“…And then the atomic bomb dropped. But in the end it was all still ok. Everything was ok. That’s how I know it’s gonna be fine now. Mom’s dreams have been prophetic before. It’s like you’ve already been through a whole war and now there’s this atomic bomb being dropped on you. Your cancer becoming stage four that’s like the atomic bomb. But in the end despite the war and the atomic bomb everything was ok. So I know everything is going to be ok now.”
Bryan’s sister sat on the floor in our living room. I listened as she shared about the dream her mom had and about how strongly they felt it was prophetic.
I folded the laundry on the couch across from her and listened, but my heart was skeptical. I wasn’t skeptical that the dream could be prophetic and used as encouragement and communication from God – I’ve had that happen too much in my own life for me to doubt it.
But as I sat there, with the crisp air of fall coming through the open door behind me, I had a very strong feeling I couldn’t shake. Call it intuition, call it prophetic, call it the spirit of God, whatever you call it, I knew this voice, I knew this burning feeling.
“This isn’t the atomic bomb. You aren’t there yet. That is still to come.”
I kept my mouth closed but my heart was on fire. There was no reason to share my conviction, no reason to throw doubt on the beautiful faith and expectant hope of Tamara and my mother-in-law. But I told Bryan later, because I always tell bryan everything, “I’m not sure that this really is the atomic bomb in your mom’s dream.”
And then we left for DC. It sure felt atomic. Bryan’s treatment was short but it was more intense than I could have imagined. There is much of it that he doesn’t remember. There were drugs. He slept. I remember it all.
And then he got better. Eight months of the same report, “Your tumors are shrinking.” Eight months of reprieve. Eight months of everyone around us celebrating.
But for eight months I held in my hands that feeling I had felt that fall afternoon when Tamara told me my mother-in-laws dream. I held it loosely. Perhaps I was wrong. I wanted to be wrong. I prayed I was wrong and that the treatment we faced last Christmas really was the atomic bomb – the end of a war we won.
This past two weeks as we prepared for this upcoming scan knowing that Bryan had lumps we could feel that we couldn’t feel before, that burning feeling, that whispered thought, that voice that has become familiar returned and whispered… “Now the atomic bomb is going to drop. Be prepared. It’s coming.”
The doctor stepped into the room and introduced herself. Since they change residents every year we had never met her before. She had never met us. She carefully pulled the door closed and blocked out the sound of nurses laughing in the hall.
After the standard how-are-you questions she jumped right in, “So your most recent scan showed that most of your tumors are stable, but two of the one’s we’ve been measuring are growing. I’m sorry to say we will have to discharge you from the study.”
She is nice enough, but not the most confident or encouraging. We stumble through a conversation about what this new information will mean for us. She tells us she will send Bryan’s records to our oncologist in Arizona. She recommends getting into a PD1 trial next. She asks us to wait for the head doctor and leaves.
I knew to expect this, but my chest still feels tight and constricted. I notice the faucet dripping water into the sink in the corner. It makes a steady rhythm on the porcelain. Or is it speeding up? Is it getting faster or is that just my heart beat increasing and playing tricks on my ears. I make an attempt to find my breath.
The doctor comes in, young and sympathetic. “The really good news is that we know you have immune cells in your body that want to fight this cancer. You have the ability within you to fight this cancer. It’s almost like, for whatever reason, these cells just got tired and worn out and couldn’t quite go the distance. But, they can fight this. They just need the right help.”
He is much more encouraging and understanding. He recommends that we definitely pursue other immune therapies and speaks very highly of PD1.
Eventually there is an awkward silence.
“Do you have any other questions?”
Bryan and I look at each other and shake our heads. No, there are no more questions, just the uncomfortable feeling that comes with bad news and an unexpectedly final goodbye.
We hadn’t thought that tumor growth would mean no more follow up with NIH. It hadn’t crossed our minds that this might be our last trip here. Until they said, “discharged.”
It feels weird that this place, which has had such a strong presence in our lives over the past ten months, will no longer be a part of our journey.
When we get to the airport we begin making the calls. We couldn’t bring ourselves to do it at NIH. We weren’t ready. I call my parents and Bryan calls his. We send out a few texts. We call our oncologist in Arizona and schedule an appointment.
This has always been one of the hardest parts of cancer. Telling everyone. In the end, I’m always glad that we have done it. I don’t know what we’d do without the support of others around us and in order to have that support I know I have to invite them into our journey, I have to tell them when things like this happen. But it’s hard. Really hard. Having to be the barer of bad news to those you love when that news involves you…well, it’s hard.
I sit in the stiff airport chair and write an email to our prayer list.
“It’s pretty direct and to the point. Not really your normal style.” Bryan says as he reads it.
The truth is I don’t even know how to process what I’m feeling right now. Even though I went into the appointment sensing that we were about to have an atomic bomb dropped on us, even though my heart was prepared, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt.
I can’t add a lot of encouragement to my email, because I don’t really have encouragement to give. I don’t feel discouraged, I still have lots of hope, but mostly what I feel is just resigned. Resigned to the the facts.
The facts are what I have in my hands right now. All I have to offer is facts. Bryan’s cancer is growing. There are still treatment options – one of which seems to get pretty good results. We aren’t without hope, but we are still walking a road we wish we weren’t walking.
That’s what I hold in my hands today – fragments of facts.
An atomic bomb just went off and I’m trying to pick up the pieces.
Rejoicing in the journey,
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