Scott: What happened yesterday, dear?
Mo: Yesterday, I was told that I have cervical cancer.
S: That sucks.
M: Yeah. That REALLY sucks. [Silence] Yeah. It does. It does. Yeah.
S: We spent most of yesterday surprisingly not crying and wailing or gnashing our teeth... but rather with quite a bit of black humor. Wouldn't you say?
M: [Laughing] Yeah, I would. I would say that. But I think what is still true is that it’s a pretty heavy thing to hear. What was particularly frustrating in our case was how we found out about it. It was just not the way that one should ever find out that you have cancer. I don’t care what kind that it is.
S: It was definitely, as I like to say, sub-optimal.
M: Sub-optimal is a very delicate way of putting it. Yes, it was sub-optimal.
S: You just went for a regular check-up to your regular doctor. Did a regular check-up, the one that everyone is supposed to get.
M: Yeah, a pap smear.
M: And then you just always assume if there's news they'll call you so if they haven't called you that probably means they don't have anything yet, right? We got a call from the oncology doctor's office wanting to schedule an appointment.
S: Oncology is a cancer doctor.
M: Right, right. Before I heard from my OBGYN, so effectively this poor woman calls and says, "Oh, this is You Know with Doctor XYZ. So Mo, I'd like to schedule you an appointment." and I'm like "Oh, well that sounds good. Wait. Who is doctor XYZ again?" and she says, "Oh, he's the oncology doctor. You were referred to us by your doctor." "Wait, are you telling me I have cancer?"
[music picks up]
Mo: You can almost hear her say, "Oh crap. You mean they didn't tell you?" You know?
Scott: With a day of distance between us and this, that is pretty epic.
S: When all this is over, that's a pretty good story. Hey, this is so-and-so from the cancer doctor and I'm gonna make your appointment. And you're just like, "WHAT?!"
M: I'm gonna need more than a day of distance. I think I'm still gonna need a week. But yeah, it will be funny later but I was just like, "Wow, okay." How you find out doesn't change the news. The news is bad.
S: Yeah, I made the comment about humor. We spent the rest of the day. [Mo laughs.] I was like, "Should I update my Facebook to say it's complicated?"
M: [laughing] Wait, that's not funny. That's horrible.
S: I mean, it's a little soon for that. Okay. So the Kübler-Ross stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We definitely felt denial but my anger. Anger is supposed to be what happens when you realize that denial can't continue and you have to start facing this thing. I guess I was less angry about the cancer itself and more angry at the way we found out about it. The idea that the appointment scheduler called us to schedule the appointment. You know what I mean? Imagine if you discovered you had AIDS or just anything bad.
"Hi, this is so-and-so from the diabetes center. You have diabetes."
"Wha.. wha, who is this? What?"
What the hell? Ugh, the back-pedaling. You could almost hear the spokes on the bicycle spinning as she's trying.
"Oh uh...uh...Oh I'm sorr--"
"Well you can't stop now."
We wanted to get information from the scheduler.
"Well wait a second. What kind of cancer? Where? What stage?"
"I'm just the scheduler."
"Well then what did you tell us we had cancer for?"
Don't ever call anybody and tell them they've got something wrong if you can't back it up with paperwork and charts and graphs and a freaking PowerPoint presentation about what went wrong.
This is the other thing. This is a total classic "Mo and Scott" because we we really believe you should be nice to people, right? So we were like, yelling at the scheduler but also really worried about her feelings because we've just learned that we have cancer but we don't want her to lose her job.
So we were like:
"Oh, we know it's not you. We know it's not you. But really we need to talk to a doctor right now. I know but just hang in there. I'm sorry that this has happened to you."
And that's US saying that. WE'RE sorry that this happened to YOU. We cancer people are sorry that you, scheduler, have been put into the situation where you would tell us that we have cancer. I mean, I don't even know what that is. Reflection? There's some psychological thing with that. Anyway, we were very worried about her feelings and then ended up becoming lovely friends with her. I assume that she will probably not tell anyone else that they have cancer over the phone.
Act 2: A Week Later
Scott: So the kids are asleep and tomorrow we go to the oncologist which is the actual cancer doctor, not the initial regular female doctor that we talk to. How do you feel?
Mo: I am okay. I'm doing okay.
S: It's been a week since you found out you had cancer?
M: And some change, yeah. Pretty surreal.
S: Have you changed your behavior at all? I see you're enjoying a diet coke.
S: You're still eatin' crap that's sittin' around the house?
M: Still fat and sassy.
S: Really? You didn't go straight to whole foods?
M: [still laughing] Like other normal people would? Go on a diet easily?
S: I assumed we'd just go get pumpkin seeds and hummus. I don't know what people who have cancer do.
M: No way. I'm like, "It's got me! Too late now, it's got me!" I might as well go fat and sassy.
S: Okay, well enjoy that diet coke. Do you feel like it's going to be a big deal? Like it's going to cramp your style? Last week on the podcast that we're never going to publish--- this was the day after you found out. Now we have a week of time behind us.
M: Of maturity and deep thought behind us.
S: Tomorrow is the first day of school for the children and we will drop the kids off at school and go to the cancer doctor. So one child enters first grade and then you go figure out what's next. What do you think will happen?
M: I'm pretty sure the visit itself will be fine. The hard part in the past week has just been wrapping my head around it. I did mention last time that I'm not feeling physically ill so it's really hard to remember that I have cancer. It's like, "What am I supposed to do with that?" There's this giant label. It's hard to kind of wrap my head around that and having that label assigned to ME when I'm NOT feeling sick. My expectation of when I got cancer was kind of limited so this is challenging those assumptions.
S: What if you have to get chemo?
S: Do I have to shave my head?
M: [laughs] Yes, uhhh.
S: Well, that's okay.
M: [laughing] And that's really the biggest concern we have right now is, "Will Scott have to shave his head?"
S: Considering I'm losing my hair already. This is just the summer.
M: That gesture becomes less significant when you're already---
S: Yeah, you're not so impressed considering I'm already losing my hair. It's funny though that a couple of days afterwards, I immediately started losing my hair. More than usual. You actually noticed it. You're like, "You're losing your hair." and I'm like, "Oh, this is the summer." This is the summer of bald and stress.
