In Sickness & In Health – Part III

This is a huge week. Dave is having his surgery on Thursday, July 18th. I thought I would use this post to catch you up to date so you know what has happened up to this point, how Dave is doing and the anticipated prognosis from the doctors.

Shands ordered the CT scan after our visit on June 5th. I hadn’t heard from them by that Friday, June 7th so on Monday, June 10th I called the radiologist office to get our appointment. The lady who answered the phone said I was her first call for the day and she was about to call me. We were able to get a scan scheduled that same day. The reason for my urgency was that the medical team at Shands only reviews scans on Tuesdays and I was trying to have the scan complete and overnighted to them so they could review it that Tuesday.

Dave had the scan and they were able to send it right away so Shands would have it the next morning. I called the clinic manager the next day to confirm and she said they did receive it and the doctor would review it but as far as the team reviewing it we would have to wait until the following Tuesday! Ugh! I was so hoping to get this reviewed so we could get on the plan to getting this thing out of my husband’s mouth.

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In Sickness & In Health – Part II

After our referral to Shands an appointment was made for June 5. This was after we learned of Dave’s biopsy results on May 30th. While five days between receiving the results and waiting to learn what will need to be done doesn’t seem like a lot, it was enough for my mind to work overdrive with all sorts of scenarios as to the possible outcome. Dave was scared of losing his tongue. He had already been dealing with this for several months so for him it was like his worst nightmare was unfolding in slow motion. 

If I learned anything the last five years it is that I don’t have to walk through this journey alone. I can lean in to the comforting arms of the Lord, which is what I choose to do. There was lots of journaling between the Lord and I and what He shared with me gave me such peace and comfort that I can draw from no matter how difficult the situation becomes. I can bring everything to Him, my doubt, my fears, anger, desperation and lay it at His feet. He can handle it and He desires me to come to Him before anyone or anything.

The date for our appointment finally arrived and we drove the two and a half hour drive to Jacksonville. It was a long, quiet drive. I tried to work in the car while David navigated the roads. It was hard to concentrate on my work as my mind played out all sorts of scenarios as to what the doctor might say. Everything from this will be a simple procedure to there is nothing that can be done. We felt like we were going to the lions den and had no idea what to expect. 

We parked the car at the clinic where we would have our appointment. We checked in and then sat in the waiting room. Because this area was for head and neck patients, I watched every person who walked in the door. Do they have cancer? Is it the same cancer as Dave? The waiting room wasn’t too full but even a few people who have to deal with this awful disease is too many.

The nurse called us back to a room that was no larger than a janitor’s closet. Dave sat in the chair that was similar to what dentist use. She proceeded to take his blood pressure and ask questions. Once she was complete with the vitals, she said the doctor would be in shortly to see us. Shands is a university hospital, which means it is a teaching hospital. Fortunately, I worked at a university hospital back in the day so I understood how they worked. Because some of the doctors are students, there will be groups of people (residents) reviewing the case. 

In walked a doctor who was one of the residents. He proceeded to ask the same questions as the nurse. He then put on a pair of gloves to exam Dave’s mouth. He began to take copious notes. He explained he would leave to confer with the doctor and be back shortly. 

Before he left the room he asked, “Mr. Robertson what hand do you write with?” Dave explained his right hand then the doctor left the room. Dave and I looked at each other as we thought that was an odd question to ask. We waited for the attending (this is the teaching doctor) to arrive.

The door finally opened and in piled three resident doctors, the attending and a clinic manager. How we all fit in this tiny little room, I have no idea. The attending doctor introduced himself. All the residents gathered around as the attending began to exam Dave’s mouth. He started speaking in medical terms and the residents jotted feverishly. Once he was done with the exam, he began to share with us the treatment plan for Dave.

“We will need to do surgery to remove the tumor. It will require us to remove a little more than half his tongue. We will do immediate reconstruction surgery by taking the skin and this vein, this vein and this vein from Mr. Robertson’s left arm. We will also remove the lymph nodes on the right side of his neck. He will be in the hospital a minimum of a week and he will be on a trach in his throat and a feeding tube through his nose. Once he leaves the hospital, he will continue with a feeding tube and will require speech and possibly physical therapy. We will send off the portion of the tongue we remove for biopsy and it will take about two weeks to obtain the results. About six to eight weeks post surgery, he will need radiation and possibly chemotherapy but we will know more after the surgery. Do you have any questions?”

