That was two weeks ago. Now, things are different. Not necessarily different meaning bad, just … different. My perspective and priorities have changed. My relationships with friends, family, and co-workers have changed. The reason for the change is that my girlfriend Cassie was recently diagnosed with cancer.
It started out with Cassie getting sick. We thought nothing of it because she’s always getting sick: She works several jobs, all of which involve interacting with large crowds of children — so she’s constantly coming home with something. The difference was that this cough she just could not kick, and it was getting worse every day.
What started out as an intermittent cough on Monday turned into a scary, constant, can-barely-breathe coughing onslaught by Thursday night. Neither of us could sleep, she could barely catch her breath sitting down, and it was clear she needed medical attention. I took her to the Emergency Room around 4am.
They gave her a steroid and oxygen to calm her coughing attack. At first, the doctors guessed it would be bronchitis or pneumonia. A chest X-ray was administered to check for pneumonia, which they did find a small amount of in Cassie’s left lung — but that wasn’t their biggest concern. They were concerned most about the “huge, abnormal mass” they found near the top of her lungs in the X-ray. The doctor did not reveal this gently, he just said “We found a tumor.”
And that was the moment that everything changed. A moment I’ll never forget. A moment where seconds before I was thinking my girlfriend might have bronchitis, maybe pneumonia, but was now thinking holy fucking shit, my girlfriend might have cancer.
Cassie was transferred to the main hospital where they set her up with an IV antibiotic to treat her pneumonia. All day Friday she was carted in and out of her room for different tests and scans. Different doctors came in to see her every few hours, all of whom asked the same set of questions. Surgeons came in to talk about the two different options for biopsy: A catscan-assisted needle biopsy (less accurate, less invasive), or a scope-assisted surgical biopsy (more accurate, more invasive).
Meanwhile, I had four phones going: The hospital room phone, my personal cell, my work cell, and Cassie’s cell were all occasionally ringing because after word got out that Cassie was in the hospital, people who cared about us wanted to get an update on her condition. The frustrating part was that for a long time we didn’t know anything new. Maybe it was an infection, maybe it was cancer. Nobody would say anything for certain until after the biopsy, so it was a painful waiting game.
The weekend was less exciting only because the hospital staff thinned down somewhat. They wouldn’t schedule the biopsy on the weekend, so we had to wait until Monday for an answer. People visited Cassie in shifts.
On Monday the catscan-assisted needle biopsy was scheduled for either 10:00am or 1:00pm. I no longer remember because by then the days had all blurred together. I followed Cassie on her stretcher as transport brought her to a holding area. Waiting for the biopsy to begin was probably the worst half hour in the hospital just because we were across from another young girl who had just finished the procedure Cassie was about to start — she was doubled over in pain and crying her eyes out.
I wasn’t allowed to go into the procedure room with Cassie. I was given a vibrating token — like the kind used at restaurants — and was directed to a small waiting room. Something about the Academy Awards was on TV. Cassie’s mom called and I told her the latest. She said “Thanks for being there,” and the genuineness in her voice caused tears to well up behind my eyes.
They paged me and I returned to the holding area. Cassie was now in the spot where the crying girl was previously, but Cassie seemed fine. She described the biopsy as mostly painless, as the only thing that hurt was the needle’s initial entry.
Now, at this point we were confident that we’d have an answer soon. Everyone we had spoken with had said that it might take a day, two at most, before the test results would be revealed. We were therefore shocked, when the “main” doctor said in her experiences the results would likely not be in before Friday.
I was aggravated because it seemed like we were already waiting forever, lost in this limbo of uncertainty hoping for good news but fearing the worst. Thankfully, that doctor didn’t know what she was talking about and we got the result Tuesday, on the day Cassie was discharged from the hospital.
Cancer. Specifically, lymphoma. Since being discharged from the hospital we’ve met with the oncologist, who told us the specifics:
- The official diagnosis is Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Stage 2.
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma is not only treatable, but curable.
- Chemo/radiation treatments will start March 16.
The next year will likely be rough, but the statistics are in Cassie’s favor. Having been diagnosed with a curable form of cancer at the young age 24, things could certainly be worse — and we’re confident that she’ll be okay.
As for Cassie’s cancer “changing everything,” that’s obviously exaggerated. Yes, it has changed my priorities. It has helped me recognize what’s truly important in life. It has redefined and strengthened my relationships with Cassie’s family, and it has allowed me to realize how sympathetic and understanding my workplace is. What has not changed, is how I feel about the girl I love.
I love you Cassie. We’re in this together babe, and we’ll beat it.
Update 11-07-2009: She’s cured!
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