September 30, 2017: Chest X-Ray

Flashes of memory from September 30, 2017 exist in my mind. Each remembered moment is charged with anxiety, with the feeling that we (Matt and I) were so close to the edge of a cliff that our toes were hanging off the edge. The fall was coming and we couldn’t stop it.

That charm that had surfaced during the late night visit to the emergency room had faded. I blamed Matt’s exhaustion for the return of symptoms, and, consequently, myself for keeping him awake so late.

The day was a logistical nightmare. Because it was Saturday, G and H were home from school, Matt had a physical therapy appointment (which would prove to be his last), and I had a dishwasher installation scheduled. (An example of missing Matt while looking at him. Mentally and physically, he wasn’t unable to help with this decision. I’d tried to channel Matt by researching dishwashers and comparing reviews. I walked into the store armed with knowledge and the exact make and model I wanted to buy. I walked out with a different dishwasher entirely. I remember worrying Matt would be annoyed with my choice once he was back on an upswing.)

While I was busy with G and H and the dishwasher installer downstairs, Matt received a call from a doctor. Matt took down notes from this call and handed me the paper. The words he’d written were worrisome, but also nonsensical. Matt told me they’d found a new tumor in his brain and I told him that was impossible because they hadn’t done a brain MRI. I asked who called. He said he didn’t know. He grew frustrated and walked away. I set to work unraveling the tangle of words in front of me.

I called back the phone number that had called Matt. It routed me to the main line for the Atlantic Health System. After about an hour on the phone, relaying Matt’s story and the circumstances of the phone call, I was directed to the person who’d called Matt. The doctor (or radiologist) told me what they’d told Matt. The x-ray revealed a nodule on his thyroid and sclerotic lesions on his spine and ribs.

My hands started to shake as I asked the doctor what that meant. He said it could all mean nothing, but given Matt’s medical history, I should have it checked out. He wished me a good day and hung up. I stood at the kitchen counter and attempted to absorb the blow we’d just been dealt. What was a sclerotic lesion? What was a nodule? It felt like we’d been pushed over the edge of that cliff, like we were free falling. I called Duke and left a voicemail to tell them what had been found and asking what to do next. But September 30, 2017 was a Saturday and I didn’t expect an answer until Monday. So I Googled. I Googled and I told myself not to worry until it was time to worry. All of it—the nodule and lesions—could be nothing. At least there was no new tumor.

That afternoon, we (our family of four) went to a movie. I thought it might be an easy way to spend family time without needing to move or talk. The plan backfired. Matt’s mental state was deteriorating, his pain overwhelming. He snapped at G and H and struggled with pain throughout the afternoon.

September 30, 2017 feels like a last, though I can’t exactly pin down why. Possibly because this was the last day before it all fell apart again. Possibly because this was the last day before our battle against a brain tumor transformed into a battle against something entirely unknowable, a monster that had grown claws and fangs and knew how to hide in plain sight.

Possibly because after September 30th, statistics and doctors’ words and success stories failed us, and our hope became the only thinking keeping us from learning the depths of the chasm into which we’d fallen.

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