M: Yeah, there hasn't been too much time left over to agonize over it. Absolutely I've thought about mortality. I've thought about what happens to these guys, these little boys of ours, if something should happen to me. Because, heaven forbid, they should be left with only YOU. We know what a catastrophe that would be.
S: Well, I mean they would have snotty noses and their hair would be nappy but otherwise they'd be fine.
M: Yeah, of course they would be fine but ideally every child should have both parents so I've been worried about that. I haven't been particularly emotional, no moreso than usual apparently. Who know what tomorrow will find?
S: We'll find out tomorrow after lunch. Alright, well we'll be back tomorrow.
M: Sounds good.
Act 3: Check-ups
Mo: What are you gonna do? The truth of the matter is (and I hope listeners out there hear this message), I went in NOT because I felt sick or was in any kind of pain at all. It was just a routine "This is what we do." Our philosophy has always been that since we have phenomenal insurance we should make the most of it. Every year I cart myself off and I go in and I get my girly exam, as you call it. I get my pap done and everything else. We take the boys to the dentist and the eye doctor and we take you to get your diabetes check on a regular basis. Blah blah blah. So that's what I was doing and that's what made it feel like it came from nowhere. It was completely unexpected.
Scott: I was talking to a buddy of mine (whose name I won't say) who said he hadn't been to the doctor in eight years.
S: My family culture has always been check-ups. Check-ups, check-ups, check-ups.
S: And sometimes people think we're always going to the doctor but we're not. We're just doing the junket. Eyes, teeth, check-up. Eyes, teeth, check-up. You know what I mean?
S: If you hadn't gone to this, it would have been a year, or two, or three, or when? When would you have found this? I hear with cancer, when it hurts it's a problem.
M: Typically by the time you feel the symptoms with these kinds of cancers it's too late or pretty darn close to it. If one can say that there is a silver lining to having cancer such as it is, it's the catching it early thing. That is definitely what seems to be the case here and I'm very thankful for that.
Act 4: The Outlook
Scott: What does Wikipedia say your chances are?
Mo: [laughs] It is imminent. End it now. It's over! It's over!
S: Doctor Wikipedia is pretty much the first place we went after we called your doctor.
M: Yeah, to be fair to my doctor in spite of his inability to tell me that I had this thing-- putting that aside--
S: Putting aside the fact that the actual delivery of you having cancer came from---
M: ---from an admin.
S: At least it wasn't like a Google Calendar invite or something.
S: It could have been much worse.
M: Can't blame the admin. She was doing her job. But in my particular case the survival rates are great. I think 95% or something like that?
S: Something like that, depending on what stage you're in. Somewhere between 90 and 97%?
M: Again, you don't want to get the stuff but if you HAVE to get it, you definitely don't want to be a Stage 4. Better to be Stage 1.
S: Turns out the way that they measure those stats are not very comforting because it's kind of like diabetes stats. They say, "Five years from now, 95% of you will be alive." and you're like, "Oh my god, that's horrible!" That means fully 5% will not be alive.
S: And then you have to look at the asterisk that points to the footnote that says, "This counts just being alive. 5% of those people could have been hit by a bus."
M: Right, the cause of death is not directly linked to the cervical cancer.
S: Yeah. In five years, 95% of people who have this cancer are still alive. But it doesn't say "and 5% have died from it" so they could have been hit by an ice cream truck.
M: But that's statistics. No matter how they died 5% is still a pretty big non-trivial number.
Act 5: Mortality
Mo: I didn't expect THIS so I didn't walk into the pap saying "I've got cancer." I just walked in saying, "Hey! I'm here for my routine pap." So once I knew that, you think about your spouse. You think about the kids.
M: We've got pretty little kids at this moment.
S: That's true.
M: They're four and six. The idea of having to think about them not having a mother is very hard. Little kids need both parents so I've thought about mortality. I've thought about...crap! I guess it's time to get that will handled. We've been waiting on that. That kind of thing. You have a lot of thoughts that pass through your mind but who we are (speaking mainly of Mo and Scott as a couple) is we are fighters, we are tough individuals, we are smart. This is surreal. This is unexpected. This is weird. At this point, it was just a shift of "Okay, how do you fight? How do you fight? How do you fight?"
How do you fight?
Act 6: Inconvenience
Mo: The more educated we are, the better able we are to have the conversations with the doctor, with everybody else. And one for me was to definitely get a second opinion.
Scott: We were just sitting in bed and you were like, "Now this is inconvenient."
M: Yeah, I know.
S: "This is going to completely mess up my schedule."
M: "It's a bit of a bummer, yes."
S: "I hope this is done by Christmas."
M: Yeah, yeah.
S: Because you have stuff, you know. You're going to school and you're going to start a second career and you're going to go get a third degree. It's like, when am I going to do my homework?
Act 7: Dr. Wiki
Mo: One thing that we do well is that we manage our health very very well. We are all over this. I'm not trying to imply that we are medical doctors by any stretch of the imagination.
Scott: At the limits of Wikipedia and Google, we are medical doctors.
M: That's right. Exactly. D.R.
S: We're at least a resident.
M: But yeah, I absolutely want to get a copy of that pathology report so that I have access to it if I change doctors. I don't want to be lost in the shuffle and not have my own data.
S: But when you started making those calls last night saying, "I want the pathology report." I bet that if you could get away with it, you would actually want a copy of the slides and a microscope.
M: Exactly. It's my body and my life. I want to have an understanding of what it is that they're doing. I don't think that it's a trivial thing that they just assign a label and move on. Yes, I would certainly appreciate more and it's not an easy thing to do so I'm pretty sure that it will be hard to get a copy of that path report and everything else.
Again, it's early yet. We're hours into hearing the news and it's overwhelming but I like that we're using humor to get ourselves through it. Yeah, it's pretty devastating. I heard cancer and I was not saying, "Woo hoo! This is awesome!" I was just thinking, "My babies! What am I going to do about my little kids?" And then a short, quick seven hours later I was thinking, "I can do it! I can beat this thing!" It will be interesting to listen to this interview two days from now and then a month from now and see how much my attitude shifts. You have something like this and it gives you pause, makes you re-evaluate what's important in life and what's not. I just haven't gotten any clarity on it yet.
