By Dom Cioffi
Just about seven months ago, an ear, nose and throat specialist slid a tiny camera down my esophagus to investigate a persistent sore throat. Within less than a minute he pulled it out and began the one conversation that no one wants to have.
“I’m 95 percent sure that you have a cancerous tumor on the base of your tongue,” he explained very matter-of-factly.
Within a week, I had a full body PET scan and biopsy surgery to confirm the specialist’s diagnosis. Unfortunately, things got worse when my doctor informed me that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, classifying me as Stage 4.
In one week I went from living a happy, purposeful life to strongly considering my mortality.
Seven months later, with 35 radiation treatments and six rounds of chemotherapy under my belt, my wife and I returned to the hospital to see how I was doing. I would be put through two days of tests and then, on the second day in the final appointment, they would discuss the state of my health.
On the first day they did the prerequisite scans (both PET and CAT) as well as blood work and a few other minor tests to see where my general health was at. It was strange returning to the hospital where I had been treated. I didn’t think it would affect me, but as I walked through the hallways and into the waiting rooms where I had been treated, many emotions came rushing back.
My heart grew soft when I saw current patients waiting to attend their treatments. I wished the nightmare over for all of them. Knowing what they were going through unleashed an uncanny amount of empathy inside me. I wanted to make eye contact with every one of them just so I could convey even the most minute sense of, “It’s going to be ok.”
I was mentally and physically exhausted after that first day, but luckily I slept well that night.
We were up early the next morning and at the hospital for a few more tests. We then had a several-hour break before the big reveal at 3:00 p.m. that afternoon.
We arrived at the 3:00 appointment with lots of positive energy. Deep down I had a gut feeling that I was going to be ok. Within a few minutes of arriving, a nurse escorted us to a long hallway where there were several private waiting rooms for patients. The nurse took my vitals, weighed me, and then said that the doctor would be in shortly.
So we sat and waited, knowing that this was the biggest moment of my life.
In all my time at the Mayo Clinic, I never waited more than ten minutes for any appointment. It is the most efficiently run business I have ever been witness to. However, on this day for this appointment, my doctor decided to be an hour and 20 minutes late!!!
The more that time passed, the more my wife and I became convinced that something was awry. “He’s saving me for last because it’s bad news,” I kept thinking, all the while trying to maintain a positive vibe for my wife.
Finally, the doctor arrived in the doorway with a big smile on his face. His demeanor didn’t suggest that he was about to unveil bad news, but I still wasn’t convinced.
He gave my throat a quick examination and then reviewed the results of my scans before finally uttering the words, “I think it’s safe to say that at this time, you’re cancer free.”
That moment is now forever burned into my memory.
I know other cancer patients do not always receive this sort of news and that pains me. To go through such an ordeal and not have a positive outcome must be heartbreaking. To those who are still struggling, I commend you for your strength.
In this week’s feature, “Manchester by the Sea,” we meet a young man who has been through an ordeal that far surpasses anything I went through and takes the idea of a personal struggle to epic levels.
Starring Casey Affleck in a role that could very well garner him a Best Actor Oscar, “Manchester by the Sea” is one of the more difficult dramas you will ever watch. However, it also contains a compelling storyline and numerous character portrayals that will have you completely immersed.
Check this one out if you think you can handle the heaviness of the story. Your reward for watching will be one of the most talked about and admired films of 2016.
A revealing “A-” for “Manchester by the Sea.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]
Author’s note: A reader kindly corrected me on a mistake I made in last week’s column when discussing the drug Fentanyl. In my column I referred to the potency of the Fentanyl patches in milligrams, when in fact they are measured in micrograms. A milligram dosage would easily end a human life.