In Memoriam: Life-altering news

Man. How did it all start? It would most certainly have to be shortness of breath. I couldn’t run twenty steps in my summer league soccer games or side to side along the tennis court baseline without stopping to bend over to gasp for breath. Pretty soon, walking up the stairs posed a large problem. I had to slowly make my way up them, step by step, inhaling deeply and often along the way. It just got to be an extremely big inconvenience.

“Shortness of breath?” questioned my doctor as he placed the stethoscope up to my back. The cold metal made me tense. It always did, just something I would never get used to I suppose.

“Yea,” I replied. I proceeded to tell him about my breathing problems.

“Well, I can definitely hear something in your right lung. Right now, I’m just going to say that it is walking pneumonia.” His voice sounded pretty precise and certain, but the look on his face told me something was up. I hate when doctors do that, not tell the whole truth. It may be for the best though. You know, don’t want to worry the patient without a pretty good cause.

“I’m going to make you get some chest x-rays though, just to really see what’s going on.”
Nothing dawned on me. It seemed perfectly normal. He just wanted to check to see how far the pneumonia had progressed.

So, after the x-rays came back inconclusive, I was made to get a CT scan. It was my first one. I was pretty nervous and nineteen, so it was an understandable emotion I guess. Most people would have felt the same way in my situation. It was my first IV. My first time in a huge machine. Just, my first. It was also the first time it dawned on me that something bigger than walking pneumonia was occurring.

“It is more than likely lymphoma,” my doctor stated to me when my mother and I were in the room on the follow up appointment. The look on his face was one of concern, naturally. Who wouldn’t be worried? I mean, I’m only nineteen.

Stunned. That’s the only emotion I can think of to describe my actions. I couldn’t move. Just nodded in complete disbelief, my eyes wide open ­— perhaps with fear, but mostly just filled with a complete stunned effect. Tears were held back on both my and my mother’s account, and the rest of the conversation is somewhat lost to memory.

“I’ve made an appointment for you with an oncologist I know. He’s one of the best. It’s this afternoon actually.”

By 2:15 I was at the oncologist’s office, the youngest person in the waiting room.

“This cannot be happening. This cannot be happening. I’m too young. This just cannot be happening.” The thoughts raced through my head as I was seemingly transported from the waiting room, to the financial room, to the doctor’s room to be examined. “It’s all a dream, and I am seriously ready to wake up.”

“I’m not going to make any conclusions right now; I don’t have enough information. But, from what I can tell from the nature of your CT scan, it is more than likely that you have lymphoma.”

After the meeting and the expected schedule of my future biopsies, operations, and appointments were somewhat figured out, I actually had time to think. The beach has always been a place of complete comfort to me. I grew up on the beach. The sound of the ocean and the feeling of the sand between my toes and the smell of the salt water just does something to me — completely relaxes me. It is a place full of memories — from family vacations to being stung by a jellyfish, an occasion I believe should happen to everyone, to a first kiss. It is just one place where I feel most comfortable.

So, I walked and thought — maybe not the best thing to do for someone who received life-altering news a mere six hours ago. But, it is what I felt I needed.

My thoughts raced. First, to how things were going to change. My life would not be the same, I knew that. Would I still be able to go to school this coming semester? How will my extended family react? My friends? I don’t want them to be too concerned. I’ll be fine. Or will I? How am I to know? I mean, you hear about many survivor stories and the fact that technology has advanced so much in the years but you also learn of those who did not make it. And that moment is when my thoughts rested on her.

Her. Mama D. A woman I considered to be my second mother. She was my best friend’s mother and was diagnosed with stage four leukemia. And she fought. Fought for ten long years when the doctors gave her two, max. More importantly, it was her infectious personality that was always there for me. She comforted me when I needed it. Gave me advice when I asked for it, or even when I didn’t ask for it. She was my confirmation sponsor during that sacrament. She was just this amazing woman with a spirit like no other. There’s really absolutely no way to describe her besides “Mama D.”

She died almost a year and a half ago, and I’m still not completely over it. Maybe it is because I never got to say goodbye. I was playing a damn soccer game when it happened, and I knew when it did. I just had this feeling during halftime that she had gone. I knew that she knew that I loved her though, which was the most important thing.

As I kept walking along the sand, somewhat skirting the ebb and flow of the waves, I had a thought. She wouldn’t want me to give up. She didn’t. She fought until the end, and loved life despite her illness. I was going to do the same, in honor of her. No matter what comes my way in the future, I’m going to live to the same extent as Mama D. There was no other way. I would be insulting her memory if I didn’t.

The month of August flew by so fast. It was filled to the brim with doctor’s appointments and family. Family, it was just what I needed. They were there to comfort me, to laugh with me, and to make completely inappropriate jokes that were just what I needed.

Finally, the day of my diagnosis.

“It’s lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin’s.” An expected result considering the conviction of my doctors. Finally, something to go on and a treatment plan to go with it. This is for what we, my family, friends, and I, have all been waiting — to get the ball rolling towards a cure, towards beating this and not looking back.

I don’t know. I wouldn’t say that I wouldn’t look back. To some extent this cancer is a blessing. It definitely is not an emotional blessing. The amount of tears shed with friends and family cannot be counted. The worry I have caused so many people, including myself, is somewhat unbearable. However, in a way, it is something positive.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that at one point in time, we all have to realize that we’re not invincible. People, and I’m guessing especially teenagers, all think nothing can go wrong, nothing can stop them. I know I felt like that at multiple times during my life, even if we did see others fail or fall.

This disease has taught me differently. Life isn’t perfect. There are definitely going to be rough points, some extremely bumpier than others.

“Don’t sweat the little things. In the long run, they just do not matter. It is how you build relationships with people, how you treat people, and how you live life that ultimately matters. Getting angry because of a parking spot or not getting your way on a trivial thing just is not healthy, and it does nothing for you. You just have to live life, experience the most you can. That’s what I’m doing. Don’t take anything for granted because it may all be gone soon.”

These words ring in my head. They’re Mama D’s. Her, her daughter, and myself were all sitting on her bed, just talking about life. It had to be one of our favorite pastimes. I’m sure we’ve all heard them before and just regard them as clichés. I probably did at the time. But, now I think differently.

They’re words of wisdom. They really are. And now I know exactly why she felt that way. It truly is a blessing.

__©2007 Jacob A. Nisbet, used by permission of the Nisbet family.__


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