November 8, 2017: Results

One year ago today, the doctor called us with the results of Matt’s thyroid biopsy. The test was negative. The nodule on Matt’s thyroid was not cancerous. We could breathe a sigh of relief because Matt didn’t have a secondary cancer.

But, that sigh was short-lived. The doctor explained that all we’d learned was that Matt didn’t have thyroid cancer.

As a quick summary of where we stood medically—On September 30th, a somewhat unnecessary, though fateful, chest scan revealed that Matt had a nodule on his thyroid and sclerotic lesions on his ribs and spine. For more than a month, Matt had undergone scans and biopsies to understand that nodule and those lesions. The way I understood it, they were either clinically completely insignificant or evidence of a secondary cancer. Either extreme was equally likely.

The scans and bone marrow biopsy had come back negative (or, more accurately, inconclusive). We moved onto the thyroid because it was the easiest to test, the least painful and the least intrusive. But here’s what we did not realize.

If the thyroid biopsy had come back positive, showing that Matt had cancer cells in his thyroid, we would have a better understanding of the sclerotic lesions on Matt’s spine and ribs. But if the thyroid biopsy came back negative, we could not definitely say that the lesions on Matt’s spine and ribs were also negative.

It’s like those if p then q logic statements. “If p then q” is a true conditional statement, but its inverse (“if not p then not q”) is not also a true statement.

The doctor wanted to do further testing, but—for reasons I can’t quite remember—wasn’t sure how a bone biopsy would work in his case. The doctor sent Matt’s case to other doctors and, in the meantime, we (Matt, his parents, and I) had to grapple with a difficult decision: do we continue testing—more painful needles—or do we believe a secondary cancer is so completely unlikely that the tests will reveal nothing?

The choice was impossible. For me, I didn’t want Matt to undergo extra tests—more appointments, more needles, more aggravation. I hated scheduling tests and waiting in doctors’ offices and spending so much time away from our normal world. But I also didn’t want to miss something. If there was even a chance of a secondary cancer that could be treated, shouldn’t we try to be proactive? Find it, and treat it, and cure Matt once and for all? For Matt, he trusted the doctor wholeheartedly. He didn’t complain about the scans and needles. He just wanted to be cured.

I know how this story ends and the choice still feels impossible. Would the choice be different if I knew that we had three months left? Would a different choice end in a different result? The truth is whatever choice we made about the bone biopsy wouldn’t change the path we were on.

One year ago today, in an effort to smooth over G’s and H’s disappointment about the cancelled Disney Marvel cruise, we (Matt and I) booked an overnight stay at Hershey park. I remember calling to make the reservation, though that was always Matt’s job. I remember surprising G and H with the news and the way they shrieked and jumped and ran to their rooms to pack. I remember that we didn’t know what the future held, but we knew we had to keep living—and hoping—while we waited to find out.

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