My brain surgeon’s office was two states away, so I recovered in my own bed back home in Montana. With all that had happened in the last few weeks, I truly believed God had done something very special for me. Still, each morning I staved off the panic attacks that threatened to keep me in bed with the covers over my head. My nerve endings seemed to vibrate; my heart raced against the steroids; my ears rang; and I tried to sleep through the days and nights. When awake, I thought about what had happened to me. I remembered my first appointment to a neurosurgeon’s office after the diagnosis.
Tom drove me the hour and forty-five minutes from Helena to Missoula, Montana. This was the city where we had begun our new adventure, life as a married couple with a new family. We had fond memories of Missoula. The blue waters of the Clark Fork River divided the historic downtown from the beautiful campus of the University of Montana This was where I had been accepted to work on my masters in social work. It had been all set for weeks. I had already visited the campus and the married student housing. I glanced towards the campus as we made our way towards the medical center. Dark storm clouds hung low in the sky. It was Fall in Montana. Don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes.
I wasn’t worried about this appointment. After all, my primary doctor had assured me the tumor was small, benign. I told Tom I would be fine by myself and left him in the parking garage to return some business calls. I jumped out of our white pickup truck and waltzed into the elevator on the far side of the lot. Four floors up, I walked out of the elevator doors and through a large, modern waiting area surrounded by offices occupied by doctors of various specialties. Soon I was seated outside the neurosurgeon’s office.
“Linda?” I got up and put my magazine back on the table next to the leatherette chair and followed the medical assistant into the surgeon’s personal office.
“Oh,” I said, “I thought you would take me to an examining room.” I smiled, looking at the woman for some hint of what was to come. She simply asked me to sit and told me the doctor would be right in.
A female neurosurgeon walked in and began to shut the door behind her. She hesitated and looked back, then looked at me. “Is anyone here with you?” she asked.
“No…it’s fine.” I said. “My husband is just out making some calls. My stomach began a little dance. I somehow expected this to be an appointment that would assure me. I wasn’t feeling assured.
“All right. Well, your tumor is located in the worst place a person can develop a brain tumor. It is at the base of your brain, very near the brain stem.” The doctor peered over the top of my chart as she sat across from me in the dimly lit, elegantly appointed office. A glass-topped coffee table sat between us. The deep burgundy cushions of the richly upholstered furniture told me she was not only successful but seemed to care about her patients’ comfort. I wasn’t feeling very comforted either.
“Can’t you take it out?” I asked. What about what my doctor said, that this was a non-cancerous tumor, a meningioma?
“No, I’m afraid it’s inoperable and it’s growing quickly.” She picked up a plastic skull sitting ominously on the table between us. “Where would we go in? Here?” She poked the tip of a pencil into the eye socket. “Here?” The pencil stabbed the nasal cavity. “Because of its position in the brain, there’s no way to get this tumor out.”
She leveled her gaze, giving me a moment to digest this terrible news. I felt as she she was mocking me, but that was too shocking to contemplate. I felt a surge of anger.
“What are you saying? I was just about to enter a masters program. Are you saying I can’t do that?” I asked.
“Don’t put off anything you have wanted to do,” she said softly. She looked up at the light fixture above our heads. “You have about a year.”
I sat on the edge of the seat, stunned. “I’m not afraid to die.” The words rushed out of my mouth. “I’m just afraid of how I will die.”
“You will just go to sleep and not wake up,” she said. She was still wearing her “compassionate” face but her matter of fact manner shocked me. Did she just say what I think she said? Now I will fear going to sleep at night!
I thanked her, got up, and walked quickly out of her office. My surroundings seemed to disappear as I walked past others in the waiting room, awaiting their own news. I think I was just told I’m going to die. I wanted Tom.
I made it to the elevator. Wide-eyed, I pushed the button for the underground parking lot. The doors opened and I stepped in. I wondered vaguely if the other patients could tell I had gotten news I was terminal. The doors shushed shut and I was alone.
I grabbed the brass handle across the elevator wall to keep from falling limp onto the floor. I stumbled out into the cavernous parking structure. Tom turned from where he sat in the front seat of his truck as he saw me. He snapped his cell phone shut, a question forming on his lips. He jumped out on his side and ran around the truck. I got to him and collapsed into his arms, sobs hurtling from my body like vomit. Projectile sobbing. “She said I have about a year,” I said. He grabbed me and helped me into the truck, ran around to his side, got in, and slowly pulled out of the lot.
Silently, both lost in our own thoughts, we drove the hour and forty-five minutes through mountains and valleys back to our home. The wind whipped the tall grasses lining the two-lane highway. Tom tapped the breaks for a cart wheeling tumbleweed crossing the short distance across the road. I watched as it got snagged on a barbwire fence, its trip through the vast landscape stopped. And I thought about my life. And I thought about how I hoped that God would save it.
They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Psalm 112:7