Introduction: A Shattering Diagnosis
My world changed on January 7, 2011.
I spent the entire day, from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm, undergoing an intensive physical assessment at Florida Hospital's Celebration Health Assessment Center. It was extremely thorough―the kind of going-over you'd receive at the Mayo Clinic. The Orlando Magic's human resources director, Audra Hollifield, had arranged for all the executives of the Magic organization to undergo this assessment. Though I was there for a complete physical, not for any specific problem or complaint, I hoped that the doctors at Celebration would uncover the reason for the nagging back pain that had plagued me for weeks.
After I'd been thoroughly poked, prodded, monitored, and sampled, Dr. Christine Edwards told me, 'Pat, it all looks good―except there's something in your blood work we're not sure about. You should get that checked by your primary physician.'
Something in your blood work we're not sure about. Those words didn't seem ominous at the time, and I hardly gave them any thought. I didn't know it then, but those words were about to completely upend my world.
Except for that seemingly insignificant detail in my blood work, I received a clean bill of health. Two days later, on Sunday, January 9, 2011, I ran in the eighteenth running of the Walt Disney World Marathon―my fifty-eighth marathon. At age seventy, I had been running marathons for fifteen years, and this was one of my best marathons ever. I felt good throughout the race. Sure, I had the usual soreness in my limbs afterward, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Three days after the marathon, I woke up with crippling pain radiating from my spine. I was in agony. I couldn't get out of bed, couldn't even move. I had never felt such pain, even after a marathon. I suspected a herniated disk, a pulled muscle, or a nerve problem, and I immediately made an appointment with a back specialist. After extensive x-rays and an MRI, the doctors said they could find no problem with my back.
On Thursday, January 13, I went to see my primary care physician, Dr. Vince Wilson. By that time, he had received the report on the blood work from my physical at Celebration. Dr. Wilson sat me down. His expression was troubled. He said, 'Why do bad things happen to all the good people?'
'What do you mean, Doc?'
'There's something in your blood work, Pat―an abnormal kind of protein called a paraprotein. I have a strong suspicion, though I hope I'm wrong. I'm going to refer you to a leading expert in this field, Dr. Robert Reynolds.'
Dr. Wilson made an appointment for me with Dr. Reynolds for the next Monday, January 17. Over the weekend, I began preparing myself mentally and emotionally for bad news.
Before my appointment with Dr. Reynolds, I wasn't even sure what his field of medical specialization was. Arriving at his office, I saw that he was an oncologist and hematologist―a specialist in cancer and diseases of the blood. When I met him, he told me he'd been an Orlando Magic fan and season-ticket holder for years. He knew who I was and he remembered those early days in the 1980s when I was working hard to bring an NBA franchise to Orlando.
At first, Dr. Reynolds thought I had come merely to rule out any serious illness. But after he saw my blood work, his tone became somber and he got right down to business.
'Pat,' he said, 'it looks like you have multiple myeloma―a cancer of the plasma cells in the blood and bone marrow.'
When he said that, both my blood and my bone marrow turned to ice, even though I didn't know what multiple myeloma was. To be honest, I didn't want to know. Yes, Dr. Reynolds had called it 'cancer.' But I quickly put the 'C word' out of my mind. I seized on Dr. Reynolds's phrase 'it looks like,' interpreting it as though he wasn't certain, the blood test might be wrong, and I might not have the C word after all.
'We'll do some tests right away,' Dr. Reynolds continued, 'and I'll let you know next week exactly what we're dealing with.' The tests involved a full-body x-ray of my skeleton and an extraction of bone marrow from my hip.
The fact that Dr. Reynolds was still doing tests gave me hope―even a sense of denial―that his initial impression might be wrong. Maybe this wasn't multiple myeloma after all. A blood test didn't prove anything, right? I told myself that when the x-ray and bone marrow tests were completed, Dr. Reynolds would say something like, 'Oops, that initial diagnosis was a mistake. Sorry I gave you a scare, Pat, but we needed to rule it out.' I was sure it would turn out to be nothing at all.
I went home that evening and didn't say a word to my wife, Ruth, about what Dr. Reynolds had told me. I said to myself, Why get Ruth worried and upset over a diagnosis that's going to turn out false anyway? But as the day of my next appointment with Dr. Reynolds approached, the thought nagged at me, What if it turns out to be true? Just in case this thing turned out to be multiple whatchamacallit, maybe it would be a good idea to have Ruth at my side when the doctor gave me the news.
I asked Ruth to go with me to my next appointment. She seemed baffled by my request. I had never asked her to go with me to a doctor's appointment before, but she agreed to go. On the day of the appointment, we got into the car and started off for Dr. Reynolds's office. As we drove, Ruth said, 'Now, where are we going?'
I handed her a letter I had received from Dr. Reynolds's office, confirming my appointment. She unfolded it and looked at the letterhead―Dr. Robert B. Reynolds, Oncology and Hematology.
'Pat,' she said, a look of shock on her face, 'he's an oncologist. This is cancer!'
'Oh, no,' I said, 'it's nothing like that. It's just something they found in my blood. Let's just go see what the doctor says. If there's a problem, we'll face it when the time comes.'
A few minutes later, we arrived at Dr. Reynolds's office and sat down to discuss my case with the doctor.
'It's definite, Pat,' Dr. Reynolds began, straight from the shoulder. 'It's cancer. You have multiple myeloma.'
©2014. PAT WILLIAMS. All rights reserved. Reprinted fromThe Mission Is Remission. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.