Staring Eyeballs

We went into the dark viewing room where the radiologists worked.  Just the two of us.  He flashed through the images until it got to the liver.  I recognized the shape.  And I saw two bright eyeballs staring back at me, one on either end of the liver.  “The density of the tissue in those spots is not the same as the rest of the liver.”  No, certainly not.  Then he took the scan lower into the abdomen.  “I’m not sure what this is exactly.  But it doesn’t look right.  I think there is something there.  I think Jeff has a mass in his colon and two lesions in his liver.  A more sophisticated machine that can take images of thinner slices could give a better picture.”  We sat and stared at it a minute in silence.  “Those are going to need to come out.”  More silence.  “We need to go tell Jeff.  Do you want to tell him or do you want me to tell him?”  I still wasn’t sure what it was we were telling.  “You tell him,” I requested.  “Ok.  Let’s go.”

We walked down the corridor toward the patient rooms.  My head was spinning.  Sitting in the hallway was a lady I’d befriended over the course of the 24 hours we’d been there.  She was there waiting for her loved one to end a long struggle with cancer.  She looked at me.  “What is it?”  she asked.  I just shook my head and stood quietly.  I didn’t know.  She rushed over and took my hand looking deep into my eyes.  “Is it cancer?”  I still didn’t know.  “He said he has a “mass” in his colon and two “lesions” in his liver.  I don’t know.”  “Oh, Honey!”  She held me tight.

I went into the room.  Jeff was taking the news very stoically.  “So what’s the next step?” he asked.  “You’ll need surgery.”  “OK.” 

Dr. Weaver left and we started to discuss our options.  We’d always gone to Denver for major health care needs.  Eight hours from home.  There was a nice condominium close to the hospital for people to stay in when family members were inpatients.  I could stay there. But with the kids, how would that work?  They couldn’t be expected to hang out in a hospital room all day.  And how long would all this take?  We weren’t sure. 

We talked it over with Dr. Weaver.  “Treatment will be a while.  This is not going to be fast.  You will probably have chemotherapy after surgery.”  The nearest chemo treatment center from our house was two hours.  “Doc, I think we need to go to Lincoln.  We can get treatment at the University Med Center in Omaha and the kids can stay with their grandparents.”  He liked that plan. 

I wandered through the hospital sometimes with no real purpose in mind.  Nurses stopped talking and looked at me when I went by, as if pitying the widow at a funeral.  The doctor who had delivered our son met me in the hallway.  “I heard the news.  I’m so sorry!”  He shook my hand.  “I don’t know what to say.”  I didn’t either.  I called my mom.  “Jeff has two lesions in his liver and it looks like a mass in his colon.”  She gasped and was quiet.  “I’m so sorry, Honey!  I’m so sorry!”  I was starting to get the picture through the reflection I saw in those around me.  Jeff had cancer,  and it was bad.

I asked the nurses if they could get me on the internet.  Usually patients and families weren’t allowed on the computers, but, yes, they’d do it.  I looked it up.  Stage IV colon cancer.  It didn’t get any worse.  I went back to talk to Jeff.  “It looks like you have colon cancer.”  “Did they catch it early?”  “No, unfortunately not.”

There was nothing more they could do for Jeff there that day.  But it was snowing hard outside.  “Why don’t you all stay at the hotel another night?  Go by the hospital in the morning and get your blood drawn then come over to the office while we wait for the results.  If everything is stable, we’ll send you on your way.” 

Morning came.  The snow was piling up.  The Wind River Canyon road was closed.  We couldn’t go home if we wanted to.  We headed over to the office.  Dr. Weaver had been making some phone calls.  He knew someone who knew someone who was in Omaha.  He was one of the best gastroenterology surgeons.  He’d get us set up for surgery with him.  But he wouldn’t let us leave until we also had an appointment scheduled with an oncologist.  We called Jeff’s sister, a nurse in Lincoln.  She knew someone.  Dr. Weaver talked with him.  A Loma Linda graduate.  Dr. Weaver approved.  The road opened in the afternoon and we were on our way back to Riverton with strict orders to get Jeff to Lincoln as soon as possible.  With the rate his hemoglobin had been dropping, there was no guarantee how long those two units of blood would last.

We were on edge.  Jeff didn’t feel well Saturday night.  He was light-headed.  We took the kids to the neighbor’s house and headed to the Riverton hospital to get checked out.  The ER doc tried to calm our nerves.  “Listen.  You’ve been shook up.  I know this all seems sudden for you.  But this has actually been going on a long time.  His labs are bad, but they are much better than they were Monday or Wednesday.  Go home.  Try to relax.  You have a long road ahead of you.”

Jeff tried to concentrate Sunday and worked furiously at getting as much done as he could at the office.  His work ethic was incredible.  “How can we leave these patients?  There are people who are counting on you.  We can’t just close.”  “Yes, we can.  We put a sign on the door.  CLOSED.  This is not an option.  You are going to die, and soon, if we don’t leave.  We shut the door, lock it, and walk away.  That’s how we close.”

Sunday night we rendezvoused with his family on I-80 three hours south of our house.  His dad was driving his semi truck from Lincoln to the West coast and had brought a couple people along to help us out.  Jeff’s brother-in-law drove with Jeff, the kids and a few suitcases back to Lincoln.  I went back to Riverton with his mother to try and wrap up some more of business.  She’d stay with me and would be there to keep me company while driving to Lincoln in a few days. 

By Monday noon, Christmas Eve, the phone rang.  It was Jeff.  “I need you here.”  “Ok.  I haven’t gotten a whole lot done since you left last night.”  “I know.  But I need you here.”  “Ok.  We’ll leave in the morning.”  “See you then.  Love you.”  “Love you, too.”

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