"Sorry, not appendicitis: It's metastatic cancer."
Updated: Sep 21
July 31, 2023.
2023 was proving to be the absolute pits for our family and especially for my son. PJ and his wife Gloria discovered their 16-year old daughter on the floor of her bedroom in mid-February dead, with no apparent cause. Natalie had a brain tumor removed a couple years before but was doing well afterwards, and neither the police or the coroner could discern why our beautiful girl died, leaving her older brother Nathanial, 17, lost in grief as well.
Kevin and I got in our car and drove to Madison, WI from Jacksonville with our dog Gene to make arrangements for the burial and to help shore up our son and his family, including his mother-in-law Rhonda -- Natty's other grandma. It was a god-awful, sorrowful trip.
Then, in March, Rhonda fell and broke her hip. During the process of preparing for surgery, she stopped breathing. She was put on a respirator and they couldn't wean her off and she died within a day of a month of Natalie. Rhonda was daughter Gloria's support person -- her only real one outside of PJ, and Gloria had visited or called her daily most of her life -- and now she needed her most, and was the designee the hospital needed to sign off on ending Rhonda's life support. And on that day, she was let go by her employer for not attending a "mandatory" staff meeting because she was at the hospital to witness her mother's death.
So I immediately flew into Madison in the season's worst snowstorm to try to help hold the now even smaller family together. OMG, the tears we all cried in a one month period and the depression felt all way around. My two daughters came in from Chicago, leaving high pressure jobs to try and shoulder some of the immense griefwork as well, and it was just a cluster-f of hurt all way around.
So I wasn't all that suprised when I felt something was "off" for me by June -- more than usual exhaustion and a little more trouble catching my breath walking. I had an appointment booked for the annual Medicare screening in late July, so I could address it then.
Besides, we had Nathanial and his two cousins fly in to Florida for a week to help him with his continuing griefwork and to give his parents space to cry at home without adding to his burden. We took them swimming with dolphins, zip linining over alligators, on a pirate ship cruise, and of course to the ocean, so why wouldn't I be more tired than usual? Nathanial remained with us in Jacksonville for a few weeks longer, and he and I had lots of adventures while Kevin continued working during the weekdays. We went to a Radio Head (Smile) rock concert, climbed lighthouse stairs and went to area islands, bowled and played cards with friends.
Kevin and I also had a great road trip planned to return him to Wisconsin from Florida. We'd take him to Nashville and to Chicago for a few days and we'd stay for a waterpark weekend with Nathanial and a friend in the Wisconsin Dells. We'd see our long-term Madison friends for special dinners and check in with all our adult children. Then Kevin and I would go to Louisville and stay at the wonderful Galt Hotel (splurge) to eat at Guy Fiero's restaurant on 4th Street. It was a marvelous trip, our first in about 15 years without needing to find a dog-friendly hotel. Our last fur baby Gene died in May (another great loss to Kev and me) and we were now planning for Kevin's retirement without dogs and some actual travel together.
We returned to Florida, and by that first Friday, I had a pain in my abdomen like an appendix flareup; I didn't have a fever or nausea, so I didn't seek medical attention immediately, but it was a painful wait until the Monday appointment with my PA for the medical review, where I did address it. She did a quick exam and ordered a cat scan for the next day (soonest possible) also thinking it was definitely appendicitis.
I had the cat scan Tuesday morning and arranged to meet two friends for lunch afterwards. Finishing earlier than expected with the hospital scan (results would be called in to my doc, so no news yet or admission for appendicitis), I went to Target to buy a friend a birthday card. As soon as I got the cart in the store, my doctor called.
"Jody, I just got the results back, and I'm so, so sorry to tell you this, but it isn't appendicitis. It's a cancerous mass, and one showed up in your lung as well, and in the lymph system by your heart. I'm afraid it's metastatic and very serious and I'm so sorry. Let me know where you would like the referral sent to which oncologist, as you need specialized help now. And you do need it NOW."
WTF?!?! I felt faint. I felt like I was in another zone. I felt alone. I had to get out of the store and just get home to Kevin. I had to get an oncologist. I understood this was a terminal diagnosis, but how much time did I have left? Weeks? Days? Months? What next? OMG, WTF?? I started crying and rushed out of the store. My phone rang; one of my lunch dates. I answered, told her I just found out I had cancer and had to get home, and would she call the other friend, and then we're both crying on the phone. But I had a 15 minute drive to make, so I had to buck up, get off the phone and get my car safely home.
You'd think it would be a quick referral to a cancer center after that shock, and I'd be seen immediately. And you would be so, so wrong. As was I. But more about that in the next blog.