For a few weeks in June of 2011, there was a lovely moment each morning when I awoke, stretched and thought about coffee. That all took about two seconds. Then my new reality covered me like a heavy blanket. Back then, those two seconds were the highlight of every day. It didn’t last.
About a month after diagnosis, Robin called me in tears. Our original oncologist had just called to report the biopsy results, showing probable synovial sarcoma, as suspected. She also used a phrase we hadn’t heard before. Stage four.
“What happened to stage two and three?” I asked, dismayed that there were still ways for the news to get worse.
When you google synovial sarcoma, you will read that stage one is very treatable; a surgical snip, perhaps followed by a cleansing dose of radiation. It sounds like a spa weekend. But stage four triggers a different, near-unanimous prediction. The phrase I recall is: “The outcome is grim.”
Grim? That’s my word? That’s like pulling “onomatopoeia” at the county spelling bee.
Website after website confirmed it. One went with “very grim”, lest hope linger. It could be a lyric from the worst musical ever: “Grim is the word, is the place, is the motion. Grim is the way we are feeling!”
The main thing I learned from researching my disease on the internet was to stay off the internet. (I did google “celebrities who died from synovial cancer.” The best-known is Robert Urich, a handsome early ’80s actor who had his own crime-solving series.)
So that was Robin and I, back in the summer of 2011, searching for optimism in a coal mine. We wondered if an earlier diagnosis might have identified the cancer before it metastasized, but no amount of second-guessing could change that. My family doctor told me he was a general practitioner who might not recognize every cancer he encountered. I appreciated his candour; I just wished he had referred me months earlier, when I first reported the visible lump. We hugged it out, over the phone.
If I don’t have time remaining to travel the world, write a screenplay, or watch my son grow up, then I definitely don’t have time for anger.