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January 18, 2011


Today’s postaday topic was certainly timely.  For the post, we could talk about an act of bravery that we’d witnessed with our own eyes.  Today, I was privileged to be present for something life-changing.

My cousin, Tom, is five days older than I am.  We’ve always been close, growing up together, having many of the same interests and the same sense of humor.  He got married to a woman who is two years older than we are.  They have two beautiful daughters, and they live about five minutes from us.  Needless to say, we spend most Friday nights together, and we take turns attending our kids’ sporting and dance events.  His wife, Lisa, and I have become more than just family through marriage.  Lisa has become one of my best friends.

This morning, as Dave & I stumbled through the getting up, getting ready for work process, Tom texted me, and asked me to call him.  He was on his way to the airport.  He’d just started a new job, and had to leave town for several days.  Lisa had just had a breast biopsy done on Friday, and she was due to get her results today.  Tom asked me if I wouldn’t mind checking in with her, and if possible, could I go to the appointment with her.   He was clearly distraught, and sick over having to leave town today.  Tom told me that the doctor’s office had called yesterday, and indicated that the biopsy was indicating something abnormal.

Lisa is one of the strongest people I know.  She is smart, funny and beautiful.  She can make me laugh…God, that girl is funny!  A few months ago, during my eulogy for my grandmother, I got choked up & stuck…I called out, “Lisa, make a joke, quick!”  I knew that she could get me through the tough bit.  When I sat in a hospital bed, after two surgeries, sick with pneumonia, and sobbing hysterically, Lisa knew to call me and let me vent all over her.  To have the opportunity to be there for her was something that I considered a true gift.  I let Tom know that I would be there and would make sure that she had the support she needed.

When I got to the oncologist’s office, Lisa was sitting in her car.  I could tell that she didn’t want to go in.  As I got out of my car, she rolled down the window and said, “How ’bout we go do a shot of Jaeger, instead?” 

We had to wait for a few minutes, as Lisa was obviously the first appointment of the day.  When we finally got called back to the exam room, the nurse did the routine blood pressure & temperature checks.  Soon, the oncologist came in.  Lisa & I were both prepared…we both had notebooks and pens ready.

The doctor didn’t waste any time.  She immediately told Lisa that she has cancer. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced something like this…either personally, or with a loved one.  There is almost no way to describe what happens next.  It’s as if time slows down and speeds up at the same time.  The room closes in, and at least for me, it got very warm.  As the doctor spoke, I started taking notes, writing furiously.  I knew that I would never remember certain things, and I figured Lisa wouldn’t either.  Lisa was very calm.  She asked some good questions.  The doctor made a point to look Lisa in the eye, and offered as much reassurance as she could.  The next steps would be MRI’s, surgery, radiation, and possibly chemotherapy.

Lisa’s immediate concern was for her oldest daughter, a fragile, beautiful, newly minted teenager and for her fiery, spitfire of an almost four-year old.  Her teenager’s first crush had just lost his mother to a very prolonged, painful battle with breast cancer.  Lisa was worried about how the girls would take it.

Because Tom was out of town, the doctor said that Lisa should schedule an MRI for sometime this week, and then come back with Tom next week, to review next steps.  The results of the MRI would determine whether they would need to do a lumpectomy or a mastectomy.  At that point, I asked if they needed to get things done quickly, or would it make a difference if it was next week.  Thankfully, the doctor indicated that it was a slow-growing cancer, and that a couple of days would not affect things adversely.  If for no other reason, the MRI would be scheduled right away, to help ease Lisa’s mind.  She had her nurse schedule the test for this afternoon, and gave Lisa a stack of reading material and information to be organized and the name of a good book to get.

All of the sudden, at age 42, at 9:20 a.m. on January 18, 2011, I became a grown up.  Nothing else in my experience has made me feel like an adult like hearing that someone I care about, someone who has everything to live for, be told that they have cancer.  Lisa’s grace, and the fact that, after the initial shock, she could make jokes as we walked to the parking lot & while we waited for the MRI, showed me true bravery.    Faced with the same diagnosis, I have no idea how I would react.  We picked up our kids and met again for dinner tonight.  The normal bustle and flow of dealing with four kids, ages four to sixteen, combined with a cocktail or two, began to show on Lisa’s face.  Knowing that she had not slept well last night, and knowing what a tough day this had been, we called it an early night. 

Tomorrow will bring a new day, new challenges, and a new reality for our family.  We have been relatively untouched by cancer, so this will be a new rallying point for us all.  We will take our cue from Lisa, and try to match her bravery.