S: Wouldn't you say it's a reminder that you're not going to live forever?
M: It is.
S: We're pushing 40. Some of us pushing it harder than others.
M: [Laughing] Nice.
S: I think we still act like we're 24 or 25. It's like, "Oh crap." Like my dad always says, "None of us are getting out alive."
Act 8: The Strong One
Scott: My brother had back surgery recently and I was sitting in the waiting room with his wife. She had the comment that it was really uncomfortable because he's the strong one and now he's unconscious having surgery. She did not like that feeling-- that the "strong" one is sick.
And then I realized while I was sitting there and thinking about Mo's surgery, "Damn. She's the strong one in our relationship." It doesn't follow gender lines. I'm the diabetic and I'm always complaining about this and that. "Oh, my back is out. Oh, I got this. Oh, I got that." I'm the creaky old man. She has had nothing physically wrong. She was running around a couple weeks after the kids were born doing all sorts of stuff. She's the one who was in labor and moving boxes on our moving day. Our second son was born on our moving day and she was having labor pains. She continued to move boxes and then the baby was born 43 minutes later.
Somewhere in the middle of this whole thing, some of the side-effects were yucky or gross or uncomfortable and I got just a shadow of the sense that she really wasn't happy. She's really depressed about this. This sucks. Man, that really hit me.
When the strong one is not kicking ass, it's hard to watch. All you want to do is take it away and say, "Alright, I'll handle that side-effect today. I'll be the one that pees blood today." Just because you're the strong one. You shouldn't have to do this.
Act 9: The Mortality Thing
Scott: The third thing I said to you was, "I would do much better with this. I want it. Just give it to me." I dunno. The equivalent of cervical cancer for men is ball cancer, right? I would just rather be the one that had it because I would just go and I'd get it cut out or whatever it was. You wouldn't have to worry about it.
S: Because I've already got the diabetes thing and I've got the pump and it's already like a mortality thing. There's a mortality there. I wish I could be the one that has this because I've already got the mortality thing but now we both do.
Scott: One of the things that stuck out for me was last night when you were in bed and you said, "I don't want to be a cancer survivor." Like that label? I was just like, "Well actually, you do."
[break with music]
Scott: Speaking of being light about it, there's a guy online. I don't know the guy. His name is Drew and he had cancer. He's a random guy on the internet. He started a meme. You know what a meme is?
S: And it spread. The meme was, "Blame Drew's Cancer." So you would type something in and then say 'hashtag,' which is the pound sign, "Blame Drew's Cancer." So it's like, "Oh man, my iPhone battery died. #BlameDrewsCancer"
M: [laughing] Oh, I see. Okay.
S: And for a while, this was like a thing while he was fully on and beating the cancer. Everyone was blaming Drew's cancer.
S: Yeah, overslept. "Darnit, Drew's cancer."
M: Wait, what happened to Drew though?
S: Oh, I think he's cool. He's fine. Now you're going to make me Google him to make sure he's fine.
M: Yeah, because that's the other side, right? What happened to Drew? We gotta care about Drew.
S: The other cancer related thing was there's a woman online whose name is Xeni Jardin who works on a website called Boing Boing. It's a link blog of wonderful things. Xeni Jardin went out to tell people about breast cancer like, "You predicated this whole thing. People who are listening, go and get your check-ups."
M: Yeah. Save your lives for yourself, for your families.
S: So she says, "Oh, I'm going to go and I'm going to live tweet, live blog my breast cancer screening." So she went to get her breast cancer screening... and was told she has breast cancer. At the screening.
Act 10: PET Scan and Pre-op
Scott: To sum it all up. To sum up all of our feelings at once. "Ah, crap."
So you had a PET scan.
S: And the PET scan involves what?
M: So I was given some kind of radioactive glucose beverage. I took that and then they--
S: Beverage? You drank it or they put it in your veins?
M: Oh yeah, they put it in an IV. So you take that and then you lie still for an hour. No movement whatsoever. I had visions of taking my books and studying or texting you or whatever. Nope. You can't move your muscles at all.
S: It's like, flat on your back-- coffin style.
M: And then they turn the lights off and you just take a nap for an hour. And then after that you go under the big machine.
S: So they're doing that to make sure that the radioactive glucose gets picked up by whatever wants it.
S: You're not moving. If you did like, I don't know, bicep exercises, presumably your biceps would light up.
M: Right, it would distribute--eh. Again. We're not doctors.
S: Yeah. Well we're people with a podcast though. There's that.
M: [laugh] Right.
S: They're checking for the-- what is it that's going to suck it up? It's called the uptake. So if you don't move at all, the stuff that wants the glucose will take the glucose.
M: Right. So the uptake would be a true representation of what's happening in the body.
S: Mmhm. And did you move? The doctor's not here. You can tell me.
M: No, I did not move.
S: You didn't like, flip your pinkie real nervously?
M: No. I didn't. She just left me there and she said, "Are you warm enough?" I said, "More blankets please." I got extra blankets and I tried to sleep as best I could.
S: That's something. Okay, cool. So then we waited a couple weeks and the results came back as a reading. They give you a reading of the PET scan.
M: Yeah, hardly a couple weeks. The next day it was available.
S: Was it really?
S: I thought it was a week.
M: I didn't pick it up until later but it was available. Yeah, so we went and picked it up.
S: Oh, okay. How come we didn't rush there like the next day? How come we didn't frantically rush?
M: Life. Kids. Running into the reality of everything.
S: Cancer's not a motivator?
M: It's a motivator but, you know. Kids want to eat, it turns out. And they want to be picked up from school and all this stuff.
S: Touché. Touché. So you picked it up.
M: Yep. And this is a warning to people. They tell you this: you have got to wait for a professional to help you understand this thing because you don't know WHAT you're looking at.
S: That's worth noting because you actually aren't technically supposed to pick it up. You just called and said, "I'd like a copy." Which is unusual. People don't do that. We've talked about this before on previous recordings. We want the copies. I had an MRI once and I was like, "I want the CD." and they're like, "Nobody asks for that."
M: Yeah, and we're pretty anal in that way but again. If you're pleasant to the staff, they'll be pleasant right back so it was no problem to get it. Got it. Came home and then tried to read it and were like, "What are we looking at here?"
