A year ago today I received what was probably the most traumatic news of my tumor experience. The news that I had a mass in my pancreas that was probably a tumor three weeks prior was also pretty traumatic, but I would place it at a close second.
In mid-December I had a CT scan that revealed something amiss (a.k.a. a large mass) in my pancreas. The next day, a Wednesday, my GI Dr. Bansal told me about my probable pancreatic tumor in an incredibly gentle way; I'm still in awe over his bedside manner. That Friday Dr. Bansal performed an EGD (in the simplest terms, he stuck a thin camera down my throat while I was under anesthesia and looked around and took a few biopsies, or samples of cells). I knew I would have another EGD in a few weeks (January 9th, 2015, to be specific) that would reveal much more diagnostic information. The first EGD revealed nothing unexpected, and we all got to see the bulge of the alleged tumor from inside my stomach via camera. No wonder I didn't feel good. The tumor had not grown into my stomach, so that was good, but beyond that, we would have to wait until a biopsy of the actual tumor (and not just the lining of my stomach) could be performed.
In order to biopsy the actual tumor, I needed an endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) with fine needle aspiration (FNA). So, to simplify, an ultrasound machine was stuck down my throat along with that camera, and they biopsied the tumor using a needle by way of my small intestine (the ultrasound allowed them to see the mass so they could accurately obtain a biopsy). January 9th was a date I awaited with a fair amount of nervousness, but also looked forward to for the relief of information. Dr. Chi, the GI who performed the EUS/FNA at Lutheran General Hospital, was optimistic that the assumed pancreatic tumor was actually a cyst, and best case scenario, may have been treatable without surgical intervention. So, January 9th we would get more information.
I arrived at the hospital with a crazy high heart rate (nerves), and I was looking forward to the nothingness of the required anesthesia so I'd wake up to hopefully good news. My poor husband had to endure the wait of my procedure awake. After my procedure, I was visited by Dr. Chi. We did not get the good news we were hoping for. The mass was definitely a tumor. A big one. He gave us differential diagnoses, or several types of tumors the biopsy may reveal. He said it was most likely a pseudopapillary tumor, followed by a neuroendocrine tumor (the Steve Jobs variety of pancreatic tumor), followed by adenocarcinoma (the Patrick Swayze variety of pancreatic tumor), a highly deadly (and the most common) form of pancreatic cancer. Reflecting upon this crappy experience, my husband said that he had never seen a doctor give bad news before. It sucked. It's difficult to say something positive about the experience. I learned from it, surely, but it simply was awful.
What did I learn? When something is wrong with your body, it is difficult to say the least. Dealing with the unknown is tough, dealing with the possibility of being diagnosed with a highly deadly cancer is downright traumatizing. I learned to never minimize what someone else is going through. Don't compare your awful to someone else's awful. For the individual, it is a personal and difficult experience. Hearing that it's going to be OK or that it could be worse really isn't that helpful to the one suffering. I said those things numerous times during my tumor experience, mostly to make other people feel better. The most comforting things people said were honestly the people in my who acknowledged how awful this was and they didn't try to minimize or overshadow what I was going through. So when someone tells me about their heartburn or depression or whatever, I listen and acknowledge how hard it is. I don't say, "well, at least you don't have 'x' going on." It's not helpful. It's just not.
This is not a particularly uplifting piece of writing. Last January 9th was not a particularly uplifting day. One year later, I'm fine, and on this day in 2015 I was 6 days shy of receiving relatively good news. But I hadn't received it yet, so I was feeling pretty low. Some of the people close to me might remember how uncontrollable crying spells would happen at unexpected times, like at work. I'm very thankful for my understanding coworkers and the social worker who sat with me and got me to at least stop crying. One year later I'm so thankful for a relatively indolent tumor and modern medicine. And while I'm not thankful for having a tumor in the first place, I'm thankful for what I learned. Never minimize what someone else is going through. We all have our moments of awful.