Anytime you’re told by your family doctor that you’ve been set up with an oncologist for a consultation at the cancer center, the anxiety will probably race through your body in waves. This is how the consultation went for Annie and me. Keep in mind, no two consultations are exactly the same and the same cancer will normally behave differently in each individual. Note: Sadly, Annie lost two younger sisters, one month apart to cancer, 6 years prior to this consultation.
We got up this morning both feeling anxious and apprehensive. I remember trying to make conversation, but the mood was too awkward. The reality was setting in that we would soon be on our way to the cancer center. Looking back on Annie’s extensive health issues over the past year gave me an uncomfortable feeling. It was obvious she had some medical issues, that for whatever reason her general practitioner, and the specialists she’d been seeing could not diagnose. I’m sure we were both hoping for the best, but from the worried look on Annie’s face, I believe she was expecting the worst.
A short time later we arrived at the cancer center and checked in. We were placed in a waiting area that was large, seating thirty to forty people, and was relatively full. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we were surrounded with so much sadness. Annie pointed to a lady and said, “Look at her, bless her heart, she’s really struggling.”
Personally, at the moment I wasn’t concerned about the other patients in the room. But as my gaze shifted to the lady, I took a good look at her, and my emotions went through some changes. That’s when I realized we were on the outside looking in, and the thought that we might soon be on the inside looking out changed my views.
Annie was an extremely compassionate person, and I believe I was trying to look at the other patients through their eyes. I was starting to understand rather quickly, the folks in this room were all part of a larger family, and for the most part lived on hope.
Eventually, a nurse took us back the laboratory where Annie had her initial blood draw. After her blood was drawn, the nurse escorted us to one of the patient rooms, and checked Annie’s vital signs. She left the room telling us that Dr. Moore Sr. would be in soon. The room was small, about 10 by 12 feet. We were sitting along the North wall facing South. Annie and I both noticed the South wall was ornately decorated with large and small shadow boxes filled with different species of some of the world’s most beautiful butterflies. I couldn’t help but wonder if the butterflies weren’t peace, in the face of such adversity. For that short moment in time, I think the butterflies allowed us to communicate and escape to a part of our minds where there was no thought of cancer.
When Dr. Moore Sr. came in the room, his first words were, “Ann, have you been feeling sick lately? Have you had a cold or any fever?”
Annie replied that she hadn’t been feeling well, but she didn’t believe she was sick.
This short, stocky man, had a strangely curious look on his face as he walked by us towards his desk saying, “that is strange,” but really didn’t elaborate.
That’s when I asked the question, “Dr. Moore, have you ever seen blood like Annie’s?”
My heart sunk when he looked at me and replied; “I see it every day Bob, that’s what I do.”
Cancer was not mentioned as he needed to do a bone marrow biopsy to find the source of Annie’s illness. At that point, he opened the door and yelled out two words, “Bone marrow!”
Shortly after, a nurse came in pushing a stainless steel cart. It happened so quickly, I believe she was waiting outside our room for the call. The cart had a tray on top, with some strange looking instruments—a rather frightening sight. One of the instruments was long and narrow with threads on the end. That was to be used like a cork screw, to get inside the bone to the marrow. The nurse helped Annie onto the bed and laid her on her right side. They used sterile cloth to drape over her hip, leaving the target area open. They gave her a local anesthetic to numb the area. I positioned myself up near her upper body, put my right arm around her neck, and held one of her hands with my left hand, knowing it was going to be painful.
When Dr. Moore Sr. finished the procedure, my hand was numb from Annie’s squeezing. All I heard from her through that whole process, was a couple of times she said, “Ouch!”
The process took about half an hour. Before the doctor left the room, he looked at Annie and remarked, “Ann, I think Bob took this procedure worse than you did.”
I had tears running down my cheeks, and probably for the first time in my life, I felt her pain. It really pulled at my heartstrings watching her go through the procedure; and I suppose in the back of my mind I was very fearful of what they might find.
He told the nurse to clean her up and told us that we could expect the results in about seven days.
The ride home from the cancer center was very awkward. Our drive through suburban Wichita was a non event, but it was now difficult for both of us, not to notice the kids playing, couples walking hand in hand in happiness, while we were left wandering in the darkness.
We really didn’t know what to say to each other. Annie simply sat and stared out the window, her eyes gazing from one area to another, obviously deeply in thought. She had a strange calmness about her as if she’d resigned herself to the fact that she probably had some sort of cancer. As for me, I felt rather numb, but remained focused on driving through heavy traffic, and getting us home safely.
When we arrived home, Annie would normally get out of our vehicle, look at our beautiful two story home, all our trees, shrubs, and greenery, then give me instructions on the many jobs she had in mind for me to take care of. Not this time; her mood was solemn as she took a slow walk into our home.
