I’ve been putting off sharing some bummer news with you, but the Arndts could use your good mojo this week, please.
At the end of May, Tim was diagnosed with cancer. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of tests, doctor’s appointments, different opinions, big decisions, big emotions. We’re Arndts. Everything we do is loud and big and larger than life.
I’ll back up a little. In early May, I went to my doctor for my lady appointment and discussed the fact that I absolutely don’t want any more kids, so I asked about a permanent solution.
“Tell your husband to get a vasectomy!” she said. “It’s much simpler.”
There’s nothing wimpier than pushing off a big permanent solution onto your spouse, so that’s just what I did. Of course, Tim hadn’t been to a doctor in at least ten years. He’s of Irish descent and extremely stubborn and he never, ever gets sick. But he graciously booked an appointment for the vasectomy consultation and went while I was working, and when it was over, he came into my office and casually announced that he needed a biopsy because the exam revealed some concerns.
“The doctor says it’s a 1 in 3 chance it’s cancer,” Tim said. “I’m sure it’s fine.”
I put on a stoic game face and refused to Google additional statistics. My stepfather had battled and beaten prostate cancer some 20 years ago, and I know a few other men who have had it, so I know my way around the topic to some extent. I know it’s “very common” and “very treatable” and “slow-growing.”
On the day of the biopsy, I sat listening to Tim’s giant laugh through the walls of the urologist’s office. I distracted myself by making up dialogue to the muted Dr. Phil playing in the waiting room. I counted how many times the tattooed male nurse opened the door and said the word “urine sample.” I checked work emails. I prayed.
A few weeks later, we went to the appointment to find out the news. The appointment was set for 4:30 in the afternoon. I didn’t like that – it seemed to me if everything was fine we would just get a phone call, right? As I got dressed, I kept asking myself the weirdest questions: “What do I wear to find out if my husband has cancer? I like this blue shirt. If it’s bad news, I will hate this blue shirt. Do I wear jeans? I think dressing up to get a diagnosis is weird. What shoes?”
I wore the blue shirt. We sat in the waiting room, holding hands and cracking terribly unfunny jokes. When we were called in to the exam room, I knew everything was fine. In the movies, when you’re diagnosed with cancer, it’s in an office. There’s no way the doctor would tell Tim he has cancer if he was sitting up on a big vinyl bed. No way. We’re fine.
The doctor entered the room.
“I am sorry that I don’t have any good news for you today,” he said.
He didn’t have good news. Tim has prostate cancer. From there, it was fifteen minutes or half an hour (who knows) of a strange lecture where I sat typing notes on my phone and trying to be strong while the doctor gave us a lot of statistics, treatment options, more statistics. I wondered if my hearing was going in and out because it was just like in the movies when bad news comes and everything sounds like you’re underwater.
Oh, and more news. The blood tests revealed a form of leukemia. Something about how it’s a form of leukemia but not really leukemia and we’ll need to see an oncologist about that.
I kept looking at Tim and he looked like he does when he’s excited or bored or thrilled. It’s our family joke that started years ago when we were going to Paris for our belated-by-five-years honeymoon, and I kept saying, “Are you excited?” And he’d stare at me blankly and say, “This is me, excited.” Now I know that Tim learning he has cancer is the exact same expression.
We left with a lot of blurry information. The prostate cancer is advanced, but slow growing. Surgery is recommended. Surgeon wants to cut; surgeon fully admits bias to cutting. Radiation is also an option. We could get other opinions. Radiation after surgery is a 50/50 chance. Side effects are possible and are impossibly crappy. Surgery is the priority, but see an oncologist for the leukemia. Get a bone scan. A full body scan. Surgery is robotic and simple. The doctor has performed thousands of them. Cure rate is very high.
The tattooed male nurse was with us in the elevator as we rode down to the first floor. Tim cracked jokes while I cried and the nurse handled it all like a pro. We waded through the double doors, got in the car, and for some reason, were so wiped out and confused and shocked that we just started laughing.
“Well, I guess I won’t need a vasectomy now,” Tim said.
“I’m throwing away this stupid blue shirt,” I said to myself.
Just figuring out how to get out of the parking lot and pay the attendant felt like it took me an hour to process. Now, I’ve come to the conclusion that people should have a designated driver for Big News Doctors Appointments.
From there, we did what everyone does when they find out they have cancer. We went home to change, and straight to an Irish pub where we ate fish and chips and drank beer, then walked across the street to the Alamo Drafthouse to see Baywatch. There’s no better way to escape terrible news than 90 minutes of The Rock engaging in stupid banter with a half-naked Zac Efron, or a few slow-mo shots of ample-breasted women jogging in red one-pieces. You do what you have to do.
We started sharing the news with the kids, our close family members and dear friends. I told my boss and my boss’s boss and the big boss, and they were all amazingly understanding and compassionate. We sought second opinions and researched treatment options. Tim talked to a friend who beat prostate cancer and got the real deal on the experience. Tim did the bone scan and the body scan and when Roxy, the purple-haired nurse at the urologist office delivered the news that both scans were clear, I sobbed hysterically in relief while Tim sat there, looking the same as if he’d just ordered a soup and salad from Jason’s Deli.
At one point, Tim decided against surgery and decided he would do radiation due to the minimized side effects and the fact that we’ve known the radiation oncologist since we met 20 years ago at the doctor’s answering service where Tim and I once worked. Despite the fact that the radiation oncologist referenced Trump in making an executive decision to do surgery vs. radiation, Tim got pretty easily drawn into the idea of radiation because as it turns out, Tim isn’t fond of the idea of surgery. Because who is?
When Tim called the surgeon’s office to let them know, the surgeon called Tim back from his personal cell phone and asked him to come into his office once more before canceling the surgery.
At the appointment, the doctor took a good amount of time to smack us around – and evidently we needed smacking. It felt to me very much like if the doctor had thrown back a few beers and looked across the table at Tim and said, “What the %8$ are you thinking?! YOU NEED TO HAVE THIS SURGERY!”
Instead, the surgeon painted a scenario in which Tim had two doors to enter. Door #1 was not a favorable option. NOBODY wants Door #1. Door #2 was to have the surgery as originally planned on the date we discussed and deal with the possibility of side effects.
The doctor left us for 15 minutes so we could discuss and make a final decision. From there, I think Tim felt a sense of relief knowing we had a plan ahead of us.
This past weekend, we trekked down to Port Aransas to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday and to attend our cousin Macy’s wedding. It was a great opportunity for all of us to spend time together before Surgery Week. When we booked the AirBNB, it was before we knew Tim had cancer. We were unpacking and checking out the house when I remembered our cabin number. Cabin #2.
So tomorrow, Tim enters Door #2, with close family members here to support us. People ask us what we need, and since Tim’s stoic and not at all dramatic I’d say that all he needs is for the doctor and the robot that are doing his surgery to have a successful operation. We’ll have a waiting room full of close family there to support Tim and to help me with errands and binge-eating of peanut M&Ms if it becomes necessary.
When I told the news to our dear friend Tim, one of our former coworkers from back in the Medical Exchange days, he said, “Tim Arndt has enough good karma for a lifetime so now he can cash some in for himself.”
I can’t agree more. Here’s to positive vibes, heartfelt prayers, and get well soon Irish jigs.
Love to all.