I seldom comment on another writer’s opinion. It is not my job to express opinions. Yet Onea Ostrich’s recent column on cancer touched a nerve. It brought back frightening memories.
That’s not her fault. The memories would have come back anyway. On April 5, I wrote about the question haunting Bridgeport residents the week before: are they at risk for cancer? This required me to speak with an epidemiologist who was researching that question. Unfortunately, all she could say was that she had found no evidence. Those are not reassuring words.
Yet Bridgeport residents will have to wait for her to do further research—though the population of the Bridgeport neighborhood might be too small to make it possible to give them a definitive answer. My story appeared in the April 8 edition of the Sun.
Too many people in Bridgeport are wondering if they’ve been placed at higher risk for cancer by at least two leaks from a neighborhood gas station since the 1980s. I doubt they were comforted when I quoted Dr. Wendy Cozen’s comment: “A third of us will get cancer.”
That was one of the scariest sentences I’d ever heard. Not the scariest, but close.
The scariest sentence I ever heard was delivered on my 38th birthday.
My general practitioner detected a suspicious lump on my 38th birthday and delivered the news in the form of what writers call a passive sentence:
“I don’t want to alarm you, Mr. Kelly, but you may have something that is the process of becoming cancerous.”
I’ll translate that into an active sentence: you might have cancer.
I didn’t get confirmation for a couple of weeks. During that time, I went to the Internet to learn about my enemy. According to the American Cancer Society, the tumor I might have could be described in one of two ways: classic and spectacular. (Any human being who would be heartless enough to tell a cancer patient their tumor is “spectacular” should be sentenced to dig graves by hand for a decade.)
During that time, doctors used terms like “mass,” “growth,” “tumor” and “seminoma.” That last word was usually followed by the phrase, “the most desirable tumor to have.”
That inane phrase was almost laughable—though its absurdity paled beside the nurse’s question to the doctor just before they rolled me into the operating room: “Why did they give Mr. Kelly’s blood a pregnancy test?”
“Well, obviously, they made a mistake.”
The nurse glared at him.
“It tells me what I need to know anyway.” The urologist explained to me that if I had tested positive for pregnancy, it would have meant there was another tumor in my body that we didn’t know about. So this was good news. I probably had “seminoma,” which was “the most desirable tumor to have.”
With that memorable phrase whirling through my brain, they wheeled me into the operating room.
When the urologist delivered the results of my biopsy, the urologist said it was seminoma and repeated the inane phrase, “the most desirable tumor to have.”
I glared at him.
He finally gave me the simple, declarative sentence I needed to hear: “It’s a cancer.”
I was, oddly, relieved. It knew what I was dealing with—finally.
This was followed by good news: they apparently got the entire tumor while they were performing the biopsy. Radiation therapy was recommended, but I wouldn’t have to endure chemotherapy.
Later, I read the biopsy report. The thing that might have killed me was smaller than a bead of buckshot. My radiation oncologist was impressed that my general practitioner caught it. (I so didn’t need to hear that.)
On April 5, 24 hours after my 49th birthday, I wrote my report on the latest news from Bridgeport. The article included information provided by Dr. Cozen. During the interview, I mentioned that I was a seminoma survivor. She, too, said it was the best tumor to have because it has a high survival rate. She was factually correct, of course, but I do wish no one ever had to deal with a tumor.
A foolish and unrealistic wish, I know. But for what it’s worth, it’s mine.