I am their Commander. The one in the wheelchair with the permanent scowl. I got my legs blown off in Iraq. But my arms and chest are ripped from the gym. I like to take my shirt off and show the tendons popping from my muscles so people know I ain’t weak.
She started out as just another admission on an already busy call night. My senior resident paged me with the information as well as a tip that could save me some time:
85 year old female with rectal mass and fecaluria. She’s headed to CT, so run down to the ED now, and you might catch her.
Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have put my hand on her knee. But I really didn’t know what else to do. There she sat, on the 32 Route, leaving the school, dissolving into tears. There I sat, across the aisle on the bus, heading home, frozen with fear.
It was a lump. Hard and big. When I pressed on my lower abdomen, I could feel it. When I lay on my stomach, it pushed itself into my inner parts. And I, who had been blessed with painless periods all of my life, was suddenly besieged by monstrous monthly pain. It felt as if my uterus were trying to purge its own lining.
There’s no ideal time to be told you have cancer. No day when you hope your To Do list contains the entry: Sit across from urologist with results from prostate biopsy, have him lean across his desk and say, “Well, Mister (insert your own name here), you have quite a bit of cancer there!