Friday, January 14, 2005


One year ago today, my husband Paul had the biopsy that resulted in his second cancer diagnosis. Paul remembers nothing at all of the hospital; we assume that's in part due to the general anesthesia used for the procedure. I, on the other hand, have vivid memories from the day.

We sat together in the outpatient surgery waiting room until well past Paul's scheduled procedure time because the surgeon had an emergency surgery. We read bits of magazine articles to each other, and eavesdropped on other patients and their families.

When Paul went into surgery, I paced the halls. I hadn't brought a book, and I couldn't focus on the work that I had with me. There's a very long corridor in the basement of the medical center; I think I memorized every door, every turn, every sign along it. After the estimated time for the procedure had passed, I went back to the waiting room... and waited almost another hour, too anxious to do much of anything.

The surgeon came into the waiting room in scrubs, his bright print surgical cap still on, his face carefully neutral. Sitting down next to me, he said first that Paul was in recovery, and wouldn't be awake for a while yet. Next came the critical information. "Pathology will have to confirm this, but the tissue we biopsied looks malignant." I closed my eyes. "Oh God, not again." A couple of deep breaths later, I asked, "What kind? And what do we do next?" His response included the words "oral squamous cell carcinoma" and "treatable." Handing me his card, he instructed me to call his office right away to set up an MRI, a CT scan and an appointment with him for Paul. He asked why the CT scan that had been scheduled for late November had been canceled. I told him that I didn't know, but that a CT scan had been done earlier in the fall. Then he was off to his next surgery.

I called to make the appointments. I called my office, to say that I wouldn't be in for the rest of the day (or, as it turned out, for another 4 months). I called my parents and burst into tears.

Some time later, a nurse led me back to the recovery room, where Paul was conscious but still quite groggy. Pulling a chair up close to the hospital bed, I held his hand. When he was sufficiently awake, I told him that the surgeon was fairly sure he had cancer again. We held each other and cried. Then he got dressed, and I drove us home.

Eleven days later, Paul started our shared blog, Paul vs. the Squamous Monster, which details his surgery and recuperation. And here we are, one hellish year later. It has been a rough ride, both physically and emotionally. We hope that, other than routine follow-up appointments and Paul's continued improvement with swallowing and speech, we have reached the end of this particular chapter in our lives.