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The human eye tells more than it actually records. It was the look in my new family doctor’s eyes that telegraphed the seriousness of what he had just shown me.
On a desk below, a computer screen showed a CT scan. The white image in my body was not supposed to be there.
My soul sunk into fear and a mental gasp of “Oh my God, no.”
I needed to run, I needed to elude those eyes – eyes that were seeing me as a ghost.
I remember the doctors telling my wife and I how to exit the corridor and not much else. We stepped into our truck and tears ran down my cheeks.
All my emotional strength was not enough, the shields came down and cancer leaked from my eyes, nose and mouth.
We spent the rest of the afternoon pondering what-ifs.
Two weeks later I had a biopsy, followed by a week of silence.
I had two doctors awaiting results.
I had stayed over at work on a Thursday night when my phone lit up with a prefix of a doctor many miles away.
“Mr. Cotten, it’s bad news.”
Behind the little shed in our office parking lot, I fell to my knees.
“What will I tell my wife, my children. My God, what am I going to do?”
For years, I’ve been a freak of nature in our family.
From the time our children were small, they’ve known me as the one who never got sick. Now this word, this disease was inside me.
The doctor said the pathology was not final, but they felt it would be proven as a nasty form of cancer.
Then he continued to explain I probably couldn’t have surgery because I was beyond help.
As if tears were nausea, all of my emotions ejected from my body.
I practically screamed, “How can you be so sure?”
The rest of his explanation still haunts me to this moment. And then he needed to take another call.
I bravely told my wife at home and created a mental checklist of things I needed to do immediately.
And somewhere in that morning light it all crashed in, no more bravery.
I still had my faith that God would not forsake me. I had to reach out and I did. I connected to the Livestrong foundation, the cancer foundation created by Lance Armstrong.
They connected me to many resources the one most important at the time an oncology nurse advocate that helped me get a grip on what was occurring to me. Provided by the Navigate Cancer Foundation, she became a counselor as well. But she is only available 9-to-5 Monday through Friday.
What happened at 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. was for me to handle. Likewise, at 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., when stirred from a daze of sleep, I was alone with my thoughts.
With my Bible and the word, I thought there must be others like me that are suffering right now, maybe on my very block.
How did they do it?
How come we are not connected?
First diagnosis and there was no one but my wife and I, and the occasional foundation nurse.
I thought as I moved through this, “I will use my voice,” and then a pastor spoke to me and said, “God wants to use your voice.”
The isolation of the mind is a place where words become demons and images nightmarish hauntings when vexed with the worry of one’s life.
I didn’t give up.
By day, I worked feverishly to be my own advocate, my own project manager sorting through results, proven successes, trials and searching doctor’s names as fast as I could type.
I used the resources at hand and found a place that would give me a thorough second look and had the experience to help, but most of all would give me hope if there was any at all.
Two weeks later, I am back at work and undergoing treatment.
The tears still come sometimes, but I am hopeful and by God’s grace, I will be led.
But I still worry, I still feel often isolated and I know there are others close by that like me could use a fellow fighter’s presence or word to calm a shaken soul.
I put this out there for anyone that needs to connect, who feels alone in their battle with cancer to reach out and perhaps we can all work together to free ourselves from the isolation and fear.
I can be reached through my email firstname.lastname@example.org, my phone will not be far behind.
Tony Cotten is publisher of The Oldham Era. He can be reached at 222-7183 or via email at email@example.com.