Sunday, January 11, 2009

I'll say right up front, that I have nothing interesting to report. So, unless you're in the mood for some mindless ramblings, I recommend you keep moving and check again later. But, if you're a glutton for punishment, settle in . . .

Today is the two year anniversary of the day we found out just how bad Jeff's cancer was. Unfortunately, I am like Rain Man when it comes to remembering dates--birthdays, anniversaries, etc.--even those of obscure friends or people linked to me only through a few random degrees of separation (my nanny's little sister; the oldest daughter of my college friend; etc.). Likewise, I cannot forget the significant dates of Jeff's illness: his diagnosis, his brain surgery, the day he entered hospice, etc.

My own birthday is November 11th (11/11). Therefore, "eleven" has always been my lucky number. "Eleven" has served me well and has cropped up in uncanny ways from time to time, so I held out hope that January 11th was a lucky day for a diagnosis. I thought that maybe Eleven would come through and instead of hearing that Jeff had Stage IV melanoma that had metastasized to his liver and kidneys and various other places, we would be told that but for the two little subcutaneous bumps he had found, his scans were clear-the tumors could be removed and he'd be back on the road to good health. Of course, this was before I had obtained my internet medical degree and while I was too naive to know that the little subcutaneous bumps, in and of themselves, were Stage IV melanoma and that any appreciable survival of Stage IV melanoma was almost unprecedented.

When the doctor gave Jeff the news--he started with the "good news"--"It isn't in your brain"--but did not soft sell the bad news--"it is in your liver and kidney." Jeff's first question was whether an organ transplant was an option. At that point the doctor made sure our expectations were realistic. He said, "the cancer is incurable and inoperable."

Jeff did not ask for a prognosis. (He never wanted to be assigned an expiration date and only hesitantly asked for one at the very end, right before he entered hospice when the doctors told us there was nothing more to do and that his time was "very short.") However, I learned that the median life expectancy of people with Jeff's diagnosis and sites of metastases was approximately 5-7 months. Which meant he was statistically scheduled to die right around the time Finn was due to be born in May, 2007. I began to think of all the possibilities--I was pregnant with Jeff's son, who was due to be born the day after Jeff's own birthday. I thought, for sure, Jeff would die before then only for the poetic irony that I would then deliver his son on his birthday (which was also our wedding anniversary), all in some ethereal and cosmic illustration of the circle of life. Ugh!

During Jeff's first cycle of biochemo in Houston he commented on how he felt too good to be so sick and marveled at how he could have such a severe and unrelenting cancer with no symptoms or side effects whatsoever. It chilled me when he said it, but then he said, "I figure I have at least a year or two left." Sadly, he was precisely accurate: He lived only 20 months after that.

I've often thought about how glad I am that Jeff didn't ask for a prognosis any sooner than he did. Jeff was a very compliant patient. He followed his doctors' orders to the letter and did everything he could, and then some, to follow their advice. Because Jeff was, by nature, always regimented and obedient I was concerned that if he was ever given a specific prognosis, he would not want to disappoint his doctors and would dutifully fulfill it.

In fact, when the doctors told Jeff on September 1, 2008 that his time was "very short," it was only then that Jeff asked "how long is 'very short?'" The doctor replied "a few weeks to a few months." Jeff lived for three weeks and three days after that.

So, what does all this mean and what have I learned in the two years since January 11, 2007? Not much--except that I think I'm done with "lucky."

P.S. And please don't think after reading this that I placed all my hope in some hokey superstition about the number eleven or that I ever thought for a even a second that "eleven" could do what God could not . It's just a slow night, so I'm having to find material where I can . . .

Much love,


Marc S said...

You're right, eleven's never been a hot number for good luck. Spinal Tap had all their amplifiers tuned to go up to eleven, and it still didn't keep their drummers from having those bizarre gardening accidents ... or spontaneously combusting, for that matter.

Mary M Clay said...

Thanks for the blog, Kelly, and I think your gift of memory will bless us all with key reminders of things like this (1/11/07). You and Jeff were so incredibly brave throughout this entire ordeal. I'm proud of you both.
Love you,