Thursday, January 3, 2008

One Year On



Hi! One year ago today was the worst day of my life. The day before (Jan 2, 2007), I had visited my family physician to get his opinion about a couple of strange lumps I had recently discovered. He seemed puzzled and suggested I see my dermatologist. For some reason, I decided to drive directly to the dermatologist's office rather than go home and make an appointment for later. The good doctor agreed to see me during a quick break between patients and, after a quick examination, told me he didn't think the lumps were anything to worry about but that I should come back the next day for a biopsy. The last thing he said to me as he walked out the door was reassuring: "I really don't think this is anything to worry about," he said, "but I'd rather have you mad because I gave you a scar than because I missed something."

When I think back to how I felt when I woke the next morning, I am surprised at how calm I was. Despite my history of melanoma, despite the inexplicable appearance of two strange lumps, despite the fact I was about to get a biopsy, I really didn't think this was anything to worry about. Probably because I felt like I was in the best shape of my life. I was exercising every day and eating a healthy diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. I couldn't possibly have anything wrong with me, right?

When I arrived at the dermatologist's office early the next morning, Dr. Barnett ushered me into his office and we got down to business. Under normal circumstances, it can take days or even a week to find out the results of a biopsy. I knew within minutes. I remember the exact moment when I realized something was wrong. I was laying on the table with my eyes closed as Dr. Barnett made his initial cut and began to explore the lump (it was done under local anesthesia). Then the steady hands of my normally very calm doctor began to shake. As soon as I felt that shaking, I knew everything was about to change. I didn't know the full extent of the problem, of course, but I knew at that moment that my melanoma had metastasized. And from my experience with melanoma in 1995, I knew that metastasized melanoma was a very bad thing.

As Dr. Barnett stitched me up, I asked him what he thought and he said he wanted to wait to talk until we were all cleaned up. He finished the biopsy, left the room for a minute (probably to wash his hands and prepare himself for what has to be the most dreaded conversation a dermatologist can have with a patient), and then returned. He said he doesn't like to scare patients needlessly, but that he had seen enough in his career to know that this was indeed metastasized melanoma. He was kind, he was straightforward, and he promised to get me the name and number of the oncologist he would call if he were in my shoes. We parted with a handshake, and I went home to share this awful news with my family. (On a related note: I have been asked many times for Dr. Barnett's phone number. Here it is: 414-771-1122. I highly recommend him if you need a dermatologist.)

I had remained quite calm through my visit at Dr. Barnett's office. That calmness crumbled as I shared the news with Kelly, who happened to be home with morning sickness that day. I suppose every married couple has at least one conversation of this type at some point during their years together. All I can say is, I had never been more grateful to be married to Kelly than during those first hours after getting the news. We then began to share the news with other family members. The conversation with my Dad was the shortest of the day, but it succinctly sums up the emotions we were all feeling (and demonstrates the seemingly awkward but nevertheless quite effective way that men communicate with one another). I hadn't wanted to disturb him at work but my mom called him to share the news. He called me as soon as he got off the phone with her. Here's a direct transcript of how it went:

"Jeff?"
"Dad?"
"Jeff."
"Dad."
"I'll . . . I'll have to call you back."
"I understand."

The hardest conversation to have was with the kids. At that point, we still knew very little about what we were dealing with so we stuck with the basics: Dad has cancer, he will have to get treatment for it, and life as we know it as a family was going to change but they would always be taken care of. The two questions they had were "is the cancer bad?" and "is Daddy going to die?" They have asked the same questions many times during the past year and we always give the same answers: "Yes" and "We're doing everything we can so he doesn't."

