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“Only God Knows”

Untitled We left MD Anderson Cancer Center the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving, having finished up Mom’s initial scans and our first visit with the oncologist. We headed for Dallas, feeling confident in the new direction Mom’s treatment was taking. We knew we’d be headed right back on Sunday, but in the meantime we happily welcomed an uneventful Thanksgiving. Mom built gingerbread houses with her grandchildren, watched movies with her boys, and played games with the ladies. She sat and talked with me, and my aunt, and my dad about lots of things. Her health was certainly one of the topics, but it wasn’t the only topic. I remember that holiday being normal. For whatever reason, we all just soaked up the togetherness and chose for a time to forget what we knew deep down; this was the last Thanksgiving we would spend with Mom.

Sunday night saw us back in the car and back to MD Anderson. The next morning we arrived for a biopsy, taken from the lung through the throat. In the bed next to us, a man was laying there, clearly in agony. His pain was so great he could barely make a sound. I hurt just to watch him, and I found myself fearful and praying, “Lord, don’t let us go there.”

The next morning, we arrived and found a new set of elevators. We descended into the basement, down where they keep radiation. This was only a consult, but we still felt like we were entering much deeper waters. They put us in a room to wait for the doctor. The room was large with an even larger round table and lots of chairs, maybe six or seven of them. (A caregiver notices lots of chairs. Exam rooms rarely have enough.) We waited. And we waited. We must have waited 40 minutes.

Finally, a young man walked through the door with an assistant. The young man, maybe 35, was the doctor. He was a radiation oncologist with a good manner and a good mind. He began explaining how radiation worked, what effects were hoped for, and side-effects that were sure to come. However, just minutes into the discussion he realized we had never discussed final diagnosis or prognosis. He grew visibly agitated, not at us, rather at the prospect of having to deliver news that was sure to devastate with no way to put the pieces back together. I don’t remember much more of what that man said other than, “I would say your likelihood for five year survival is 4-10%.” Four percent. I remember thinking, “Since we’re just estimating here, couldn’t you just round that up to 5% for me? Is there really any need to take us lower than 5%?” We had waited 40 minutes, and just 4 minutes in and 4% later, I found myself dismayed by the odds. Then Mom, with a calm and steady voice, said, “Only God knows.”

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