There we were, Lillian and I and the surgical Resident. In the hospital room. The Resident had his reports in his hand, and he was to announce the verdict. “Yes”, he said, “it’s…” and hesitated. Then all three of us, in unison, like a liturgical response, said, “Cancer”.
Lillian and I had been on a walk along the Waterfront, and I had found it necessary to sit down every few minutes because of exhaustion and shortness of breath. Lillian found this to be, understandably, alarming, and without further discussion on our arrival at home she called for the nurse at 311 to raise the alarm. The nurse was kind, gentle, but convincing. She said that she would call 911 to get immediate help.
Some months earlier I had done a photo shoot at the local fire hall where a sculpture memorial to fallen firefighters included the names of brave men who had died in the line of duty. I printed three of the photos and had them framed. On the back of the triptych, I printed out, in large letters, “THANKS GUYS”. I brought the finished work to the Marine Unit Fire Hall where I had taken the photos and was met by a tall fireman who introduced himself as “Bob”. He was quite taken by the triptych, and immediately led me to the captain on duty at the time. I formally presented the framed work to him. He was visibly moved by the gift and expressed his gratitude with sincerity. He promised that he would have it mounted on the bulletin board and would show it to the district chief.
The nurse who took the 311 call from Lillian was true to her word. A few minutes later three firemen arrived at the door carrying the equipment for dealing with heart emergencies. In charge of the crew was “Bob” who had met me at the fire hall earlier. It was like old friends greeting each other.
The ambulance crew arrived moments later, the firemen left to get back to their supper, and the EMS men went about their professional duties. The EMS man spent much of the time, while traveling to the University Health Network hospital, lights flashing, besides monitoring various instruments, telling the funniest stories of his experiences as professional emergency worker. He had me laughing most of the run to the ER.
The emergency staff were wonderfully efficient and helpful. I was admitted, and a series of procedures were conducted over the next days. That’s when the resident came in to make his pronouncement, and we all faced the fact. It was stage three cancer.