Dave and I just sat there stunned and looking at each other. I couldn’t even comprehend what he was saying and I know poor Dave couldn’t. All he could say was, “What I feared is happening. I’m going to lose my tongue.”

We literally couldn’t form any words much less questions. I know the questions seem obvious but we literally couldn’t think. Our brains were paralyzed.

“We know this is a lot of information to take in and questions will come once you leave. Here is my number. Call me and ask away,” explained the clinic manager. Everyone single filed out of the room and we followed behind. As we exited through the waiting room, it was now filled to the brim with people. I’m not sure if they all had cancer but it was overwhelming to see that many people.

Dave and I took a long walk to the car. We get in and shut the door and look at each other in amazement. We didn’t know what to say and I could see the terror in Dave’s eyes. “Why don’t I just take a gun and shoot myself and then all this will be over,” he blurted out. 

“No!” I shouted.

“I’m sorry honey. I don’t mean it I’m just blowing off steam and trying to process this.”

Honestly I was hesitant to include this raw moment but I probably would have reacted the same as he did. I wasn’t mad at him or scared that he shared it. I was so grateful that he felt he could share it and that he could express himself so he can try to make sense of this all. 

We cranked up the car and started the drive back to Tallahassee. As we traveled down the interstate, the questions that I couldn’t form words to ask began racing in my mind. David also started asking questions. I grabbed a pen and paper that I had taken with me to write down what the doctor shared and began jotting down the questions coming to our minds. 

Would he lose his taste buds?

Would he lose use of his left arm?

Will he be able to eat again?

Is there any visible scarring on the face, neck and arm?

There were more questions as well. I also had a comment in there about how I felt the entire experience was impersonal and while this may be an everyday occurrence to them, this is new to us and a little more explanation would have been helpful. 

The next morning after arriving home, I placed a call in to the clinic manager to begin to get answers. I asked her if it would be better to send an email with questions or just ask on the phone. She said email would be best that way she can get with the doctor on any questions she couldn’t answer.

About two days after submitting my questions, I received an answer from one of the resident doctors. He answered all my questions and replied to the comment I made. 

“The appearance of not caring. First, let me assure you that we do care. I think you’ll agree with me once you know us better. We do not always seem like it. Here’s the thing: Everyone who cares for him has different jobs to do to get him better. We really are kind of impersonal, in the sense that our main concern with Mr. Robertson, or any patient, is curing his cancer if we can. Only after that are we concerned with his personality, faith, family, worries for the future, etc. Many of those things are much more important than what we do, but if we get too focused on them, we’re doing the wrong job in this whole big project. Mr. Robertson is our job. David is yours.”

I had mixed feelings on his response. Yes I do want a team that this is second nature but does the human, compassionate element have to be removed? If the doctors themselves have to detach themselves at least have someone that isn’t detached follow up. 

Now that we were home, the next step was for Dave to have a CT scan. This is to determine if the cancer has traveled, the exact location of the tumor and also to see the state of the lymph nodes. Once the results were back, we will then schedule a surgery date.

In the meantime, it was time to notify family and friends of what was going on. Up to this point we only let a few people know mainly because we knew there would be questions and we had no answers prior to this meeting. There are still questions we probably couldn’t answer but we couldn’t keep everyone in the dark any more. 

I have more to share but again this is becoming another long post. Looks like we’ll have a Part III. So far this has been an interesting journey and so much goodness has and is happening. We are resting in God’s unforced rhythms of grace through this process. It is counterintuitive to what our normal human logic tells us but there is such a peace abiding in his love. Thanks for being on this journey with us. 

