The Worst Day of Your Life

The Worst Day of Your Life might not start out that way. Maybe it is a Thursday, you get up early to get the kids ready for school and make yourself a perfect 3-minute fresh egg from the farm in town. You take the kids to the dentist, where they get the dental seal of approval, and then to school. Then you go to your favorite coffee shop and get a perfect latte. And as you are paying for your latte, your phone rings, and that’s when it takes a turn.

It’s the nurse at your oncologist’s office, they have your results from yesterday’s CT scan and would like to see you that day, as soon as possible. That’s bad news. You call your husband, who is out of town that day, and clear your schedule so that you can go, with your stoic Asian mother, to the oncologist’s office.

The radiation oncologist greets you with a grim face and reddened eyes. She tells you that the CT showed tumors in your brain, as well as swelling, and apparently the swelling is threatening, well, everything. There is a neurosurgeon waiting for you in his office, he has OR time on Monday and thinks he can fit you in. You medical oncologist tells you that he is “shocked and horrified” that the cancer has proven itself to be so devious as to figure out how to take up residence in your brain, protected by the blood-brain barrier from the drugs that seem to have beaten back cancer in the rest of your body.

Leaving your mom at home to wait for the kids to come home from school, your friend Rachel drives you to see the neurosurgeon because you need someone to go with you and also because you are now not allowed to drive. The neurosurgeon is a compassionate, competent, unaccountably humble superhero with magic hands. He patiently shows you your scans, a series of cross sections of your brain, highlighting the blobs of concern. He explains the procedure and you try to follow along, lightly grasping the sequence of cutting, removing, draining as outlined. What you do grasp: you must do something and soon. There is no time for careful consideration or second opinions or phoning a friend. You sign the consent form on the spot.

Then off you go to the MRI, the scan that will reveal in greater detail what is happening in your brain. You lie in a noisy machine knocking and rattling around you, head in a cage with padding to keep everything still for 45 minutes. This is a lot of time to absorb the shock of the past 3 hours, and you wonder whether your crying and shaking will interfere with the scan.

Next back to the neurology floor, where you are admitted to a hospital bed, and you have to send your friend home for your toothbrush because when you woke up this morning you thought the day would end at home in your own bed. And that was the worst day of your life. So far.

But if that was the worst day, then the next day might be a little better. You get a bit of sleep in hospital, you meet with the doctors you need to meet with and encounter no obstacles for surgery. The MRI shows no new bad news, and in your new reality that passes for good news.  Your husband, the light of your life, arrives and holds you close. A few close friends drop by. They cry, you cry, you all laugh. You have an amazing talk with your rabbi, and if you’re one of those skeptics who doesn’t know what the point of organized religion is, THIS IS THE POINT. Friends call from far away offering warmth and wisdom. You feel loved. You feel validated. Your life, ever more fragile, still has meaning.

And at the end of the day, your husband brings your children to visit you. They are quiet and frightened but also relieved to see that you look like yourself, and eager to snuggle up with you on the tiny hospital bed while your husband reads a chapter from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. You know that you have everything that you need.

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So that’s where I am at. Having finished all the pre-operative preparations on Friday, I got to go home for the weekend, and now I’m back in the hospital bed ready for surgery tomorrow. I’m in good hands – literally, this surgeon is fantastic – surrounded by supportive family and friends. This is a very unexpected turn of events, but I am facing it head on. As always, I welcome your prayers and messages of support. I may not be able to answer them, but they do shore up my strength.