This Friday morning at 8:00 AM we meet with the oncologist for the diagnosis and treatment plan for my wife’s tumor. I feel like the student who knows the answers to the test before it is given. I spoke with the oncologist today and learned that he believed, with 90% certainty, that my wife has a liposarcoma tumor in her abdominal cavity, and that it was “certainly cancerous”.
Retroperitoneal liposarcomas, nestled behind major organs in the rear of the abdomen, are rare cancers, affecting only a few hundred people in the United States every year. But with 10% uncertainty, and three more days to go before her appointment, her brother and I agreed that we should not tell her what I had learned. It was better for the doctor to get the results of the two final tests: the pathology report from the needle biopsy and the radiology report from the PET scan, and let him draw his final conclusions. To tell her what I had learned would only cause a few days of suffering, and could turn out to be wrong.
Part of what makes this situation so unusual is that my wife and I have been separated for over three years since I moved out to begin my life as a gay man, but we have increasingly rebuilt our friendship. We also trust each other. It is a trust born out of mutual support through difficult times for both of us for many years.
So I have stepped into a somewhat familiar role of helping her through this difficult period. There have been other similar events where I was the stable anchor: the three miscarriages and the ovarian cyst removal many years ago, but nothing ever before that was life-threatening.
Given our twenty-six year relationship, I already know how Friday will likely go. I will accompany her to the oncologist with her younger brother. She will react to the news from the oncologist with tears, deflation, fear, and sadness. She will also worry for those around her, our college-age son, and her aging parents, and how they will deal with the news. Then there is the telling of the results to her parents, which I think she will do in the car home from the doctor’s office. There will be a call with her sister, who is traveling abroad, to communicate the results. And then there is the question of when and what to tell our son. We will need to spend the day with her on Friday, supporting her, as we talk through the next steps.
It is not clear to me how urgent surgery is. Could she have surgery as soon as next week? I do not know. It is also not clear to me if cancer has spread to other organs. All this will be revealed, we hope, on Friday.
I worry about what kind of support she will need post-surgery. I worry about what role I will be asked to play and what kind of role I will want to play. I do not want to overstep my bounds as the husband who left the marriage. I do not want to sacrifice my new life to care for my wife. But I do want to support her as much as I can. I know I can be a stabilizing and calming influence with her and her family. I know I have a strong understanding of medicine and the clinical process, which can useful. It will be a delicate balancing act.
I do not need to make any hard decisions at this point. For now, I just need to be there and be as supportive as I can as she goes through this first step of receiving her diagnosis.