In Sickness & In Health

It’s 2019 and a big year for Dave and I. My very first book launched on May 15th, Dave turns 50 in July and we celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in October. We’ve also had some unexpected celebrations in the early part of this year. At the end of January, I accepted the role of Chief Operating Officer with Kingdom Driven Entrepreneur. At the end of March, God orchestrated a move for us from Jacksonville, FL to Tallahassee, FL. In a matter of five weeks, we bought a house, sold our house and moved. It was effortless as only He can arrange.

After coming out of a season where we felt like we were in the wilderness, all these celebrations were so welcomed. We’ve been settling in nicely in our new home and community. We love being back in this part of Florida with rolling hills, huge, shady oaks trees and a slower pace than the hustle and bustle of Jax. This move was a bit of a downsize for us, smaller house, smaller yard, less stuff and a smaller city where we can start to connect with the community. 

I had the house unpacked and everything in its place within two weeks of moving (no I’m not bragging that is just how we reduced everything). Before we moved, I began doing research online for a new church home so I already found a few churches we wanted to visit. We attended two different churches and we ended up going back the first church. The pastor delivered his message and he was so raw, open, and real. After the service was over, David went up and hugged him, which this is totally out of character for Dave. He doesn’t just go up and hug anyone. I knew then that this would be our church home.

Everything was flowing so nicely accept for one thing. Dave wasn’t himself. I started noticing something was going on with him in December and every time I would ask him if he was okay, he would respond he was fine. I would then drop it because if he is fine, then he must be fine. However, I couldn’t turn off my wifey spidey sense. It wasn’t a constant attitude but as time progressed he seemed more and more irritated or worried. I couldn’t tell which. 

When the move approached in March, he was so short and snippy with me. We argued several times during the move, which is really out of the ordinary for us. One other indicator that something was up was he and I would always have amazing conversations. With all these exciting changes, I would have expected amazing conversations of what we would do in our new city. Those conversations didn’t happen and conversations in general came to a halt. He wouldn’t even speak words to me. I would ask him something and I would get grunts like something Tim Allen would do on Tool Time. I would continue to ask him did he feel well, was something bothering him, was he tired of me? I would even ask questions in my head but didn’t want to ask like was he cheating on me?

With all that had happened and my pending book launch coming, I just pushed this aside and chalked it up to the emotions of such a change. Afterall, Dave does not like change. He is a creature of habit. May 15th came and my book launched. Nothing earth shattering but an exciting day. We celebrated by having one of my really good friends come over for dinner. After the launch was over, God gave me the idea of doing a virtual book signing so exactly one week after the launch, I held a virtual book signing on Facebook and Instagram. I had the best time sharing the process of writing, the message God was sharing and connecting with so many people who supported me. I was riding a wave of feeling so loved and connected.

The day after the virtual book signing, I had an eye doctor appointment and Dave accompanied me as we do everything together. Plus, he wanted to get to know the doctor since he would be the eye doctor for both of us. On the ride to the doctor, Dave was barely saying two words to me. He seemed so distracted and preoccupied. I decided once again to ask him questions to get to the root of this. Now I’d had enough of this.

“Are you upset with me?” I asked.

“Mm-m,” he responded.

“Are you not happy that we moved?”

“I love living here. I’m so glad we moved”

“Are you feeling okay?”

A long pause. There it was. Something was going on with his health. 

“I have a bump in my mouth,” he slowly said.

“Okay. And you’re worried it is cancer aren’t you?” I asked.

“Yes.”

We proceeded to my doctor appointment and I tried not to focus or become worried. He’s probably overreacting I thought to myself. Once the appointment was over, we headed home. As soon as we walked in the door, I grabbed a flashlight and made him open his mouth so I could see what he was worried about. It’s probably nothing I told myself.

As he opened his mouth and I shone the light, I saw this huge mass of tissue in his mouth that looked like a giant mouth ulcer. It was so large I couldn’t tell where his tongue ended and the sore began. My heart sunk to my knees and a wave of panic and fear hit me. 

“Why and how have you been hiding this from me?” I eked out trying to hold back tears. 

“I didn’t want to worry you. We had so many fun things going on and I didn’t want to ruin them.”

“Oh baby,” as I grabbed him to hug him. “Don’t hide things from me. We are better together not separate, which is what the devil wants.”