S: Dr. Google.
M: That's right. Dr. Google. For the most part it was fine. The PET scan was fine. One of the most interesting things was that my brain was stunningly unremarkable.
S: Stunningly unremarkable.
S: Which we had not expected.
M: That's right. We expected it to be pretty remarkable. We were shocked!
S: We really thought that they would be like, "Nurse! Get me my sketch pad!"
M: "She has a new brain."
S: So yeah, your brain was unremarkable.
M: Brain was unremarkable and as far as the cancer was concerned, I think there were only two things that popped up. The first thing was that there was some kind of fluid in my, what do they call it?
S: The lady bits.
M: No, not the lady bits. The uterus. I guess that is the lady bits but when you say "lady bits" it sounds so exotic.
S: The midlands.
M: The midlands. [laughs]
S: Like radioactive fluid. There was uptake. It absorbed the glucose.
M: Yeah, so there was fluid there that was odd. It should not have been there. Not sure what the story was with that.
S: So they're going to take that out. We talked with the doctor and the doctor is going to remove everything. And then they say that there's something on the ovary so you call the doctor, "Hey, what's the deal with this?" Doctor says, "Well we'll yank that too." That was not in the plan and you're not down with the taking of the ovaries.
M: Yeah, no.
S: You're not feeling that.
M: I'm not feeling that. I had a very definite emotional reaction to that. Not so much the, "Don't take the ovary. It's what defines me as a woman." kind of thing. It was less that and more to do with if you pull the ovaries before I hit menopause, you're triggering premature menopause and the consequences that go with that.
S: Well, that's if they pull both of them.
M: That's if they pull both of them. I didn't know that you could be functional with just one ovary. It would compensate and do the job.
S: Sure. As I understand it, you can be functional with one anything.
M: Well, two eyes are better than one.
S: True, true. I don't know if your ovaries would have depth perception anymore.
S: But presumably, yes. They would still be functional. You have two eyes, two lungs, two kidneys--
M: Yeah, redundancy is good.
S: --four or five livers. I don't know. I've never taken a class. But the point is: there's two. So my perspective as a man was, "Alright. Yank that. You've got an extra."
S: You weren't appreciating that.
M: I was pretty much, "Hell no. Justify it to me. Give me a logical reason for this." And he said basically, "Well, you know..." very casually.
S: "You've got two."
M: Exactly. His whole thing was that this is not a big deal. There was nothing in the PET scan that was a deal-breaker or a shocker and I'm just sitting there devastated like, "What are you talking about? This changes everything for me!"
It was very interesting to experience the medical profession at work again. He was a very calm individual, very mellow. I wasn't flipping out or anything or having a fit but I was pushing back saying, "I want to make sure that I understand why you would even recommend that." He basically said again, "It's just, you're taking a chance."
S: Well how does that impune the entire medical profession? It seems like logic and common sense to me.
M: It does but you're taking out an organ that still provides value on the chance that it might-- and lemme back up a little bit. Part of my initial misunderstanding of the situation was that I thought the ovary was cancerous.
S: They're saying that they don't know if it's cancerous and they won't know until they cut you open.
M: Yeahhh, not quite saying that. So basically, after I talked to him the second time he said, "No, we're not saying that it's cancer necessarily. We're saying there is something on it that could be some kind of a fibroid. We don't know what it is. There is something on it. Ovaries have something no them all the time, he said.
S: What, like stickers?
M: Stickers. [laughs] Growths, projections. Whatever.
M: They can be just harmless.
S: Yeah, but take no chances because ovarian cancer you don't mess with.
M: And you can live with them and you can be fine so I want to make sure you're understanding that the fact that there's a growth on it doesn't mean it's cancerous. You can have a growth and you can have a hysterectomy without cancer.
S: Yeah, I get that. Sure. But he still said, "I don't want to take any chances that it didn't hop ship into, you know. Another whole kind of cancer."
S: Which he said there was a 2% chance of.
M: So we talked about that. I said, "Well, walk me through the numbers. What are the odds that my cervical cancer can suddenly become ovarian cancer?" And once we cross that line of ovarian cancer--
S: So you're cool with them yanking the lymph nodes. So then I said, "Yank the ovary." You said, "No." We arm wrestled for it and I lost.
M: I believe my exact words were, "HELL no."
S: Yeah, thank you for swearing on my show.
M: [laugh] Yeah. As the ratings go down and the listeners hiss and boo, right?
S: Nobody's listening to this. So what did you eventually decide?
M: Well okay. I love the way you're saying, "What did YOU decide?" I thought WE decided.
S: After you ignored my suggestion. What did you ultimately decide? Let me rephrase. What did you decide and I agreed to to say that we decided?
M: Yes, exactly.
S: So you're going to find out then when you wake up and that's going to suck.
M: It's going to suck if he yanked it but again, if he yanked it. My thing-- and I want to make sure you hear me on this doctor-- I don't want it taken out UNLESS it's compromised. And if it is then sure. Take it.
S: So you're cool with that.
M: Ultimately, we talked to a friend of ours who is a doctor. He said it does come down to trust. You're going to have to trust that this individual knows what they are doing. It is very hard for me. I've only met this oncologist three times. The first time was the initial, "Okay, you've been referred to me. You've got cancer." The second time we're going to meet him is pre-op.
S: He was super nice though.
M: He was super nice but--
S: And we checked him online. This is a thing I think people don't do enough of. We didn't just Google the guy. We looked at the Oregon medical board to see if he's got any judgments against him, to see if he has any law suits pending. We looked at all that stuff. He's clean. This guy is cool. He's got a great head of hair.
M: [laughs] Yeah, definitely in consideration when you're choosing your oncologist.
S: Well, you know. He looked exactly like the picture. No but, he's clean. He appears to be clean.
M: Yeah, but again. He was very nice and very pleasant but let me be clear. I am entrusting my life, and apparently my ovaries, to somebody that I've only met a total of three times by the time he goes in to cut me up.
S: What, does that mean you want to have dinner with him a couple of times?
M: Heck yeah. I wanna get to know you. I want to know your values.
