Wednesday, December 21, 2005

December 21, 2005 - When Negative is Positive

I’ve long been aware, through the course of my hospital visits as a pastor, that negative is usually positive – at least in the world of medical tests. A test that comes back negative means that the bad thing the doctors have been fearing they might find is not, in fact, there.

Such is my experience today. In the afternoon, I discover a voice mail message from Dr. Lerner’s office, asking me to please call to receive some test results. When I call back, I learn that my bone-marrow biopsy has come back negative: there’s no sign of malignancy there.

Good news, indeed! It means the cancer cells are restricted to the large mass in my abdomen and several nearby areas, and have not yet made the jump into the bone marrow (where blood cells are made). I’m still awaiting the doctor’s final assessment as to the formal staging of the disease – although he did predict, earlier, that if the bone marrow were not involved, I would likely be at stage 2. (Dr. Lerner did caution that, in follicular lymphomas like mine, the staging is not as important as the FLIPI score – which takes into account not only staging, but also several other factors that predict the success of treatment.)

Now I enter an extended waiting mode. My January 17th appointment with Dr. Portlock at Sloan-Kettering is almost a month away. My next appointment with Dr. Lerner is not until January 27th (timed to follow the assessment at Sloan-Kettering). My desire for a second opinion will end up pushing back the start of treatment by a month or more.

While a month’s delay may seem worrisome, everything I’ve learned about indolent lymphomas suggests that taking our time at this point in the process is not that big a deal. In fact, there are some very good reasons for doing so. Perhaps the most important decision related to my recovery is that of which treatment regimen to start with. Of all the decisions that must be made, this is the one to be sure to get right.

This will be a different sort of Christmas for me, and for our family. We will be more aware of the presence of darkness, of the ominous threat that has entered our lives. Yet why should we be surprised by this? Not even the first Christmas was without darkness. In the biblical story, the beatific vision of the holy child in the manger is countered by the horrors of King Herod’s jealous pursuit, and the tragic massacre of the innocents. This human life of ours is always a mix of triumph and tragedy. We take comfort where we can, remembering that "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light" (Isaiah 9:2). Like the magi of old, we are all seekers of light.


Mary Beth said...

Dear Carl: I have read each of your entries with great interest and concern. This entry was especially compelling and I rejoice in the good news about the bone marrow. Keep up the excellent work and I wish all the Wilton's a very merry christmas and a happy new year! Love, Mary Beth

Anonymous said...

Wonderful news!
Remember to live "one day at a time" and ask for God's help for it.
Love to all of you.