follow-up after round 1, back in Rochester in 2001, I was told that I needed to routinely check my lymph node areas for lumps. Where are your lymph nodes? The ones that you can feel are in the neck, in your armpit, and in your groin. Thinking about my friend that evening had reminded me that it had been a while since I had done my own routine check. I have no idea how long it had been. So that night, taking my shower, I did my check.
Neck – no problem.
Armpits – no problem.
Groin – hmmm…. that doesn’t feel right.
Sunday, March 13. 2011. One of THOSE Days.
By the end of that week, I had seen my primary care physician and THEN Michele got back from Siberia. Early the next week, there was the CT scan, then a meeting with a surgeon. By the end of March, biopsy. Confirmation of diagnosis in early April… then preparatory stuff and more tests and scans. Then chemo started…. it was like a snowball rolling down hill. One thing right after another. But it all started that day.
So what did I do today? Before going to work today, I hopped on my bike trainer for a half hour. Went to work, had a nice dinner with Michele and Shannon, and then I put Shannon to bed. And then I hopped back on my bike again for another 45 minutes. I haven’t done a double session on my trainer, ever. If you are reading this, you know why I am training in mid-March. Then, in a full sweat, pleased with my efforts, I jumped in the shower.
Yup, the same shower that two years ago, I found out that something wasn’t right, and that it was probably cancer, that it was back after 15 years. But tonight, all I thought about was how to share this with all of you, to try to put some context around it. How do you explain ‘one of those days’? One that starts the snowball that quickly overwhelms your entire life and turns your entire existence upside down.
Some of you who are reading this, certainly, understand what I am talking about. For the rest of you, I hope you never have one of these days.