S: His values? There's only 8 people in Oregon that could do this operation.
M: In Portland, yeah. Probably. But whatever. It is hard.
S: Right, well he probably trained most of them.
M: He probably did. And I know that the medical system would sort of grind to a halt if every time a doctor were to have surgery--
S: [laughing] He came over for dinner.
M: He came over for dinner first and was like, "Okay, so."
S: "Who are you voting for?"
M: But to be clear, it is trusting somebody that you don't know very well with a pretty significant part. The consequences to me and my body thereafter are pretty major.
S: That's interesting.
M: We did the best we could, right? To the extent that he said, "I hear you. I will do the best I can to protect it if it can be saved." and I said, "Great. If it can be saved, save it. If it cannot, yank it."
Act 11: The Beginners
Scott: I saw this movie called, The Beginners with Ewen McGreggor and Christopher Plumber. Christopher Plumber has cancer and he's totally in denial. Deeply and profoundly in denial. He's having parties and he's walking around the parties like, "Yeah, I'm gonna kick this. It's gonna be awesome. It's gonna be great." I'm feeling much better and I've turned the corner on this.
His adult son pulls him aside and he's like, "Dad. There is no stage five. It stops at four. Why are you telling people that you're going to be okay?" Because he's preparing for his dad's death. Christopher Plumber looks him in the eye and says, "No, it just means that it's going through these stages. 1, 2, 3, 4. It's going through the stages." And there's this pause. It's like, what do you do with that? You just let him have his denial and that's exactly what he did.
Act 12: Cry with the Crying
Scott: In Zimbabwe, they have this saying, "Cry with the crying." If someone dies, everyone will go over to their house and they'll wail. All the aunties will come over and they'll just sit and they'll cry with you and they wail. I've been to a couple of these things and it's pretty... not what I do. It's pretty not what is done here. I got into trouble with this because Mo had this catheter for a long time (not the two or three days that they said it would be, months) and each week we would go in for this test to see if she could get the catheter removed. She said, "Just sit here and shut up and support me."
We would go and do the test and she's sitting there and we're seeing if the test is going well or not.
She says, "Don't say anything."
I said, "Okay so...how is this supposed to go? Is this the--?"
She's like, "Shut up."
And I was like, "Okay. Okay so say nothing? I'm not supposed to say anything at all right now."
She said, "Yes, don't talk."
"Okay, I can do that. I can be quiet. Um... okay, so hang on. What does the success look like here?"
She's like, "You better shut up..."
[laughs] And she ended up kicking me out of the room.
She's like, "You need to be here to back me up and stop trying to fix this."
I always get into trouble with this "cry with the crying" thing. It's like, all she was telling me to do was to sit there and be sad. And all I could think of was, "I need to fix this." Whatever's wrong, whether it be the cancer or this particular test or whatever, it's like, "Alright, let's make a Trello board. Get me a white board and some dry erase markers and let's fix this." And all they want me to do is cry with the crying.
Scott: So she wants me to cry with the crying. To sit with with her and the other ladies and wail. So then, they try to apply the same rules to me. "Are you okay? Can I come over? Can I do something?"
I'm thinking about practical things.
"Well, you could bring movies. Or you could bring food. How about a casserole so I don't have to cook?"
"Well, no no no. What do you need?"
"Well, I don't need a hug. I could use some dinner."
I don't know if it's men and women, or geeks and normals, or Zimbabweans and Americans, but...I just want it fixed. Now.
Act 13: Mr. Mom
Mo: How are you going to manage with me in the hospital for like... two nights?
Scott: I can. This is not a big deal. You went to Africa last year for a month. I was fine. The children survived. All digits and extremities accounted for. Everyone had fun. I'm actually a better cook than you are.
S: No, I mean I've been practicing. I've cooked three or four days this week. We take turns. We're a team. Some days you cook all week long. Some days I cook...once. [laughs] The kids will be fine. Why do you think it's a big deal? The only thing that will probably go bad will be laundry and that's only because I just don't like laundry.
S: But as far as house maintenance and any light bulbs that might potentially burn out...handled. No problem.
M: Yeah, I see a difference between, "Mommy's on vacation kids. It's okay." and this, which we're not going to tell them ahead of time. We'll tell them after.
S: Yeah, we'll tell them after the fact.
M: So that they know not to jump on me.
S: You'll be upstairs asleep and I'll be doing stuff. It'll be fine.
M: But if I may, how are you going to manage the okay, gotta pick up the kids, gotta see momma at the hospital, gotta make dinner for the kids, gotta check and make sure it's wet now. Coats are dried, everything.
S: Sure. That's so crazy. If only I had experience in managing multiple projects. See what I did right there? See how I turned that around?
S: I've been doing this for 20 years. It's scheduling and management and tasks. I will make a scrum board.
M: And I will say the obvious here that projects and little kids are not always the same thing as you add the human dynamic. One of them could get sick. One of them could fall.
S: I understand. And herding programmers is similar. The only difference is that I'll be picking these programmers up from preschool.
M: Yeah, alright. Anyway. Did you see how flippant that sounds? That sounds so dismissive.
S: Do you see how dismissive it is to imply that I can't run a household for two weeks? You do.
M: You are not letting other people get in to help you. I call for help. I mean, when you're gone for 10 days like when you go over seas--
S: The twice I've been gone for 10 days.
M: The twice a year that you do this. Once in a while.
S: Yeah, couple times. A little bit.
M: A couple times a year. That's non zero.
S: Right. I'll give you that.
M: There's no shame in saying, "Hey."
S: You're talking like a programmer now. "That's non zero, right? That's less than or greater than..."
M: You've worn me down over the years.
S: I'm just saying. You're starting to talk my language. I appreciate that. Pretty soon it'll be [xx] and algebra.
M: People who used to know me will be like, "Who is this woman now? What has he done to her?" But anyway, I will state my point again. It is a graciousness. It does take some skill to accept the help that is offered because it gives to the people who are hurting-- right? They're worried about their sister, their friend, their cousin, their daugher-in-law.
S: Alright. I will ask them to vacuum.
M: An opportunity to feel like, "Hey, I got to do something." You can be selfish and hoard everything.
S: I don't need anyone's help, but what I'll do is give each person a task. How is that? Is that a deal? Each person will get a task.
