Although my recent colonoscopy was clear, the emergency doctor was still concerned about the upper torso. The organs were all clean, but she would send me to a gastroenterologist for further study.
I had to wait about two and half months before the specialist was available. I have to say, I didn’t like him. He seemed angry that I wasn’t pleased he would stick a tube down my throat and into my stomach – while awake – to see what was wrong.
The frightened look on my face surely said it all. So he pulled out a picture from his desk drawer and handed it to me. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one who needed convincing of this helpful tool and procedure. He held a piece of rubber tubing in the other hand. “This tube has a camera attached to the end of it. It is the only way to see this.” He pointed to the bloody esophagus.
I was disgusted by the image, and turned my head away for a second as I gasped for air. What a dose of reality that was.
At this point, I had no choice but to cooperate. How much longer could I put off the inevitable? By this time, the pain from swallowing had become more frequent, so the gastroenterologist scheduled the test for shortly after our consultation.
The gastroscopy was awful. Those five or ten minutes seemed an eternity. I wanted the tube out, but couldn’t speak or do anything about it. It was lodged deep into my esophagus. My mouth forced open by a funnel-like piece so I couldn’t bite down. Then finally it was over, and the doctor slowly slid the tube out from inside of me. It felt like I could breathe again. What a relief. At last, I could relax after my nerves and muscles were so tensed. I felt sore in my chest. I wanted to get out of there quickly.
The doctor did write in his notes that he was unable to go further into the stomach because I was too nervous. I don’t think the continuous gagging helped him much either. It felt like my guts wanted to jump out of my mouth.
The nurse let me rest on a bed as I waited for the results from the doctor. It was clear to her that I was a little groggy and tired from the stress of the uncomfortable, but not painful, test. The room was quite noisy and hectic. Mariano came into the room to wait with me.
He was quiet, except to ask about the test. “I gagged the entire time. It was terrible.”
As we looked around, there were patients stretched out on beds, nurses checking in with them, and doctors doing rounds.
I questioned the seriousness at this point. Maybe the problem was so small, it was undetectable. Maybe I was just wasting my time. A diagnosis of cancer never entered my mind. It never does, right?
The doctor soon approached us. A small Vietnamese man, who wore a tan-coloured polo-style T-Shirt, stood next to Mariano and looked at me. He blurted out in that snappish manner he had, “You have a tumor and it has to be removed.” I got the impression he was anxious. This reflected onto me and made me uneasy. I can’t imagine too many patients being friendly with him or asking many questions.
Unbeknownst to me until more than eleven years in remission, Mariano knew about the tumours before the doctor had announced it to me. The doctor saw him in the waiting room while I was being transferred to recovery. That explained his silence. It was shocking to hear, but I wasn’t angry. I wonder what else I don’t know about what doctors have told him. What other important moments during that time don’t I remember? According to family and friends, even today, they tell me I forget about things they’ve said. Seeing my daughter grow and holding her during that year are what I miss. I can’t ever get that back, and it saddens me still.
I didn’t know what to say once the doctor said I had a tumour in my stomach. We listened for instructions. Well, Mariano listened. I obviously don’t remember much.
“I already scheduled an appointment with a general surgeon. He will also give you the pathology results and describe the surgery.” How urgent is this? What is this?
Now did I think it was cancer? No. But it was a tumour. How could it not be cancer? As unlikely as it seemed, I remember telling my husband at one point during the investigation, “No one is immune.” It cannot be that I have cancer, right?
I am overwhelmed by the continuing interest. Thank you for supporting me through this journey of discovery. Even eleven years into remission, I only now feel like I’m living again. May you and your loved ones find hope in my story.