I remember this appointment without the help of text messages. I remember how the nurse took Matt’s vitals after we were called into the exam room. His weight was low, his blood pressure was low, his temperature was low. I remember asking whether the numbers were okay and being reassured that they were—the numbers were low, but still within a normal range. I remember pushing away that worm of worry—the numbers weren’t Matt’s normal, but they were still normal.
My thought process looked similar to this: If there was a concerning trend in the vitals, the doctors and nurses would notice, wouldn’t they? The people smarter than me would pay attention to his temperature and blood pressure, right? Why else would they go through the motions of taking these measurements? I concluded that my overdramatic brain was the problem. Maybe it was. One year later, I don’t know whether the worrisome numbers were indicators of what was to come or not.
After a short wait, the doctor arrived and showed us the results of the PET scan. And I remember.
I remember the image she showed us. I remember the panic. I remember the confusion that followed and remained.
Matt’s spine. Matt’s thyroid. Matt’s brain. All of it glowed yellow on the PET scan result. When we asked the doctor whether that was normal, she shook her head. The fact that Matt’s brain glowed yellow wasn’t surprising—the tumor was located in his brain and she (the doctor) expected a cluster of cancer cells to glow yellow on a PET scan. But the spine and thyroid—they shouldn’t glow yellow. That was not normal.
But the doctor wasn’t ready to conclude the glowing yellow in Matt’s spine and thyroid was due to cancer. Glioblastoma doesn’t spread, doesn’t metastasize—that was the universal truth we’d been told from the beginning. And if it had spread, Matt wouldn’t look and act as good as he looked and acted. That amazing brain. The only logical result was that something else must be causing the yellow flare on the test results.
At 1:40 p.m., while Matt was finishing blood work, I texted a friend and told her that I was very confused about what we’d learned during the appointment, but I wasn’t quite sure how to word that confusion. One year later, I’m still struggling to word that confusion, though I understand it better. It’s the confusion that stems from seeing a truth—a reality—and deciding to deny it. It’s the confusion associated with the fear of vocalizing a truth too horrible to vocalize.
The principle of Occam’s Razor suggests that the simplest solution tends to be the correct solution. In Matt’s case, we disregarded that principle in favor of reviewing hypo- and hyperthyroidism and secondary cancers. I think (though I truly, remarkably still don’t know) that on October 27th, we saw proof that Matt’s cancer had entered his spine, the bones or the space in between, and somehow, still didn’t see it. Because it was too improbable. Or too impossible. Or simply too unspeakable.
We ended the two hour long appointment with the doctor declaring that Matt was a mystery. We scheduled a thyroid biopsy for the following week to better understand the PET scan results. For the next few weeks, we’d do nothing but try to find an explanation for the PET scan results.
That night, I took G to the mother-daughter dance at her elementary school. Matt’s sister stayed with Matt and H because the days when I could leave Matt alone with his own kids had gone.
I remember taking pictures of G and her friends in their cowgirl outfits. I remember watching the girls play and dance and laugh together. I remember thinking at least G (and H) had normal in this part of their lives. I remember feeling simply grateful that some part of their lives hadn’t fallen apart.
I remember feeling hopeful—G and H had been through so much, seen so much, and they hadn’t broken. They could still play and dance and laugh. And that was something. That was everything.