It’s not just a great tune by Guns ‘N Roses.
It vividly describes the day we found out my mother had cancer.
A week and a half prior to the confirmation, I received a phone call:
Mom: “I think I pulled a muscle in my neck.” Me: “What the hell?” Mom: “Yeah. Weird, huh? I was moving furniture today, and I noticed this lump in my neck. Maybe I strained when I lifted the sofa.” Me: “Uh, ok. Sounds strange, but hey, you know your body better than I do.”
My mom knew her body better than anyone. She knew when things weren’t right.
At work the next day, a coworker suggested she get it checked out for peace of mind. I concurred. She immediately called her primary care physician and scheduled an appointment for the following day.
Her physician felt it warranted a bit more scrutiny. An MRI was ordered. The MRI came back “suspicious”. Nice. Just what the fuck is that supposed to mean? Suspicious as in it looked “shifty” or suspicious as in “hey, this might fucking kill you”? Either way, the recommendation was that we meet with a surgeon to have it biopsied.
My mom proceeded to call her general surgeon only to be met with “I’m sorry, ma’am, but our next available opening isn’t for three weeks.”
Um, okay, yeah. I’ll just let THIS FUCKING GROWTH hang out in my neck for THREE FUCKING WEEKS while I wait for an appointment with the surgeon.
It was at this time I decided rather than let Jesus take the wheel, I’d be driving. As a unit clerk in the same hospital where my mom worked, we both knew the same doctors. She felt frustrated and scared. As an only child, I couldn’t very well pawn this off on a sibling to deal with, and honestly, I wouldn’t have done that. My mom is one of my best friends and always has been. I couldn’t imagine NOT helping her through this.
I printed off a listing of all the general surgeons in our hospital, A to Z. I told her that I would be making phone calls to each and every one of them, starting at the top of the list, working my way down until someone could get us in sooner.
We were in luck.
The first surgeon we called had an opening. In two days. She booked the appointment, and she had her biopsy. Results pending.
Fast forward to a week and a half later. Mom and I find ourselves at our local dive coney island, enjoying one of our favorites: hamburgers with french fries smothered in beef gravy. We knew the call was coming soon, and we wanted to just escape in a sea of grease and gravy.
Until her cell phone rang.
“Juli? Yes, I have the results of your biopsy.”
I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s face as she looked up from her plate of soggy, forgotten french fries and met my gaze with her own. It was a look of shock mixed with disbelief. My heart sank.
Mom: “It’s malignant.”
Upon hearing that word, my mind raced in a million different directions. What would we do? Where would we get treatment? What did that mean exactly? So many questions, and I knew one thing was certain:
I wasn’t hungry anymore.
A follow-up visit was scheduled for the next day at the surgeon’s office to discuss the biopsy results in detail. We arrived early, only to be ushered into a back conference room. A back conference room with an overstuffed sofa and love seat along with an obscene amount of Kleenex. This couldn’t be good. Kleenex implies one thing: bad news. Crying. Negativity in the form of two-ply fibers.
The surgeon came in, greeted us and immediately began to discuss the results.
“Juli, you have an extremely rare form of cancer called sarcoma. Not only is the incidence of this cancer rare at approximately one percent of all cancers diagnosed in a year, but the primary site of your cancer is even more rare. Your cancer’s primary site is your neck, precisely where you felt the lump. Now, the good news is that we are fortunate enough to live within an hour of one of the best sarcoma treatment centers in the nation. I’m recommending you receive your cancer treatment at the University of Michigan.”
I did my best to swallow the lump that had formed in my throat. Who put that fucking softball in there? I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I can’t believe it. My mom has cancer? MY MOM? There has to be some mistake. We’re being Punk’d, right? Cue Ashton, bring in the crew. Cruel joke, nonetheless, but this had to be a sick joke. I met my mom’s steely gaze.
My mom simply sat there. No tears. No questions. She sat there. She didn’t move a muscle. She didn’t say a word.
I asked the doctor, “When are we getting this ball rolling?” He replied, “I will make a phone call to them today, and explain that since they did the pathology on the biopsy, we want to proceed with treatment and follow up.”
Okay. Okay. Okay.
My mom has cancer. Yeah. My mom has cancer. I remembered that children’s game, imagining Cancer standing across from us, singing,
“Red rover, red rover send Juli right over!”
to be continued….