A Message from Tom:
You Could Have Heard A Pin Drop…a statement common to all but something I experienced first-hand, when I was was told I had cancer. Defining moments are the times in our lives where time stands still and one of my defining moments occurred when I was told I had cancer!
Your defining moment might have been when you finally got your diploma or it could have been the day you said “I Do”. Maybe it was the day you held your first-born child. These life changing moments become defining when the world as we know it is forever changed and our life takes on a new trajectory.
Such was the case for me on December 12, 2009, when a phone call led to a defining moment for my life. I was leaving a shopping mall after doing some Christmas shopping, when I noticed I had a missed a call and there was a voicemail. I recognized the number as being from a doctor who had recently done a biopsy for me and figured the call was a formality; news there was nothing to be concerned about. Unfortunately, the message received was not what I expected, as my doctor called (rather than her PA), with instructions to call her as soon as possible.
I made the call as I was walking back to my car. She began with an apology:
“Tom I’m sorry it took so long but I wanted to double check and confirm the results. Tom, none of this makes sense: you don’t fit the profile (you’re way too young). We found skin cancer and it is the worst kind you could have.”
Truth be told, I don’t think I ever heard my doctor say the “c” word. It may have been because I was trying to find my car in a crowded parking lot or it may have been my ignorance about Merkel cell cancer. She did get my attention, when she told me I had an appointment to meet “my” surgical oncologist in the morning. Your life is forever changed when you learn you have an appointment scheduled with an oncologist!
Early the next morning, I was in a surgeon’s office listening to him describe how rare merkel cell cancer was. There are less than 1,500 cases per year (with less than 1% of those cases occurring in people under the age of 50), with a tendency to metastasize quickly. He went on to share his plan for surgery and his strategy for radiation. He also prepared me for the possible long road where chemotherapy could be added to the game plan. My defining moment was when I was told I had cancer but in this moment I vowed cancer would not define me!
At some point, my oncologist stopped talking and I really don’t know how long we both sat there in silence. When I checked back in, there was only one question I had to ask…“so I have cancer?” Despite already knowing my doctor’s answer, this was a question I had to ask for myself and the only reply he could offer was “I’m afraid you do.”
So there we both sat, unsure what to say next and I swear…You Could Have Heard A Pin Drop!
But for me asking the question “so I have cancer?” allowed me to own the answer I heard and embrace how I would fight this disease. This moment in time would mean cancer didn’t own me and I would take ownership of my care. In the midst of so much uncertainty, I found a peace which enabled me to share this comfort with my family.
Do you have a defining moment in your life? How would you say you were changed by it now you are on the other side of what your experienced?
Header image by Pete Birkinshaw, used under CC. All other images courtesy of Tom Martin.