“I know. I was trying to protect you.”

He shared with me how it started as a small bump in his mouth that he thought was an ulcer but it never would heal. Within the last two weeks before he told me, it grew dramatically and he knew he wasn’t going to be able to hide it any longer. He has been dealing with the worry and fear for months and hasn’t been sleeping. It all started making sense, his behavior, health things I noticed. All those little things you say, hum to and file in the back of your mind. 

I had no idea what to do next. Since it was in the mouth my instinct was to call a dentist to get an appointment. Luckily I had found a dentist and was already in their system for an upcoming appointment. I had to wait until September for my appointment so I wasn’t sure if they could get Dave in but I had to start somewhere. I contacted them and explained the situation. They gave Dave an appointment the next day.

We visited the dentist and they took x-rays, photos and consulted. They were very concerned and said we needed to see an oral surgeon. They happened to be next door to one and we were able to get an appointment with them the following week.

The time between the dentist appointment and the upcoming appointment with the oral surgeon was from Friday to Wednesday. Those six days were to most torturous days of our lives that we’ve experienced. Our minds were going to cancer, which equals death. How can I go from such an amazing year of special celebrations to now facing the possibility of losing my husband? My mind couldn’t make sense of this but it was working in overdrive trying to.

The day for the appointment with the oral surgeon came and I was an emotional basket case but trying to stay strong for Dave. He was so scared and worried he was going to lose his tongue much less his life. They decided to do a biopsy of Dave’s tongue and were pretty confident it was cancer. The surgeon began to explain it wasn’t going to be an easy road. 

I had to leave the room while they took the biopsy so I went out to the waiting room. I couldn’t stay as the tears were welling up in my eyes. I went out to the car and unleashed a furry of sobs and cries out to God. I’d never felt so helpless in all my life. I wanted to fix this for Dave and take it away. 

I knew I had to get this crying and despair out now so that when they were done with David, I could be strong. Once I could compose myself, I went back in to the waiting room. The surgeon came out to speak with me and began sharing that this is really serious and he is going to order a quick turn around on the biopsy.

“Mrs. Robertson, this isn’t going to be easy. This is going to be a long road and life altering for Mr. Robertson. I just want to prepare you,” the doctor shared.

I could feel the tears welling up again and then I got angry that he was doing this to me as I needed to compose myself. I didn’t want Dave to see me like this and have him worry even more.

Then I did the thing no one wants to ask but you are fixated on. “Can he die from this?” I instantly regretted letting those words leave my mouth. 

“Yes he can.”

That was it, I could no longer hold back the tears. They came pouring out. No consoling from him or comforting words. He just sat there. He left me in the waiting room so he could finish up with Dave and send him out. I was able to dry my eyes and then they escorted Dave out. We left and went home to wait for the results. More waiting.

We didn’t have to wait long thankfully but needless to say neither of us slept that night. Dave fearing he would lose his tongue and possibly lose his life and my fear of losing him. The next morning the phone rang and it was the surgeon’s office. The results were back and they wanted us to come in to the office. I could tell on the phone that it wasn’t going to be good as the nurse’s voice had a sympathetic tone. 

We arrived at the doctor’s office and walked in to the room to wait for the doctor. He sits down and pulls up the report and tells us it is cancer. I managed to hold it together as he proceeds to share with us the possibility of what might have to be done, which is the possibility of Dave losing his tongue. Dave blurts out in bewilderment, “What I feared the most is happening. I’m gonna lose my tongue.”

Because of the severity of Dave’s tumor, they referred us to Shands hospital and wait for it, located in Jacksonville, FL, you know where we just moved from.

This post is starting to get long so I am going to wrap this entry but I will write more details in upcoming posts. A lot more has happened since. We are on this cancer journey, which what I’m learning doesn’t always equal death. It is hard though to see someone you love in so much pain and fear and I know, we aren’t going through this alone. God has been holding our hand and guiding us all along. We are taking it one step at a time, which is where He wants us to reside. I’m so excited to see what God has already done and what He is going to do. I’ll share this journey with you in hopes to encourage others who might be facing something similar. 

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” Proverbs 18:10