Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Conversations--One Good, One Very Bad

I had two conversations yesterday. I'll start with the bad one since it came first. And changed my life.

Linda and I were discussing a new American study on the salt content of restaurant food when the telephone rang. I reached for it.


"Hello Barry? I don't know if you remember meeting me, it's Dr. Horgan calling from Princess Margaret Hospital."

I laughed. "Trust me doctor, I certainly remember meeting you. That was one of the more memorable meetings of my life."

Dr. Horgan remained serious. "Barry I wanted to review the findings of the PET scan we conducted last week."

"Good I was wondering how that went?"

"I'm afraid the scan revealed something that puzzles us in your right hip."

"In my hip?"

"Yes. We're not certain what it is so we need to conduct more tests before we begin treatment. So we're having to cancel your chemo tomorrow. I know you were anxious to get started, but the PET scan revealed the carcinoma in your esophagus is still the same size, 3 cm, as it was on the initial CT scan, so I don't think we are putting you at risk by delaying treatment for a week while we redo the PET scan And maybe consider an MRI as well."

"So the PET scan confirmed the cancer has spread to my lymph node? The one the scope showed had increased in size?"

"Actually, no, I don't believe it did. Let me check. No the report showed no unusual activity in any of your lymph glands at all."

"But it did show unusual cellular activity in my hip? In the bone of my hip? And that's bad news."

"Well we don't know what it is at this point."

"But it's worrying enough for you to cancel the chemo until you've had a chance to run more tests?"

A pause while Dr. Horgan considered her response. "We want to get the treatment right."


And now the good conversation, between my wife Linda and my sister-in-Law Lynda, who is also an orthopedic nurse. This took place 25 minutes after the previous conversation.

"Lynda? Hi, it's Linda calling."

"Oh, and how are you? Or should I say, how is Barry doing?"

"Well not very good. We're feeling a little depressed at the moment. We've had some very bad news. Barry just had a phone call from Princess Margaret that they found something on the PET scan in his right hip and they're canceling his chemo while they run more tests."

"Did they say what they found?"

"They said they found some unusual cellular activity in the bone of his right hip. That means the cancer has spread to his bones, right?"

"Oh well, I wouldn't worry too much about that. Bone is so dense, we're always having to send people back to have tests redone because we get all kinds of strange readings. We get them all the time."

"Really! Because they were able to rule out the cancer being spread to his lymph gland and we couldn't figure out how it would get to his hip if it didn't get into his lymphatic system. And they said the cancer is still the same size it was on the initial CT scan a month ago."

"Did they say how big it was?"

"3 centimeters."

"Three centimeters and no involvement of his lymph gland? You know this may just have been some excellent news. Now it still could be something to worry about, they might even have picked up a trace of arthritis, for example. Or it could be cancer. But if the tumor is still the same size, if the lymph glands aren't involved (and I think chances are good the bone reading was an anomaly) then that is great news. This could make for a wonderful prognosis!"

"You think?"

"I do."

"Oh what a relief! I can't tell you how glad I am that I called you!"

And they went on to talk about Lynda's new puppy, leaving me to piece together clues from the one side of the conversation I had heard.

I thought the news might have been good. Then again, anything other than how I was feeling after the first conversation, would be good. It wouldn't take much.

When I was a kid I used to like roller coasters. But I can tell you this, the adult version really sucks.