Living

The diagnosis

It was Nov. 12, the day I would find out what kind of cancer had invaded my body.

Nine days earlier, Dr. John Droesch, a Richland surgeon, removed two lymph nodes from under my left arm. Everything was on fast forward since Oct. 30, when a nurse told me a growth had fractured a rib.

I don't think I'm much of a control freak, but I like to have a little bit of a grasp on my life - and it felt like everything was about to slip through my fingers. What would this prognosis show? What kind of cancer did I have? What would be my chance of surviving? What would my life be like? What would it take to fix this? A million questions were going through my mind as I drove toward Richland.

When Dr. Droesch came in, he got right down to business: I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. It appeared the specific strain was diffuse large B-cell (we'd find out differently later on). The doctor was upbeat (it seems to be his nature) and said he'd dealt with a lot of patients with way larger growths who were doing great now.

One of first questions my wife and I had: Is surgery an option? Fortunately no, he said, explaining that lymphoma is a blood cancer, so surgery doesn't solve the problem. The mass on my neck would be problematic, too, he added, referring to that area of vital nerves and arteries as "tiger country." Nope, chemotherapy was the ticket.

So I was officially a cancer patient. Great. Just great.

But at least we had a name for it and could start to do a little bit of research to know what the prognosis was and how we could move forward.

Dr. Droesch then explained that I would likely have something called a portacath (or mediport) installed that would run from my chest to a main artery in my throat. Chemo drugs can do some pretty caustic things to a vein, he explained, and hooking up the drug treatments and pulling blood samples would be a snap with the port.

I didn't share his enthusiasm for the device. In fact, I wasn't feeling so hot right about then. The confirmation that I had cancer had taken the wind out of me, and once again I was thinking about my future. Would I see our 4-year-old daughter - whom we'd brought home from India just 14 months prior - in her prom dress? In her wedding dress? Would I watch her grow up and mature?

This was one of the lowest moments of my life as I pondered my future. The pity party didn't last more than a moment, though. We had work to do. Dr. Droesch was referring me to a top oncologist.

Next stop: the Tri-Cities Cancer Center.

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