M: It's gonna be great because this is going to be heard after the fact.
S: Oh, I don't know about that. Your sister will listen to this.
M: They'll manage. You know. Your sister, my sister.
S: But my point is, I'm a perfectly competent adult. Truly, if I need help I'll ask. I might need help picking somebody up if there's some juggling. Certainly food is always appreciated. I mean, if I don't have to cook, that's great. That's an hour out of my day.
M: Yeah. I'm just saying.
S: And I'm cool with that.
M: No shame in saying hey.
S: I just want to make sure that you understand this image of Mr. Mom covered in corn starch and the house with paint spilled and me spinning in the middle while the house is spinning and me screaming and the children running around hitting each other with sticks; this doesn't happen.
M: Well, it does. It just doesn't happen often or always.
S: It's just not going to happen to me. It'll be alright. It'll be fine.
S: If you just stay in the bed... the biggest part is going to be when you try to get up and then I'm gonna yell at you and say, "Get in bed."
M: Well actually I'm more worried about when I'm in the hospital.
S: You'll be there for a couple days, right?
M: Yeah, but you're split in two. You can't be there and come see me.
S: I can come to see you.
M: Right, but where are the kids? You can't bring the kids when you come see me.
S: Why not?
M: I don't think that they're allowed in there.
S: Ohhh, I'll sneak them in. I'm sure that they'll be allowed to see mommy when you're not in like, ICU or whatever. You'll be out in a regular room and they'll come see you. We'll Purell the whole place. I'll douse them in Purell. It'll be fine. They won't sneeze directly into the wound. It'll be fine.
M: And I don't know that I necessarily want them seeing me in the hospital either. I don't want them to have anxiety.
S: This is a whole 'nother show. Dude. People go to the hospital. Sometimes they come out. Sometime they don't. But in this case we are 99.5% sure you're going to come out. And, after the surgery, you're not going to not come out. Once you're up and awake and the surgery has occured, you are not going to die. At least not that day or the day after. No, I'm totally serious. This is how I look at it.
S: So, those are the days to bring the kids. "Look, mommy went to the hospital. The doctor helped her. Mommy's feeling much better. Let's bring mommy home." That's positive hospital reinforcement. Trying to fake that mommy had a paper cut and she's going to stay in the hospital overnight and then... all that. It's just not--the kids can handle more than you think they can.
M: And I'm sure that they can but I disagree with all that bad idea of telling them before I go.
S: We tell them before you go that you have an owie and that they're going to get the owie looked at and you might stay over night and you'll be fine and we'll pick you up the next day.
M: And I totally disagree with that. Knowing our kids, I have seen them.
S: Trust me. Trust me. Every time we've said in the past that so-and-so, you know, the big one can't handle this, I've managed it and I've been right. And you've complimented me afterwards.
S: If ever there was a child on this planet that was me, except not me, it's the six year old.
S: Seriously. Have you not been regularly surprised what a head child this is?
M: I have indeed.
S: Trust me. I know this kid backwards and forwards.
M: I don't want him having nightmares or not sleeping well.
S: Trust me. Let's try it. Seriously. It'll be fine. How was he when I went to the hospital? I was there overnight.
M: He didn't know.
S: What'd you tell him?
M: You just took off, remember? You took off and you said, "I'm going to the ER." and the next thing I knew, you were driving yourself to the other hospital being scheduled for surgery.
M: I barely managed to see you.
S: Good times. Good times. [laugh]
M: Exactly. Oh the fun we've had. So anyway...
S: Somewhere between telling the children nothing, which is clearly what you want to do, and me including them in the surgery itself.
M: [laughs] That's right.
S: Then we will find a happy medium.
M: "What is that, the ovary doctor? Is that the one you're going to yank?"
S: "A little more light here. Yes, suction."
M: And the six year old is just like, "What is that?"
S: I think that we will find a balance.
M: We will.
S: I don't want to pull the wool over their eyes and tell them that people don't go to the hospital. Remember the time we got the blood drawn in the 6 year old's arm. I talked him completely out of a total panic attack and he sat there and he went bam and he had a shot right in the arm.
S: You didn't think that was going to happen. You were like, "There's no way."
S: I think that he's a very strong little dude and we can find a way to present this in a 6 year old appropriate way. In an age appropriate way.
M: They are young, yeah.
S: They're a young six.
M: I worry about the presentation because I don't want them having anxiety.
S: Well there won't be a PowerPoint. Don't worry. But I am telling you.
M: Thank goodness for that small gift.
S: Yeah. [laughs] There will be some animations. I will present it to him slowly but the idea that mommy's got a "procedure." We can just use that word instead of "surgery." She'll be alright. We'll bring her flowers and they can think about flowers and teddy bears and things that they can bring you. But you just made a whole speech to me about how you think people need to reach out. Well, mommy's going to have an issue and what can they do? Don't take the power away from the children. What can they do to help?
M: I'll be happy to let them help when I get back home. Not while I'm in the hospital.
S: Where are you going to tell them you are for a few days?
M: Oh, we can find any number of things.
S: I don't want to tell them that you're at like, the Holiday Inn or something like that. That's even weirder.
M: Why is it weirder? I visit my friends all the time.
S: I bet you I could get the boys to the point where they'll be all like, "Good luck at the hospital, mommy! We'll see you tomorrow!" Seriously.
M: Yeah... yeah. I do believe that, yeah.
S: You know it. Alright.
M: That doesn't mean I'm on board, of course.
S: No? Fist bump. There ya go.
M: So we're going to be fighting about this for another two weeks to figure it out.
S: That's good.
M: Alright. We'll get there. We'll get there.
S: This has been another episode of Mo's Cancer.
S:This is turning into Car Talk. Cancer Talk with Scott and Mo except we don't have the puzzler.
M: Did you tell your listeners--the two listeners-- Hi, sister. Cause my sister is the other listener.
S: Your sister is the only other person listening.
M: Your dad and my sister are the only two people listening to this.
S: Maybe Rob Connery [sp?] will listen to this.
M: Did you tell them we nicknamed it Fred? The cancer?
S: I don't know why you named it Fred.
M: You were the one that chose the name Fred.