Now it's one year later and I'm "celebrating" (though it isn't much of an occasion to celebrate in my opinion) the first anniversary of my diagnosis. Life has resumed a new normal for us and we're getting along okay. I'm sporting a mohawk these days as my hair grows back from whole-brain radiation (see photo). The kids were back in school today after a snowy Christmas break, Finn is crying for a bottle, I have a Design Review Board meeting for the city of Wauwatosa in about an hour, and Kelly's stuck in depositions until 8:00 tonight. My parents have been in town the past week and we've had a great visit (that's them with the kids in the second picture). I introduced them to the carrot cake from the Mason Street Grille last night; I strongly recommend it if you haven't tried it before. It's so yummy!
Well, that's enough for now. Thanks for all your prayers and support of the past year. Hopefully I'll have some good news to report in 2008.

Jeff

8 comments:

Mary M Clay said...

Jeff -
Thank you for the anniversary blog! Each day of this past year you, Kelly and the kids have taught all of us important lessons on strength, survival, love, faith and family. Keep continuing your fight, Jeff! I love you.
MM

Kara Smith said...

Jeff,
Thank you for the tears as I read the blog. You remind me of how precious each day, week, month , and year is. We all need to look back on our past year this new year and remember and reflect and enjoy it if possible. Surely there is something there from which to learn. I hope your 2008 is better than '07.

You and your family are to be admired by many! Thank you so much. You are a great teacher!

Katie Clancy said...

Jeff, I appreciate your commemorative blog marking the anniversary of the diagnosis - like you, I find it hard to use the word "celebrate". Rather, maybe instead it's a date worthy of much awe and respect for all you and the Dodds have been through and what you have accomplished and worked hard for in what seems like a short time. From your "fan club's" point of view, I know I speak for many when I say we have been privileged to witness your fight and experience the highs and lows beside you. We'll never really know what it's like, but you're making it easier for us to try and understand. You've given us all an education in cancer and treatments, as well as how we would want to act should we find ourselves facing a cancer fight someday. By opening your life, experiences and pain to us, you've made our lives richer. Many have noted gratitude for all that you share with the "club." Think of how many have had skin checks this year because of your blog, or other diagnostic tests that have been put off no longer because of you. You are touching so many people. And, even though some of us probably say the wrong things or do things that don't help as much as we think they will, you're always so gracious. Jeff you're a class act. I salute you and the entire Dodd squad! Prayers and best wishes as you continue the fight. Hope to see you soon. Love you all, Katie

michelle wait said...

Hey Jeff! Thank you for the personal blog. I also have to say thank you to Katie Clancy because she put into words so well what myself, and many others i'm sure, have been wanting to say. We are all behind you in 08 no less than we were in 07! I want to remind you that you are an unbelievable big brother. What an example you have been to the rest of us. Love you so much! Tell the kids and Kelly hello and send them my love!

katie.elsener said...

Wow, Jeff, you are quite a writer. I remember telling you that several years ago. You should seriously consider writing a book about your experiences. Thanks for sharing and congratulations on your anniversary.
Sincerely, Katie

Mary Louise said...

ditto Katie Clancy! I'm sure she wrote what many of us wish we could've said...
Love and Prayers go on...
ML

Jim said...

Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 2:27:17 is also the exact time that you sent me an email saying that you've started a blog. I know because I've never once went to your blog site, I've saved my email from you for a year now, and how I visit your blog is by opening my year old email and clicking on the link. Maybe I'm sentimental or superstitious, but I refuse to go to the blog any other way. Anyhoo, I agree, 2007 was a rough year indeed, maybe 2008 will be one of unexplainable happenings! I hope, pray, and wish for the impossible all the time, I don't know what else to do, you guys all hang in there and do the best you can.. God sees things so completely different than we do.

highdesertsultan said...

Jeff, This is a late comment so I hope you get it. Thank you for your openness and sharing here. You are a wonderful dad and husband, it's so nice to see that. I am in awe and smiling big about you and your family. I was in Lincoln on 43rd St. for Christmas and drove past your folks place on Lasalle a lot. I thought about you all so much and am praying for you. I'd like to be in touch if you have a second to spare:) wilkinskatie@hotmail.com
Peace to you, Katie