Archive for the ‘Diagnosis’ Category

How It Began: Part 2
January 29, 2011

From James:

This is the second in a series of posts describing the early events surrounding the discovery and diagnosis of So Young’s brain tumor.

We went for the MRI at a local imaging center in Woodbridge on Friday, November 12. So Young wore her Marine Corps Marathon shirt. They allowed me to sit in the room while the MRI was performed. I didn’t bring a book or anything, so I just sat there praying or sleeping, or closing my eyes and pretending to sleep or pray.

They admonished So Young to “keep completely still,” which of course always makes you all the more able to keep completely still.

I remember that as we walked out, the radiologist seemed to be scurrying around more than he was when we got there. They said we would get the results in four days, but then just as we left they said within 24 hours.

Right after the MRI, we went shopping for Shannon’s birthday party, which was scheduled for that night. I remember discussing how four days was a long time to wait for the results. Or did they say 24 hours? Which was it? But it was nothing, so it didn’t matter when they told us. Actually, a longer wait would mean nothing was wrong.

When we arrived home, there was a message on the answering machine.

“Hi, this is Dr. Jonathan Amy, trying to reach So Young Gage. We have the results of your MRI, and I need to discuss them with you.”

There was something surreal about that moment and everything that happened over the next few minutes. We were so afraid and only reacting moment by moment to what was happening to us.

I prayed out loud for So Young before we called, that God would help us no matter what the doctor said. I told So Young to sit down at the dining room table and that we would speak to the doctor together on speakerphone.

“I have the results of your MRI here, and I am afraid it is quite serious.” His voice was earnest yet clinically detached.

“I’m sorry, there is no other way to say it. The MRI revealed that you have a brain tumor. It is on your thalamus. It is a serious situation, and we need to act quickly.”

I remember looking at So Young and the terror in her eyes.

“Am I going to die?”

He told us that most likely it would have to be surgically removed and that only a few neurosurgeons in the area are qualified to do that on tumors in this part of the brain. He recommended Georgetown, UVA, or Johns Hopkins.

Within the hour, Dr. Amy had set up an appointment for us at Georgetown for the following Wednesday, which I promptly moved to Monday morning.

<< Part 1 | Part 3 >>


A Comedy
January 6, 2011

“‘Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?'” — Luke 12:25

From James:

I have had a cough for two weeks now, so I went to the doctor yesterday after an evening of feeling very bad and having a fever. I insisted on getting a chest x-ray, because I suspected pneumonia. The doctor reluctantly wrote up an order for the x-ray, saying that I probably just had allergies. I got the x-ray yesterday afternoon.

As soon as I arrived at work this morning, I got a call from the doctor’s office. The receptionist said they needed me to come in to “discuss the results” of the chest x-ray.  They were mysterious about it. I asked if it was pneumonia. She wouldn’t answer.

When I finally met with the doctor, he was somber. He rolled his chair up close to me.

“I’m glad you convinced me to get that chest x-ray. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you do have something in your lungs, and it’s not pneumonia. It’s a 5 cm mass of some kind, which is pretty big.”

That measurement — 5 cm — has a bad history with me. It’s roughly the size of So Young’s brain tumor.

“Couldn’t it just be pneumonia or bronchitis?” I asked. I felt as if I was pleading with him for hope. I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation.

“No, definitely not.”

We discussed what it might be. If it is lung cancer, it is most likely primary (that is, not resulting from cancer in another part of the body). It could also be secondary, which would mean that it is indicative of late-stage cancer of another kind, such as melanoma (skin cancer), kidney cancer, bladder cancer, or a handful of other kinds of cancer. My family has a strong history of melanoma. It could also be some kind of fungus, but that is rare. He said that the mass wasn’t there when I’d had a chest x-ray two years ago.

“I have seen miracles both ways,” he said. “I have seen cases like this turn out remarkably bad and deteriorate quickly, and I have seem them turn out remarkably good.”

He prescribed a CT scan to get a closer look at the mass. I think his last words to me were “good luck.”

I called my mom first. I was crying within about a minute. She asked what she could do. We couldn’t think of anything right away but to pray. She had a lot of people praying for me throughout the day. I called Kenji next. He is lucky because he’s way up there on my list of people I call when I have bad news. He prayed for me, too.

My parents and I agreed I shouldn’t tell So Young until the CT results were in.

I spend a lot of the day waiting. Waiting is the worst part of almost everything in life. It tells you a lot about your heart, because when you wait, you think.

So Young always says she doesn’t worry for herself dying, but mostly for me and the kids. I understood what she meant. For a Christian, dying is a comedy, because life ends with a wedding, but I thought about the tragedy it would be for the kids to lose both parents. I thought about whether I had lived my life right. The verdict was inconclusive. I felt that I could have done a lot more for others.

I talked to Dad briefly while I waited for the CT scan. He is laid out with pneumonia. He said he thought I just had what he had and not to worry about it. That’s the other thing I learned: I worry about it. I immediately jump to the worst case.

For the rest of the day after the CT scan — picking up the kids from school, shopping for Shannon’s party supplies — I walked around with death-shaded glasses on. Everything took on a philosophical hue: all my bad habits in relief as a “bad way to live your life,” every interaction taking on new importance.

I wondered if I had some new perspective on So Young’s everyday life. I realized that in thinking about my own death, I was thinking too much about myself and not about her. How could two people face death together and not be completely self-absorbed? I resolved to live for her and others, even if I was dying.

And all that before I knew the results of the CT scan.

So Young, of all people, called to tell me the results while I was out with Shannon at Party City.

“The results of your CT scan are in. You have pneumonia.”

So Young didn’t know about any of it. She had no idea how it felt to hear that news.