S: Did I say Fred?
M: You said Fred.
S: You wanted a code name that we could call it in front of the kids so they think that there's a person named Fred now.
M: Which they haven't caught on to Fred...but anyway.
S: You were the code names.
Act 14: The Low Point
Scott: We're on a walk here. A brisk walk. Trying to get a little exercise in. What's your mood like?
Mo: Eh. Rough day today. Rough day my friend.
S: Are you saying that you're sad? Is this the lowest point? Or one of the low points?
M: I think so. It hasn't really been one of those-- you know some people have an illness and it's a good days bad days type? We haven't really had that because it's been very good days all along but today was a particularly trying day. So, yeah. One of the low points I would say.
S: We saw a lot of people. We were at the cancer doctor today and we were doing some tests and there were a bunch of people that were having their chemo. We accidentally took a wrong turn when we were walking in the lobby and we turned into the chemo thing and I felt, oh no, we shouldn't be here because we're not doing chemo right now, you know what I mean? It was kind of like, oh wow. This is where the really sick people are. Did you feel that at all when we took that wrong turn?
M: Yeah. Yeah, sure. There's a real strong sense of fear but for the grace of God, I'm thankful that that's not a door we have to open and go down. So yeah, very painful to watch.
S: But you've had other stuff go wrong. Like it's been how many weeks now since the surgery. Five weeks?
M: Five weeks, yeah.
S: And there's been some complications that have been unexpected, I would say. Some not so glamorous.
S: Is that the thing that keeps you down the most?
M: Well, it's the prolonged nature of it all. I think the expectation was that after two weeks I'd be feeling great or after four weeks or whatever. So when expectation doesn't meet reality, it's hard to still stay positive and still be like, "Woo hoo! We kicked this thing in the behind!"
S: Does it seem like we're looking at months now? Before you feel yourself? Instead of weeks? Was it unreasonable to think that this would be awesome in two weeks?
M: It probably was. They always say six weeks minimum type of thing but I was feeling so much better and getting stronger every day. Two weeks did not seem like it was that much of a stretch.
S: Kind of a plateau right now, I think.
M: A plateau. Exactly, yeah.
Act 15: The Underbelly of Cancer
Scott: So it's not quite Christmas and you do not seem very happy, dear.
Mo: No, no. Rough week I would say.
S: It's been a very...biological week. If that's a way to say it. Is that a way to say it? Very biological. There's been a lot of fluids, I feel. The body just makes a lot of stuff. I said this one. We're just kind of meat sacks under pressure and this has just been not the best week for you. I figured that once you had the surgery, the biggest deal would be you being able to lift stuff. The incisions. The going in to the abdomen and pulling stuff out. Seemed very traumatic. But that seems like... that's the smallest problem this last couple weeks.
M: Well, I don't know if I'd say the smallest problem but certainly not the most vocal. I suppose if I had to give a label to this session I'd call it "The Underbelly of Cancer." The stuff that nobody wants to show you or talk to you about. It's been...yeah. Biological week is a good way of putting it.
S: And you know, since it is the underbelly, as the husband I'm not just wringing my hands and being sad and asking you if you're okay and bringing you tea. But this week has found me...you know. It's been a week of changing your catheter and it's been a week of, "Hey, do you want to take this for constipation? How are we going to take this? Do I put it in or do you put it in?" It's been a week of stopping up fluid and blood and... that's love right there, man. I dunno. Do you feel loved or do you just feel kinda moist?
M: [laughs] Do you feel loved or do you feel moist? Wow. Make a T-shirt, somebody.
S: Since the surgery, you've been catheterized which is uncomfortable and gross but then day before yesterday in the middle of the night you kind of woke up and you were like, "Oh, I'm all wet." So it was like four in the morning and I jump out of bed and I'm like, "Oh man. She's leaked and she's peed the bed." or whatever. But it didn't smell like pee and then I was like, "Oh my goodness. What's going on?" because you had completely soaked the bed in this weird yellow stuff that wasn't pee and it was your incisions leaking. Not puss but leaking something else so I was freakin' out. I mean once we sopped it up I was like, "This is like a liter of fluid."
It was gross... and totally unknown because you spend your whole life knowing what fluids come out of which holes and then there's these new holes that appear. Like five of them which we do not have ordinarily. You know, belly button and side and all these holes. And then with fluids coming out of them it's like, "Wait a second. I've never seen that before." You smell it and it's like, "Well it's not that thing.
I lived 40 years and I've never seen anything like it. And the volume. I was concerned that you were leaking something important.
M: Right. And of course these things never happen at 10 AM in the morning when you can call the doctor and say, "Hey, doc. This is what's going on."
Again, the background here is I had some lymph nodes removed and I had about 20 of them that were taken. I think my body was somehow just expecting them to come back and instead of processing the fluid as it usually does, it was like, "No, we're going to hold on to this." So the stomach...I don't know. It didn't feel particularly distended but you had mentioned a couple times you're like, "Wow, you look a little bloated." I didn't feel bad and it didn't hurt. And then yeah, three or four o'clock in the morning I wake up and it was just surreal. There was warm fluid coming out of my body. I literally opened my eyes and I was like, "There is warm fluid coming out of one of the incisions. This is not okay." I thought it was blood.
S: And it was coming out fast. It was like someone had popped or like...stuck a hole in the bottom of a beer can and you just started emptying out. Like they'd popped a water balloon.
M: Yeah, so you know obviously I wake you up in a panic. "I'm bleeding! I'm bleeding!" You jump up out of bed and it's like, okay. So we take a look and it's kind of comical because you're like, "Where's the blood?" and I'm like, "It's right there." Then I'm looking and it's like, "Oh, wait. The thing that's coming out is not blood."
S: Then I'm like, "Oh, it's pee! It's pee!"
M: And then we're like, "No, it's not pee." because it's coming out the side of my abdomen. So you know it's not pee and it's like...what is it? So four o'clock in the morning we're Googling this thing.
S: We're Googling. It doesn't smell--
M: Yeah, exactly. And it's actually pretty clear. It's not really yellow. It's a clear fluid so you're just like, okay. So what is that? Well lo and behold, I've developed something called a seroma. Basically that's just the body retaining fluid because it's confused and the transport mechanism, those lymph nodes, are gone. That's frustrating. Because it's 4 o'clock in the morning and I'm thinking and saying to you, "Put a bandaid on! Put a bandaid on!"
