Yesterday marked the 6 month anniversary of Ryan’s diagnosis. It feels strange to mark something so life-altering in such a quiet manner. The first few months were full of such pain and confusion that oftentimes I didn’t even know what to think. I obsessively organized and planned for every possible worst-case scenario and yet was somehow not prepared for anything at all.
I wrote the following excerpt on the night of September 21 to try to reflect on what was happening and clear my head a bit:
I was running late. “Hi, so your fiancé said you would be here to pick him up around 5, but he’s out from the procedure now and should be ready to leave in about 20 minutes. Can you get here any sooner?” I rushed out of the elevator and to the reception desk. 4:36pm. “Hi, I’m here to pick up Ryan, I’m his fiancée. I think he may be expecting me inside.” Two minutes later, a nurse came out. “Hi, Clover? I’m Ryan’s nurse. He’s awake; he’s just waiting in the conference room for you. The doctor already spoke to him after the procedure. I’m just outside if you need me.” Another nurse popped her head out from her office: “I’m here too if you need me. If you need anything.” Strange. It was nice that they were being so helpful, but having undergone endoscopic procedures before, this seemed like overkill. Especially so close to 5pm. Still. I had a knot in my stomach and I wasn’t sure if it was residual anxiety from running late or another source of apprehension I’d been pressing down into the pit of my belly.
I opened the door to the conference room. Ryan was sitting at a large mahogany conference table, alone, sipping on a juice bottle of some sort. He turned to me with tired eyes. “They gave me a juice.”
“Also, I have cancer.”
At that his eyes reddened and he began to weep. As I hugged him, my mind went numb. On some distant, suppressed level, I had suspected and feared this. Weight loss, fever, chills, blood in stool, change in caliber of stool, anorexia, tenesmus. Checked off the boxes one by one. What they like to call "textbook". It still made no sense.
After we left the endoscopy suite, we went on with the day very methodically. Pick up packages from his work. Check. Take subway uptown to drop off trivia equipment at B-Ryan’s. Check. Tell Feetch about cancer diagnosis. Check. Order dinner. Check. Call parents to break the bad news. Check. Call the rest of the groomsmen and watch the news slowly disseminate through our group of friends.
He keeps asking me about his prognosis. Survival rates for rectal cancer are actually pretty good in the United States. First-line treatment is resection, assuming adenocarcinoma and assuming no metastases. Plus or minus radiation. I keep intellectualizing to cope. His primary defense mechanism has been humor. These will only keep us going for so long.
As I write this, he is sitting in a tub of hot water. It’s one of the only things that will relieve his pain now. His eyes closed, he looks so peaceful. Healthy, even.
A week later, I remember anxiously awaiting the results from the CT scan – and then the sudden drop in oxygenation as the doctor methodically reported that it was Stage IV cancer. Things just seemed to spiral violently downward in those months, and it's a miracle we flew out of that rabbit hole in one piece.
It’s hard to consider that it really hasn’t been that long. But 6 months later, everything seems to have settled down a bit. Cancer is a part of our daily routine now. He takes his medication every day. He goes to the doctor every week. On chemo days we know that he has about 2 hours before he really starts to feel nauseated and ill. Isn’t it so strange how something initially so jarring can become the new normal? I wasn't even sure we could get here. But every day I am thankful for the immense rallying power of our friends and family, who have supported us and guided us back to our lives as functional human beings.
Ryan has a follow-up CT coming up later this week. Hopefully it shows that the lesions have gotten even smaller. Minuscule even. I hope that they have somehow magically disappeared. Maybe that can be the new normal.