Jay, who has lived in the Waukesha area for over 20 years, is an active volunteer who has served on numerous local boards and committees. He's married to Colleen with three kids having gone through the Waukesha schools. He is the VP of a local distribution company.
At 1:45 PM on Friday September 5th, 2008, my future changed.
Actually, my future had been altered sometime earlier this year. I noticed a small lump on the left side of my neck. Being 55, I have gotten used to the bumps, lumps, and irregularities which accompany the aging process. As Summer wound down, I visited my long-respected Dr. Dan Thompson for a routine physical...and a check of the now growing, disregarded bump. He ordered CT scans which showed "some mass - probably a cyst". Dr. Dan suggested Dr Bruce Campbell, a Director of Head and Neck Surgical Oncology at Froedtert Hospital.
Prior to our appointment at Froedtert, my wife Colleen - R.N., researched cysts. Working on this assumption, we were both dismayed to realize I was probably going to have a small scar just under my chin from the day surgery needed to remove the cyst. 2 days later we were at Froedtert for our quick in-and-out visit.
Dr. Campbell is the consummate professional. He was on time, thorough, and asked basic background. He did a routine mouth and throat exam, reviewed the CT screens and than brought out a laryngoscope to get a better view of my lower throat through my nose! This scope has a long "tendril-like" black hose with a bright lght and Hi-Def camera at the end. It films the journey downward (sound like a Disney reality ride?). Up the nose and down the throat it went with my wife and the good doctor watching the computer screen - I had my mouth open, eyes closed tightly, and breathed quite carefully.
I sensed a subtle difference in the room as the tube snaked down...down...down. And then...the tube was retracted and I relaxed. Dr. Campbell suggested we watch the film while he explained what we were looking at. Way back and way down, at the base of the tongue, there was a "sore" and a golf-ball sized (1 1/4" diameter) "mass" - the obvious cyst I would have removed. My wife started weeping quietly and, to lessen the obvious tension and now believing the cyst scar would be bigger than expected, I asked Dr. Campbell to switch the computer to ch 30, ESPN for the Brewers Game...
"Mr. Walt, you have a Squamous Cell, Stage 4, Tongue Cancer..." "There is a tumor on the base of your tongue and it has spread to the adjacent cervical nodes(hence - the 1 1/4" lump)"
That room got very hot almost instantaneously, and perspiration flowed freely from my forehead. "It can be treated with radiation and chemotherapy..." My comprehension skills were dimming when I realized how Colleen had to be feeling and how much I needed to support her right then and there. She had just left a challenging healthcare meeting concerning her father to join me at Froedtert...and now her husband has "Cancer - Stage 4!" That's more than most families should deal with in a decade, much less 2 hours apart. My "Head of the Family" instincts kicked-in and I asked about cure rates, types of and duration of treatments, could it be something-anything else?
It's amazing how one thinks in different planes during extreme moments of challenge. "How do I approach this with my kids, friends, co-workers, and business associates?" "How come I don't physically feel different with Cancer vs without?" "Why did this have to add to Colleen's concern for her Dad - and why now?" "Do I trust Dr. Campbell or do I need a second opinion?' "Now that I have Cancer, how quickly can we move forward with treatment?" These thoughts and hundreds more flew through my head while the doctor asked for additional in-depth medical history. My mind was racing..."I want to see my kids' weddings; I want to hold grandchildren; I want to be a part of my wife's life for years to come; I don't want people worrying about me; This was not supposed to happen now; I need to be an exemplary strong patient; Why am I not afraid?; I absolutely insist on maintaining a sense of humor; I don't want to be a burden to my family; my kids and Colleen will take their cues from me..." And the doctor's questions continued...
And on that day, and I don't know or question why, there is one thought which never entered my mind - "Why me?"
It can only be rationalized as how blessed I must be to have this many people who mean so much to me...