All of us affected by cancer remember the day everything in our lives suddenly changed forever.
I will never forget when it happened to us. It was in 2005, and Alan's myeloma was discovered after a routine checkup. There had been indications that something was wrong, back pain, a frozen shoulder, and swelling in his leg that turned out to be from a blood clot. The doctor who diagnosed the blood clot wanted Alan to have a complete physical. When tests revealed high cholesterol and an elevated blood protein, Alan came home concerned about the cholesterol. After a couple of return trips to retest his blood, his physician referred him to a hematology specialist. The hematologist sent him home with the materials for a 24-hour urine test; and I saw the words "Bence Jones" on the label. Alan was surprised that the hematologist worked out of a cancer clinic, but he still wasn't worried; he'd been healthy all his life and thought the doctor was being over-cautious. But I looked up "Bence Jones" on the internet: I was scared. Because Alan wasn't distressed, I felt I couldn't tell him what I'd read. I spent the weekend trailing him around the house, silent, but in tears- until he barked at me to stop following him.
My emotions careened between hope and fear the weeks before the test results came back. That is another memory all of us share.
On that day in 2005, Alan went into the doctor's office alone and I waited out in the reception area of the cancer clinic--it didn't occur to either of us that I should be with him in the examination room. That was the last appointment he ever went to without me beside him. When he came out, he led me over to a bench in the clinic lobby. He wrote out "Multiple Myeloma" for me in the little notebook he always carried, and he said the doctor's prognosis was 5-6 years. I remember that I was very calm as I heard this. I was expecting it.
That night, we went out for Chinese food. Alan's fortune cookie said "Nature, time and patience are the best physicians." We didn't believe it, but when we got home, I typed that fortune into the screensaver on his computer.
Here is a picture of that bench; I went back and took a photo of it. Every time I see it, I wonder how many other people have sat on that same bench and heard their lives had changed forever.
Last week, our local myeloma support group held a potluck and some of us shared new stories with each other. Mr. B told me about a similar memory, the moment he realized his doctor might be suspecting myeloma and he couldn't tell his wife because it wasn't definite and he didn't want to frighten her. In our blog comments, Dr. F, in Rome, explained that his wife was expecting their child and he didn't want to upset her with the hard news. That is another shared experience: when you know or suspect, but don't want to burden your beloved with your fears.
I hope you will share your memories of the days when your life changed forever: I remember how isolated Alan and I felt until we found a community of fellow travelers. Your memories may help someone who's just sat down on a bench in a clinic lobby somewhere and heard the words "Multiple Myeloma" for the first time.