With hindsight being 20/20, we now see how Nate’s invisible cancer was present and active throughout the summer before his September diagnosis. But it wasn’t until the test results from his pre-op physical came in, that alarm bells finally began to clang. His liver numbers “were off,” prompting the doctor to order a scan of the liver and pancreas, located next to each other.
Journal words tell the tale: “While we were in the office of a new orthopedic doctor getting a third opinion on Nate’s spine, one of our other doctors called Nate’s cell. ‘The results of your scan indicate a mass on the liver,’ he said, matter-of-factly. ‘But don’t jump to any conclusions. Tissue is tissue, and we won’t know anything conclusive until we do a biopsy.’ The doctor told Nate he’d made an appointment for him and then said, ‘Be sure you keep it.’
At the end of the conversation the phoning doctor asked Nate, ‘Do you have any questions?’ I would have asked, ‘How likely is it the mass is cancer?’ but Nate said, ‘Will the biopsy hurt?’ He’d already begun his time in denial, and the pain question was all he could think to ask.”
A few minutes later as we stood in the hall awaiting the elevator, Nate was trembling from head to toe, his shoulders, his cheeks, his hands, but no wonder. He’d just been hard-hit with the words “mass” and “biopsy”, two words no one wants to hear.
“How’re you feeling?” I asked, enfolding him in a hug.
“It’s OK. We’ll get through it,” he said.
Our words promised we wouldn’t jump to any conclusions, but our eyes said we already had. When we got to the car, we listened to an earlier phone message left by the same doctor who’d called in the examining room:
“I need to talk to you right away. Here’s my direct number. And if I don’t answer, here’s my pager. And if for some reason that one won’t work, here’s the number for the girl at the desk, who will come and find me.” We knew we were in a serious mess.
As we drove from Chicago to Michigan I said, “If they need to do surgery on your liver, I want to give you a chunk of mine. People can do that, you know. And I really mean it.”
Nate’s response was off-subject. “I think I’ve used up my allotted pain meds for this 24 hours and know I’m going to have a bad night.”
Both of us had become aware that a storm was about to hit and knew we’d need a place to run and hide. We’d also need God to show us how to spot his blessings in the rubble, because at that moment, we couldn’t see a single one.
“My people will live in… undisturbed places of rest. Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, how blessed you will be.” (Isaiah 32:18-20)