Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Jolt and the Blessings

A little before 10:00 a.m. on December 6, I was working on some important stuff--feedback on student projects. I was working away, a little distracted by the weather, impending holidays, paying for our kids' college, wondering when the Panthers would play with more consistency. That's when my wife called.

She was with our son (15) at his sports physical, 366 days after the previous one. The doctor wanted an ultrasound done because he didn't like the feel of one of our son's testicles during that part of the exam. I was swamped, but didn't mind running across town to wait with them while we confirmed that we had nothing except a thorough doctor.

After the ultrasound, the lab called the doctor, who then called me. Not knowing I was already with my wife and son at the lab, he asked if I could meet them in his office. I asked if we could run our son back to school first. He said, "No, why don't all three of you come."

Pause. That's when you realize you're not being invited to be told the ultrasound looks great and to have a good weekend. That's when the  projects, weather, college tuition and Panthers evaporate from your mind while it races to anticipate what is about to enter that space.

Our excellent doctor is a straight shooter. After a little foggy small talk, he said, "I want you to see this as your lucky day." Then he looked at our son and said he had testicular cancer. He had no pain, symptoms or history. The lucky part, he said, was that he had found it early and that TC is one for which there are clear and effective ways forward. Cures in most cases.

Or something like that, as near as I can remember. I will admit to the room spinning a bit. Light-headed and a little nauseous, I tried to ask some intelligent questions and process his answers. At the risk of turning this post into one that is far too long, I'm compelled to share a few thoughts.

The same afternoon, he had a CT Scan that showed no evidence of any cancer anywhere else. He got back to school in time to play (and play well) in his basketball game and told his buddies openly what was up. I would have wanted to play, but I doubt I would have played well. And I might have said there was something wrong with my knee. We're all justifiably proud of our kids, but that's a helluva combination of grace, honesty and toughness in my book.

We've learned so much since then, such as:
  • how testicular cancer is quite rare, with only approximately 8,000 cases a year in the US;
  • but that it is the most common form of cancer in males ages 13-35;
  • and that it is 95% or so curable, when caught early;
  • but that many men (and a stunning number of doctors) don't give it any attention, causing many cases to advance quickly.
We've also learned how breathtakingly caring so many people are. Work colleagues, our son's teachers, coaches and classmates have been incredible. People we only know casually have brought movie tickets, candy, magazines, cookies, cards, sent texts and of course, good wishes and prayers. Parents who've experienced the same thing have shared their stories and fears. Guys I haven't heard from in 25 years have called. A signed photo with a message from Mike Krzyzewski showed up in the mail. And every last bit of it helps one navigate, more than I could have imagined, a surreal road.

He is back at school and basketball now. We've reviewed the options with our excellent team of doctors at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and have opted for surveillance, given that he has a 70% chance of being cured at this point. We will deal with anything else that might be necessary if it becomes so.

Meantime, some free advice from a guy who was working on a bunch of important stuff on December 6.

  • Tell the young men in your life to get familiar with themselves and to do an easy monthly self-exam. Tell the same young men to expect their doctors to do that part of a routine physical. The Wendy's Drive-Thru takes longer and the exam is better for you. To blow if off is somewhere between medical malpractice and negligence.  
  • Tether yourself to important things...core values, family, true friends, your faith. We know the world is full of crazy, scary stuff, but let's face it. Most of it happens to someone else. Until it's not someone else. 
  • Count your blessings. Twice, but not in a way that says, "Wow, I'm glad I don't have to deal with that." Rather, count them in a way that gives thanks but also acknowledges that blessings also take the form of caring friends, family and people who are damn good at what they do--including some you'll never meet and others you never want to but who show up big at game time.  
  • Breathe in this life and be one of those blessings to someone when you have the chance.





2 comments:

  1. Thank you for the honesty and courage in with you both wrote this and supported your son. From shocker to sharing with grace and frankness. Bless you all~

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  2. Thank you for sharing your perspective on this event that crept so stealthily into the lives of your son and your family, and for seeing, as your doctor said, that there is luck in this, even when it at first feels quite grim. It is rare we say the things we need to say sometimes, and it is reminders like this that we all should heed.

    Best wishes for good things for your son and your family, always.

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