The call came from my wife on April 18 of this year: “My mammogram had some irregularities and they want to do a biopsy – today.”
When someone you love has cancer, the pain is great but the love you have for her is greater. So began the whirlwind tour of various health care providers, all incredibly caring and professional.
Faced with various treatment options and frankly confused, our first encounter with an angel (or soldier) took place. While having breakfast at a popular restaurant on a morning we typically wouldn’t, we ran into a prominent Buffalo attorney and his wife, who is a physician and a person of great courage. She could sense something was on our minds and she asked my wife what was going on. The words are forever written on our hearts: “invasive lobular carcinoma.”
Showing compassion, she suggested a surgeon from Roswell Park, whom she said she would see if it was her. Plus my wife (the soldier) liked the idea of the research facility to help women in the future.
During a particularly tough evening, I reached out via social media to a famous athlete who had played in Buffalo and was now well-known for his role as a soldier in the fight against breast cancer. His wife had waged a long and courageous battle and had lost her life from this disease. I was surprised when an email came back with a one-sentence question: What is your phone number? I provided it and soon received a phone call from this person, who spent a half hour on the phone helping to reassure us and being so helpful with his abundant knowledge of what was ahead.
Fast forward to my wife’s first surgery, a mastectomy and initially a clear sentinel node. We were guardedly optimistic but generally relieved. Imagine the shock of our follow-up appointment where we learned that of 100 people with this type of cancer, 83 would be node negative and 17 would be positive, but of the 83 who were node negative, three were false negative. Yes, my wife was one of the three. She was scheduled for an axillary node dissection surgery in 12 days. She cried for a brief time but said, “get on with it,” and we met the new surgeon (because the original surgeon had moved on) who was wonderful, supportive and reassuring.
Numerous people – angels and soldiers – came to our aid: our family members, who sat through two lengthy surgeries, continually brought food to our house and provided an incredible amount of help; my colleagues from the University at Buffalo in the Division of Development and Alumni Relations from senior leadership on down, the deans of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Architecture and Planning and their staffs, who were so gracious, helpful and concerned; old friends and colleagues, who sent flowers and cards; alumni and donors, who sent gifts and offered prayers, comfort and support to keep our spirits up. Even the members of my wife’s yoga class showered her with cards, gifts and prayers.
Incredibly, some of the soldiers we met were dogs who function as therapy animals and rest at the feet of pediatric cancer patients who return from treatment. Think about that.
Where the future leads is unknown; the inspiration from angels and soldiers is not.