11 years ago the cancer diagnosis came after a visit to the GP, the ENT, a Pulmonologist, 3 procedures and then the words came. It was lung cancer.
I often talk about stigma and misconceptions when I talk about lung cancer. It’s still prevalent today but 11 years ago associating lung cancer solely with smoking and perceiving it as a self-inflicted disease was the norm. There was so much shame and guilt. The looks from the doctors and nurses all said, you should have known better than to smoke…
My dad’s GP said that there was something suspicious on his x-ray and that he would be recommending a visit to the Ear, Nose, Throat specialist for more tests. Why was the x-ray suspicious, we asked? That’s what happens when you smoke, he answered.
The ENT took more scans. It could be cancer, she said. What kind of cancer, we asked? Lung. That’s what happens when you smoke, she answered.
The Pulmonologist did the biopsy. We saw him again to get the official diagnosis and stage. It was so “bad” that there wasn’t a stage for his cancer. They called it “extensive”. The type of lung cancer dad had did not have a fair mortality rate. There were very few treatment options. It had spread to multiple places. The prognosis was just a matter of months…
It’s so bad, I said. He just looked at me. He understood. It’s because he smoked way back when, I said. I was a little angry. I was extremely heartbroken.
No, he answered, not necessarily. Who knows why these things happen, he went on. There are many things that cause cancer. Your dad served our country. He was on a Navy battleship. Maybe asbestos. Some times there isn't a reason. Doesn't matter now. What matters now is that we get a treatment plan for him and ensure a good quality of life.
Hope. The Pulmonologist had given us a tiny little morsel of it. He was the first medical professional in our family’s lung cancer “process” that I found to be empathetic and kind. I’ve never forgotten him.
Dad had a 4 month prognosis. He lived 11 months and 21 days. They were the worst and best months I’ve ever had with him.
Now, almost 11 years later, I’m making a new appointment with the same Pulmonologist. I wonder how much he’s changed after all these years. I wonder if I’ll recognize his kind eyes. I hope he hasn’t changed at all.
I wonder if he will tell us those words again. Lung cancer…
I hope not.