As the sun started to set, it became apparent to me that our lives were changing. The unspoken words of Dr. Moore Sr., were driving our emotions. I didn’t know what the unspoken words were, but somehow I think Annie knew.
When we went to bed that night, as it had been over the past several months, her legs were hurting, so I gave her a leg massage. She fell asleep, not mentioning the day’s events. For whatever reason we didn’t speak of Annie’s first appointment, but once again, I think the unspoken words or Dr. Moore Sr. were locked in the forefront of our minds. What was he going to say?
The diagnosis: 3 days later
When we arrived at the cancer center they had a room reserved for us. It was the same room we were in on our previous appointment. We went in, sat in the same chairs, while the nurse took her vital signs.
Shortly thereafter, Dr. Moore Sr. came in, rolled a stool over and sat in front of Annie. I’ll never forget the look of dismay on her face when he gave her the diagnosis.
He told her she had multiple myeloma: it was terminal, metastatic, not curable, but treatable. He further stated that multiple myeloma has three stages, and that her cancer was in stage three, with her bone marrow being over eighty percent cancer.
I guess it’d be like someone offering you an apple when you were starving—eating eighty percent, then giving you the core.
While Annie was talking to Dr. Moore Sr., there was a knock on the door. When he opened the door, Nurse Lisa, a well dressed lady came walking in. Lisa was the nurse in charge of putting new patients on the clinical trials.
Lisa spoke to Dr. Moore Sr. about the requirements for the clinical trials, and some new changes coming out.
Dr. Moore Sr. seemed a bit agitated, when he asked her to go see if Ms. Harrison would qualify for the clinical trials.
Raising her arm and holding up what I believe was a copy of the current laboratory report, Lisa told the doctor that based on her HGB being so low, she would not qualify for the clinical trials.
Without hesitation and a strained look on his face, Dr. Moore Sr. said, “Well then I will transfuse her!”
Lisa simply nodded her head in acknowledgement of the doctors words, and left the room scampering down the hallway to her office.
After Lisa left the room, Dr. Moore Sr. explained to Annie’s that her best hope for survival would most likely come from the clinical trials, potentially using new drugs that weren’t on the market yet.
But it seemed, Dr. Moore Sr. was in a bit of a dilemma. Apparently he needed to start chemotherapy right away; but once he started giving Annie chemotherapy, she would no longer be eligible for the initial phase of the clinical trials. He also said that once placed on the clinical trials, most of the treatment for the disease is free.
After his short, but to the point conversation with Annie, he excused himself and left the room for a few minutes.
After he left the room, Annie and I just sat there quietly staring at the wall. I tried to reflect on what we’d been told, but other than the key points, I don’t remember much of anything that was said during the first half of the appointment. Annie appeared to be in shock, and I knew in her mind, her life was spiraling out of control. Her eyes looked so empty and sad as she stared straight ahead at the butterflies on the wall. As I stared at her emptiness, I wasn’t sure what to say to her, but knew I had to say something. So I got on my knees, put my hands on her cheeks, looked her in the eyes, and said, “I promise I will love you, take care of you, protect you, and won’t let anyone hurt you.” At that point she lowered her head down to mine, and we simply held each other and wept.
I was sitting beside her holding her hand, when Dr. Moore Sr. came back in the room. The first thing he did after looking at Annie and me, without saying a word, was walk over to his desk and get us a tissue. He then rolled his stool back over to us, and started revealing his strategy. We had just started talking when Lisa returned.
I got on my knees, put my hands on her cheeks, looked her in the eyes, and said, “I promise I will love you, take care of you, protect you, and won’t let anyone hurt you.”
Lisa told the doctor that the study had been shut down for two weeks; but when it reopens, she would be eligible.
He looked straight at Lisa, speaking with a very elevated voice, and hitting the table with his fist, he let these words fly; “I don’t have two weeks, I don’t even have two days!”
It was apparent from his frustration and tone in his voice, Annie’s fate had already been sealed. It wasn’t a matter of if she was going to survive; but, “How long was she going to survive?”
I have a copy of his progress notes: “I hope to get started by next week on treatment of this unfortunate patient.”
Note: On this day before we arrived at the cancer center I had a call from Dr. Moore Sr’s nurse Tracy while I was at my office. She informed me of just how grave Annie’s situation was and in fact, after spending two days looking at her medical records, Dr. Moore Sr. couldn’t understand why she was still alive. Hence his frustration was coming out in this appointment.
There is no pre-screening for blood cancer, so this event happens more often than we would like to think.
One person every three minutes is diagnosed with a blood cancer in the United States, and one person every ten minutes will die of a blood cancer.