“Being able to access choice in every moment is the biggest possible protection we have against trauma.”
We both sat facing my husband’s neurosurgeon and the thought struck me that the office was arranged in a peculiar way. Rather than having the large desk between us, it was positioned off to the side so we were sitting directly next to him, in arms reach. On the walls of his office hung children’s drawings with stick figure families smiling in front of a house. Feeling the weight of my unborn child at 7 months pregnant it made me smile.
“Malignant”, he said. I couldn’t understand what that meant. I’d never heard that word used before in a sentence and was baffled. I’d brought a notebook and had been writing a few points down but this stumped me. I looked up at him and asked what a malignant tumour was. He gave me a quizzical look as if to ask if I needed it spelled out again. “It’s very invasive,” he continued.
I held my husband’s hand tightly and looked into his eyes which were slowly welling with tears. I wrote the word malignant down and thought about the power of words and how this office was not a happy place. Perhaps his children’s pictures on the wall provided hope in the eyes of despair for his patients and more importantly him.
His language was clear and concise and I appreciated the clarity. Each word so carefully considered as to not allow any sense of confusion. He struck me as the most remarkable man, brain surgeon aside.
Reflecting on the moment I sat there numb not allowing my mind to move past this initial diagnosis. He asked if we wanted to to know the prognosis, Russ shook his head, he didn’t. I looked at my notepad again and the words began to blur as I contemplated what next. We would be fine I reassured myself and accepted the situation. Our calm demeanor may have unnerved this great man sitting opposite us as he now became uncomfortable asking us again if we understood the situation, the disease. We both nodded. My husband and I were so deeply connected on a soul level we often didn’t have to speak yet understood each other entirely. The strength we shared was unshakable. The acceptance of the situation was instant. His brother had recently died after a long battle with cancer and his father many years ago. My mind drifted to his mother and our wedding which was to take place in 4 days.
He wanted to schedule the surgery immediately. The tumour was large at nearly 3cm and rapidly invading the surrounding tissues. I switched off at that point as he described the process to remove ‘as much as possible’. I wrote down ‘craniotomy’ and vaguely heard ‘aim to be here for Christmas’. That was only 2 months away. Private health insurance, yes. The surgery was scheduled for 2 days after our wedding. Walking out of the office the realisation struck me that I may only be married for 2 days.