Back in June, we moved our little family of six from Provo, Utah, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for my husband’s new job. Allen had recently graduated with his MBA from Brigham Young University and he and I both were ready to start life in the real world again. Just a few weeks before moving, we left our older three kids with family, took our three month-old baby girl with us, and went on a short homefinding trip. We were blessed to find a home that was just perfect for our family’s needs and left feeling like we may have found our “home” in Louisiana. It was nerve wracking to even think about buying a home, but we felt like this was the Lord’s plan for us so we started on the paperwork. You could safely say that our life was filled with many emotions during this transition. We felt excited, anxious, guided, nervous, happy, stressed, and fearful. I’ll always remember one specific night when both of us were so overwhelmed, we just cried it out together.
A few weeks, one moving truck, and a couple airplanes later, we were starting our adventures in the deep south far away from family. While in the process of closing on our first home, we stayed in an apartment temporarily. We were starting to feel more settled into life: work routines, family routines, adjusting to the weather, navigating through the city, etc. One morning, Allen and I were getting ready for the day when he stopped me in the bathroom to tell me about something he had noticed recently. There was a small knot on his neck neatly tucked into his collar bone. He said it didn’t hurt and that he’d probably wait to see if it went away. Since he had experienced swelling in his chest the summer before and the doctor’s recommendation was to wait it out, I didn’t think much of it and agreed he could just wait to see if the swelling went down.
Fast forward three weeks and we were into our new home. Life continued on. Work continued on. The weeks continued to pass us by and we talked about Allen’s neck on a few occasions, but for the most part we just enjoyed our day to day routines. Finances, a broken dryer, and other things surfaced to the front of our minds and we allowed ourselves to focus on those challenges.
At the end of August, I talked to Allen again about setting up a doctor’s appointment to have them examine his neck. The swelling was still there; in fact, the lump looked more obvious than before. He wasn’t ready to do that just yet for his own reasons. Just a week or so later, however, all of that changed. A lady from work, Gale, who helps run the plant and has treated Allen like family, mentioned the lump on his neck and told him to go and get it checked out. She was the second person from work to point it out to him, so it grabbed his attention. We had a long chat about everything that evening, even calling up Allen’s mom to talk to her and cry about all of the different stresses that seemed so big at the time. She urged Allen to go and have his neck checked out asap. We followed her counsel and called the next morning to set up an appointment with an ENT. They were able to give us an appointment for that same afternoon.
We met with the ENT and told him why we were there. He examined Allen’s neck while Evan played with the little ambulance and fire truck toys there in the office. I remember hearing the word lymphoma and feeling uneasy but not too surprised; in the few minutes I had spent researching swollen lymphnodes, I had learned that no pain associated with the lump was a bad sign. We discussed outcomes, options and “next steps” knowing all along that there was no diagnosis but certainly a fair chance we could be facing cancer.
The doctor did an in-office biopsy on Allen’s neck by inserting a needle into the lump and removing a sample of the cells. He sent the sample along to the pathologist and ordered a CT scan for Allen to complete the following day. He told us that after the CT scan on Allen’s neck, he would be sending us over to a head and neck surgeon from Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. We were grateful to be working with such capable doctors and moving along quickly in the diagnostic process.
Friday’s CT scan was fairly quick. I met Allen there with our two youngest kids and waited for him to complete the scan. He was in and out in about 30 minutes. We drove to Chick-fil-a afterward to let Evan enjoy the kids’ area while Allen and I talked about all that was going on. It’s funny how certain things stick out to you. Those are the things I want to hold on to.
We didn’t hear back about any test results until we met with the head and neck surgeon the following Tuesday. I had arranged for our kids to be picked up from school and watched by some friends nearby, so it was just Allen, me, and little Raegan at the doctor appointment. We sat in a mostly empty waiting room for about an hour before we could meet with the doctor. Sitting there, we both felt like we didn’t fit in. It felt bizarre to be waiting for potentially life-changing news in a small, quiet waiting room as older people filtered in and out of their appointments. We just felt out of place. “Allen is only 29. Cancer is a scary word. What are we doing here?”
The nurse called us back for Allen’s appointment and got everything ready for us to meet with the doctor. He came in several minutes later with three younger students and again, we rehearsed all of the details for why we were there. Both Allen and I were anticipating the results from the CT scan and biopsy. The doctor went over the pathologist’s findings from the biopsy: malignant cells, favoring carcinoma. Allen had cancer. We didn’t break down right there, we just tried to understand what was going on. Over the weekend we had considered that Allen may have lymphoma and studied up on what that meant, treatment, and survival rates. We were ready to accept that Allen may have cancer, but we hadn’t considered that it may be a cancer other than lymphoma and that our search for answers wouldn’t be completed that day. After talking with the doctor for several minutes, we understood that the doctors felt like the lump on Allen’s neck was not the only site of cancer but was rather an off-shoot of cancer that originated somewhere else in his body. They wanted us to meet with a radiologist the following day and have him schedule a full-body PET/CT scan to try and discover where the cancer could be originating from. As the appointment came to a close, Allen and I started to feel the reality of what we had just heard and Allen’s eyes filled with tears. I kept reassuring him that everything was going to be okay. We had a good cry together and tried to understand what all of this really meant for our family.
It felt surreal: leaving the doctor’s office, walking back to the parking garage, driving home to pick up our kids. Everything had changed for us in that one little “c” word, but nothing had changed at the same time. We were just driving down the freeway to pick up our kids, help them with homework, eat dinner, read scriptures, and get them to bed. Everyone else in the world was continuing on with their daily routines. It was just another day to them. I remember feeling that same way almost seven years ago when our oldest son, Benson, was born. As we sat there in the hospital holding our newborn son, we watched all of the cars drive down the street and I said, “Isn’t it crazy how our lives have changed so much by all of this, but everyone else is continuing on as if it’s just another day?” Now that feeling was resurfacing but under very different circumstances. It would all be okay, though. It just had to be.