You put a Bandaid and three seconds later the Bandaid is leaking and I'm not getting it. I'm like, "Put another one on. Did you put that one on the right way?" By the fourth one we're like, "Oh. Wait. The bandaids are too small for this problem because it's coming out too fast." Well duh. Okay, do we have gauze?
S: Gauze, cause I'm thinking I know how to stop bleeding, right? Put pressure on it. But with this here, putting pressure on it was causing it to come out faster.
M: Well the incision, yeah. And it hurts. I had something removed from that hole so you can't push on that. That hurts. But who has gauze, for heaven's sake? We have little kids so we have Bandaids out the wazoo but they were ineffective.
S: Well and we had been changing this thing all week and it's been not one gauze a day. And this is like the gauze the size of an iPad. This is a giant piece of gauze and we're going through four a day? Five a day? And it's still soaking.
M: Yeah, it's still soaking and not only that but to tape the gauze to my skin hurts. Nobody tells you that that tape is painful when you pull it off. I don't know...and Scott's sitting here rolling his eyes as the diabetic. But truly, we tape the gauze four sides and we pull it off and Scott's like, "Go, man up!" and just yanks it off. I'm like, "Ow. Ow." the whole time.
S: Well I just think it's funny that your take-away from cancer is that the gauze is really sticky and hurts your skin. That's the smallest of the problems here, don't you think?
M: No, because it's yet another irritation so now I'm leaking on the side AND I've got a catheter AND I've got this thing that when I try to change it hurts. It's not comfortable. It's not a small thing. It's yet another irritant on top of what is already a frustrating time. It's hard to maintain all these three, four things that you've got going on. As you've said, this has just been the week of frustrations. I think I would say I'm normally an upbeat, positive person. I'm usually like, "We got it. We did well." The pathology came back and was phenomenal and it's like, "Yay, go Mo!" No, man. This has been a rough week. It's hard to be positive. Hard to stay on top of. It'll pass.
Act 16: On the Mend
Scott: It is almost New Year's and you look better. Your color is better. You seem to be moving better. You were lifting groceries a couple days ago. Do you feel better as we approach the new year?
Mo: I'm chuckling over my color is better. I dunno. How can you tell?
S: Well yeah. You've gone from a chestnut brown to a chocolatey brown but yes. I'm just saying there was a pallor before. I think that you were getting pretty thin and you were moving pretty slow and you were shuffling around the house in slippers. And now you're shuffling around the house just with the regular scowl that we're all used to.
M: Yeah, I'm feeling a lot better for sure. Definitely feeling better. It's awesome.
S: Did feeling better sneak up on you or did it happen slowly?
M: I don't know. I'd have to say that as each of the little things that were irritating and frustrating went away or resolved, I couldn't help but feel better. And then you feel better in small increments and then you wake up one day and it's like, whoa. I can bend over and I don't feel anything. I can put my shoes on. All this stuff that was so painful and so uncomfortable before... suddenly it's back to being a no-brainer. I'm so thankful for that. Really, I am.
S: Yeah, a couple weeks ago... or maybe it would be a month ago, I was putting your shoes on every day. And I was putting your socks on every day. And I was changing your catheter every day. But then I wasn't. Then I didn't have to put your shoes on. And then I didn't have to get the groceries... but I would help with the groceries anyway because I'm that kinda guy.
M: That's right.
S: I remember when there was a week when you just couldn't get out of bed without me bracing you or helping you out of bed. There was a stool that we put by the bed for you to get out. And then you didn't declare, "Get rid of the stool! I don't need it anymore!" It just wasn't there anymore. You know what I mean?
S: It's almost like day by day little improvements happen and you don't notice them and then you look back over the week. And it changes. It's like when you don't see your niece or nephew you're like, "Oh, they've grown so big!" and the parents are like, "Have they?"
M: Right. Yeah. Little improvements day by day. Incremental. And then you wake up one day and they amount to something and it just feels so good. The mental, the psychological value of feeling good. I cannot over-stress that. I just feel so much better. My body is better so my mind is better too. I'm thankful for that.
S: We were day-by-day sometimes and even for a while we were hour-by-hour in the sense that we were thinking about stuff every hour. There was maintenance. There were pills every hour. There was dressing changes every hour. There were fluid leaking changes every hour. And then every four hours. And then every day. Now, I feel like we're going away from this kind of minute-by-minute. We were literally counting, "Okay, she can take a pill here and then wait for hours. Then this pill and then switch to that pill after six hours." And we were trying to figure out how to chop the day up into these hour-by-hour pieces and now I feel like we're thinking about, "Okay, well you have to go to the doctor every three months for the next two years and then that'll be... our unit." Our unit of cancer has gone from hours to days to weeks to three months. And then we want to hit two years with no cancer. And then five years. And then we make T-shirts at five years.
M: To your credit, you don't know when you marry somebody how phenomenal they're going to be... but you have been by my side, literally holding my hand in some cases. For us, this harrowing, scary, huge, phenomenal, crazy journey is not over because we're still going to be doing it but the scary parts are. There's no continual treatment at this point in time and I'm so thankful for that. I cannot stress enough to anybody listening out there who's going on this journey, find that support structure. Get that structure because it's going to make such a difference in your healing and your ability to cope on those days when you are down. And there will be those days. Surprisingly. I don't know why I was so taken aback but I was. That there were those days. What a difference it makes. So to you Scott, my husband, to my mom, to my sister over here, to the family, other sisters, other cousins and friends that have reached out, I cannot put into words. Really, it makes a difference and heaven forbid this should happen to anybody else out there but you probably know that it will. I hope you have the support that I had.
Scott: And again, a big thank you to the folks at CodeRush for Visual Studio for helping support This Developer's Life. CodeRush has the fastest rename, the fastest Find All References, the fastest test runner. When it comes to creating, modifying, and re-factoring code, nothing's faster than CodeRush. It's been on my ultimate power tools list since forever. Get CodeRush. You'll be glad you did. Check them out at Devexpress.com/coderush. We appreciate their support.