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Tumor-versary

Saturday, January 7, 2006 2:12 AM CST

January 6.
Happy Birthday, Cindy.
Happy Birthday, Cheri.

Dave used to call this day "Happy Un-Tumor Anniversary." And, as you might guess, he had a little song that went along with it.

That was one of the differences between Dave and I. He saw this as a day for celebration. The day the surgeons took out the tumor.

I saw it as one of those dark days. The day they told me that my husband's tumor was malignant.

He had been in that wreck on December 23. They did an MRI, put him on anti-seizure meds and steroids, and scheduled him for surgery. At the pre-surgery conference, the doctor asked, "Do you have any questions?" Dave said, "Only one. Do you believe in God?" The doctor looked Dave in the eye and said, "Yes, I do." Dave relaxed into his chair and said, "Okay, Shelley, you take it from here."

So I asked a million questions.

Then the doctor had one for us. "Do you have a will? A living will?" Dave said, "Do I need one?" Dr. Gehling kind of shook his head and said, "What you and I are going to do, there's nothing more dangerous, except maybe a heart/lung transplant. You need a will."

Dave said, "If it will make you feel better, I'll get one. But if I was going to die, it would have happened on that highway. There's a reason I'm still alive."

So Dan Hess helped us draw up wills. Thank you, Dan.

Then we researched everything, everything. And talked to doctors all over the place. Debated about having surgery with Mitch Berger, who is a world-reknowned surgeon, then at UW. Didn't know what to do. Dave said, "It's okay, we'll just pray, and we'll know." The next day, huge snowfall, closed passes. Dave said, "See, that's the sign. We stay."

The band came. Mark, Erik, Steve. They played music loud and late into the night. They wanted to shave Dave's head and write "Open other side" on his left side, but didn't, they were too busy playing guitar and singing. Our little house rocked that night.

The next day, we went to the hospital. There were crowds of us in the waiting room. All with these bandages around our heads, thinking we'd make Dave laugh. Dr. Gehling had thought Dave's tumor was very slow-growing as it was so large and Dave had had no symptoms. He said, when we do the surgery, I'll look at the cells, we'll know if it's malignant or not." Dave and I held hands, Robin prayed with us, and he was wheeled down the corridor.

Dave's tumor was right temporal lobe. They told us it could affect memory and emotion. We waited. Would he be okay? Would he still be Dave? Would he remember us?

Dr. Gehling came out and let us know that things were going well, but the slides had shown malignancy. Told us he'd know more after the UW pathologists had looked at the samples. Preliminary results were grade 2.

Whew, I thought, grade 2. We're not at 4. This will be okay.

I went to the recovery room, a friend snuck me in. Dave opened his eyes, smiled at me and said, "Not today." (Story of that in journal history.) So I knew he was okay.

Was feeling pretty good, pretty optimistic, Dave had come through surgery with flying colors, the tumor was low-grade. This was good, right?

Went to see Dave once they got him settled in ICU. Kathy Yancey was his nurse. She's a member of the famous class of '81. As I talked with her, and she worked over Dave, she wouldn't look into my eyes. When I finally caught her gaze, there were tears in her eyes. I knew then that she understood something I didn't. And for the first time since the patrol called about the wreck, I felt real fear. Paralyzing fear. Stomach-dropping, head-spinning, panic-inducing fear. I looked at Kathy and said, "I need to talk to the doctor again." She said, "I think so."

So I met with him again. He explained everything to me again. And again. And I still didn't get it. It didn't sound so awful. Low-grade tumor, debate about radiation, no need for chemo, too slow-growing for chemo.....I made him tell me again. Finally he said, "Michelle, are you asking for numbers?" I said, "I guess I am." He said, "80f people with this kind of tumor will die within 2-3 years." I said, "What about the other 20 He said, "Some on each side of that." Then he told me about a child he knew who had had a grade 4, the dreaded GBM, who was still living 16 years later. Turned out he was a student of Dave's, someone Dave knew and cared for. And then, he said, "But kids are different."

But we all know that Dave had never been 80�n his entire life, right? 80�as never enough for him in any endeavor. So I held onto hope.

Dave was moved to a regular room, some double vision, some facial numbness. They assured us it would go away, it did. Dave was pretty tired, slept Tuesday mostly. Then Wednesday, he wanted to talk. What did the doctor say? I told Dave that it was cancer. He stood up and said, "Hospitals are for sick people. Get me out of here." Then he said, "There might be kids who are having a hard time with this diagnosis, let me talk to someone so I know who to pray for."

The first night Dave was in the hospital, I went home, because Kate was still nursing. When I woke up in the morning, I couldn't find Kenny. Kenny was 5 at the time, and didn't talk much yet. When I went into the living room, he was sound asleep on Mark's chest. I'll never forget that.

He said his first goal was to be home for Kate's first birthday, January 16. He got out of the hospital January 9. His second goal was to dance at her wedding. I suppose they have dance floors in heaven, but it's not the same.

Love, Shelley

PS. Look in the photo album on CB for some pictures of the Kyle grief cocoon and the snowball fight.

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