“When sorrows come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions.” -Shakespeare
I found over the years of helping Joanie deal with cancer, there are forces outside of our control that have an effect on the emotional ebb and flow of our lives. Losing Peaches was one such event, and then in August came another, one that had nothing to do with Joanie’s medical situation, but nevertheless had an affect on her psychologically and emotionally.
It was a warm, sunny August morning in 2005, when my phone rang. I was at home, Joanie was at her office. At that time, my work, outside of helping her, was the maintenance of the Lewis and Clark Golf Trail book. It was a call from my best friend Wayne Tanous. I answered, and all he said was, “You got any beer?” It was 10:30 in the morning, and my first reaction was it may have been a bit early, but I knew if he was asking me, there was something up. I told him I was sure we did, and he said he’d be right over.
Wayne, over the last almost ten years had been my go to guy for venting my frustration, anger and concern over Joanie’s medical problems. Wayne had been a corpsman in the Navy, and had a good understanding, in general, of things medical. He was also the one I relied on to correct rumors about Joanie’s situation from time to time. Having someone like that you can rely on is something any caregiver needs, if only to help.
I was in the garage where we kept the beer in the fridge, when the door opened and Wayne walked in. All he said was, “It’s ovarian.” It was as if someone had dropped a bomb. All I could say was, “Shit.” I knew immediately he was talking about Karen, his wife, and our dear friend.
We went out back on the deck, and he proceeded to tell me what they knew at that moment. We both knew ovarian cancer to be a killer, especially since usually by the time it is diagnosed, not always, but more times than not, it has advanced beyond the curative stage. It was still premature to make any assessment, and he told me they would probably be going to the Mayo Clinic to get a more thorough examination and prognosis.
We opened another beer, and another, and as we were talking about what was going on in our lives, and how now the two most important women in our lives were both facing an uncertain future because of cancer, Joanie got home. She came out back to the deck where we were sitting, and we told her the news. She didn’t say much, obviously stunned at what she had heard, because she also knew what ovarian cancer meant, and she went inside. Wayne and I finished our beers and he left.
When I got back inside, I found Joanie sitting on the couch, Kleenex in hand, staring at the television, Muffin on her lap. I asked her what she thought about what she’d heard, and she just told me she didn’t want to talk about it. I could tell from the look on her face the news of Karen’s situation had a profound affect on her, not only because Karen was such a dear friend, but the news was hitting so close to home. We never did talk about it. I never pressed her when she was dealing with something that caused her some pain or concern, preferring to let her lead me into the discussion when she was ready. That process had served me well for a lot of years.
Also on Joanie’s mind at the time of the news about Karen, was the subject of the atypical cells from the June Pap smear. We hadn’t heard anything negative regarding them, and were waiting until our September meeting with Dr. Carson so they might do another Pap to put that issue to rest. There was also some concern about her shortness of breath, something I noticed from time to time, but something she kind of ignored. She was also complaining from time to time of some pain in her right chest area, the side where the incision had been made for the lung surgery. All of these concerns were also on her plate at the time when she heard about Karen.
We met with Carson in mid-September, and the Pap smear came back negative for any cancerous cells, which gave us hope. Joanie didn’t make much of her shortness of breath issue, or her pain issue at this appointment, but when we returned in about two weeks, she couldn’t ignore either one. I made sure Carson knew about what I had observed over the past few weeks, and a CT scan that was performed in Bismarck showed a moderate pleural effusion on her right lung. A pleural effusion is fluid between the membranes that surround her lungs, and can be a result of many factors, cancer being one of them. It could also have been contributing to her shortness of breath.
Carson said it was termed as a moderate effusion, and called Interventional Radiology to set up an appointment for later in the day for what was called a thoracentisis to remove the fluid and have it sent to lab for analysis to determine if there cancer cells in the fluid.
It was a Friday, and her appointment with Dr. Carson had been in the morning, but the earliest we could get her into Interventional Radiology wasn’t until 2:30 that afternoon, which pretty much meant we might not get out of the city until later, or we’d stay overnight. It was one of those afternoons, when things don’t go exactly as planned. We checked in at the department, and took a seat to wait for them to call for Joanie. We waited, and we waited, and now it was 3:00, and following the advice on the check-in desk that said if you’d waited twenty minutes or more to come to the desk and inform them. I did, and we proceeded to wait, and wait. By now, I was getting upset. Joanie didn’t like it when I got upset, afraid I would do something that would embarrass her, so I always did my best to keep it in check. I went outside for a quick smoke, and when I got back in, it was now 4:15. I went to the desk, and expressed my concern in the most civil manner I could muster, and it worked. In about five minutes they called for Joanie. Seems when the shift change came at 3:00, nobody informed the new shift that Joanie was waiting to see the doctors. I chalked it up to it being Friday.
I didn’t go in with her immediately, which was strange for me now that I think about it. It was probably the only time since the first time I didn’t. I wasn’t waiting to long, however when one of the radiologists came out and called me in to the room where they had Joanie getting ready to do the thoracentisis. She was sitting in a chair leaning over a table with her bare back to me. There were three doctors in there, and they were all making jokes, putting Joanie at ease, and for a moment it struck me they could have all been cast members of the TV show M.A.S.H. There was no doubt of their ability, and they were going to make this as easy for Joanie as they could.
They were doing an ultrasound to determine where best to insert the needle to do the procedure. The doctor in charge asked me if I had the notes from the CT scan and X-rays they had done in Bismarck, and I showed them to him. From what he said to me they weren’t much help to him. Seems there was a question on the amount of fluid, and their ability to get it out without causing a problem that would have meant her being hospitalized overnight. I didn’t understand quite what the issue was, but when Joanie heard that, there was no way that was going to happen. The thoracentisis would have to wait until another time, and we left.
It was now rush hour on a late Friday afternoon, and I knew I-94 between downtown Minneapolis and Elk River was going to be a parking lot, and wondered if we shouldn’t just bag it, stay one more night and go home the next day. I was overruled. Joanie wanted to get home, even if it meant getting home late, so we headed down the road.
We stopped briefly in Avon at my sister Joni’s place, and made another stop in Fargo to grab a bite and see my sister Jane, and as daylight turned to dusk, the miles rolled by and when we crested the hill east of Bismarck where you can see the lights of the city laid out before you, she heaved a sigh of relief. It was now after midnight, but she no longer seemed tired or stressed. She was just looking forward to getting home, putting on her sweats and getting Muffin on her lap, even if it was late, at least she would wake up in her own bed in the morning.
August and September had been stressful months, with a mixture of the bad news about Karen, and good news about the atypical cells, but no news for certain about the fluid on her lung and the pain that wouldn’t go away, but at least now she would have a break. We weren’t scheduled to see Dr. Carson until mid-January.
Shakespeare was right.