It's Not That Kind of Board
When I go to the Norris Cotton Cancer Center for an appointment with an idea of the “worst case scenario,” I try to simultaneously hope for the best and brace myself for that worst case.
The trouble is that sometimes the news is worse than I had imagined. Don’t worry. They didn’t tell me anything devastating this week. But it was a little bit more terrible than what I was prepared for.
On Wednesday, I saw my phenomenal oncologist, Dr. Ripple. He told me some surprising hard things that they discovered on my last scan and he hugged me tight. Then I went to my writing session with Marv, where he got me a box of tissues and held my hand in silence for probably 20 minutes. On my way to my next appointment to hear a bit more about what we are going to do about this sucky news, I saw one of my superhero Mom friends. (One of the ones who threw me a “Kick Cancer’s Ass” party two weeks after my original diagnosis. And she used her Charlie Brown doll to show me what it looks like to have a port placed. Did I mention that she is a Child Life Specialist in Pediatric Oncology?) She walked with me; she cried with me; and cursed this f****ing disease with me. She asked what she could do, knowing that there was nothing beyond the walk, the tears, and the swear words, which were deeply therapeutic. She reluctantly left me to go back to her job, and I ate a pretzel, wishing there was cheese sauce to drown my sorrows and my carbs in.
My "Kick Cancer's Ass" party, September, 2016
My next appointment was with the Interventional Radiologist. Mandy, my pastor emeritus, sat with me as he explained a lot of options. Some might work; some probably wouldn’t. Still others will most likely work, but no one knows for how long. At this point in my day, I was exhausted with the thoughts and emotions swirling around in my non-doctor head. He finally told me that Dr. Ripple will be presenting my case on Tuesday at Tumor Board. In the meantime, we'll plan to start chemo on Wednesday unless they come up with something new and brilliant at the meeting.
There was a time in the middle of August, 2016 when I had no idea that a Tumor Board was a thing. Then, one Tuesday, they met, heard my case, and came up with a plan for me after considering all of the angles. Gastroenterology, oncology, interventional radiology, hepatology, surgery, etc. They put their heads together. They brainstormed, rationalized, hypothesized, fine tuned, and came to some consensus on what the best next steps were.
They did it again in July of 2017 when the tumors came back.
And now the Tumor Board is one of my most favorite boards.
I’m so inspired by this group of brilliant minds, coming together to offer their own expertise, but also to listen to the ideas of others in their various fields of study. The more they absorb the information from others, the better their own ideas become. The fact that I’m still alive two years after a Stage IV diagnosis is thanks in great part to the brilliance and the collaborative spirit of the Tumor Board.
It’s not just the Tumor Board that inspires me. It’s the coming together of all of the people. Dr. Ripple’s hug; Marv, holding my hand; Jen, walking and crying with me; Mandy showing up long after her term as my pastor ended to be there to hear the information with me. So many friends, checking in on me and offering what they can to help and to be there for my family. While it’s a topic that comes up repeatedly in this blog, I have to say that it never gets old to me. My gratitude never fades. And the list of team members continues to grow.
I hope that you are, or someday have the chance to be, part of a team. To know the satisfaction of doing a piece of a much bigger thing, and to know the gift of letting others do their part as well. Some folks try to do it all because they see this as a symbol of their strength. But the strongest people in my life see the truth – that they are a small part of a much bigger, more complex machine that wouldn’t work without all of the other parts.
To all of the cogs, conveyor belts, dominoes, pistons, bowling balls, and duct-taped pieces of armature in the machine that is my life with cancer, I see you. And I thank you – for doing your part, and for allowing others to do theirs. It’s truly a splendid thing to behold.