This post is copied from Brad's personal blog, The Road Taken, shortly after his diagnosis.
This morning, I woke up around 5:40 am.
It promised to be a beautiful day. Almost 50 degrees out, we were in for an epic sunrise just before 7am. We climbed the stairs in our loft –me and Dana with coffee and tea, and my twin brother, Dave with water. Up on the roof deck, we marveled at the breeze crested river, amber orange hues flooding the Belle Isle view, the glow of a waning moon over the westward sky.
But, when I woke at 5:40 am, I was drenched in sweat; writhing in pain; short of breath. Although not the most sick I’ve ever felt, it was the most afraid I’ve ever felt in my life.
I got sick in early September. One night, suddenly, I woke to severe lower back pain. At first, I blamed my hamstrings. Ten days after my symptoms started, I stubbornly went to a little day clinic and the nurse practitioner nearly exulted when she clapped her hands and shared: “You have an infection.” I took antibiotics; 10 days later, I felt better.
But the pain continued, and over the next four weeks, I would struggle with more localized pain in my left flank, night sweats, general fatigue.
Lucky for me, I have an ace in the hole. One of my best friends also happens to be a 99th percentile medical boards doctor–as in the top 1%.
I suppose I helped him endure his first few years of med school as a drinking buddy and comrade in all of our desperate search for truth, belonging and finding friends we can jive with. Josh, except for lying about his age to me when we first met, was just one of those special friends to me, then to Dana after she moved to Michigan. Indeed, after our “big wedding” performed by my best friend, Jeremy Potter, Josh performed the official ceremony on the first day of fall for me and Dana and a handful of friends and family. (We’re still not sure we’re legally married, but Josh was a Captain, and we were married on the end of the dock over the water. Legit enough to me.) All in all, Josh has an intoxicating intelligence, which is fortunate, because he will drop it on you, over as many drinks as it takes. But, we’ll save those anecdotes for another time.
Josh and I met on Friday, September 30th for a beer. He suggested I come by his urology office and meet one of his colleagues for an appointment and an ultrasound of my left flank. By Monday I had appointments set. By Thursday morning, October 6, it was clear my left kidney was dilated and required a CT scan to get a clearer picture. We scheduled it for Friday, October 14.
By Wednesday, October 12, 2016, I was having fevers as high as 102, a pulse rate over 110, and severe left flank pain. My doctor (and Josh) each suggested I come into the ER to accelerate the CT scan. So, by 7pm, Dana and I enrolled in St. Joseph’s Hospital with general “lower back pain” and a request to schedule a CT. I’d never been to the hospital before – but we got a small ER room, some pain meds and waited for the CT contrast to take effect. My scan lasted until 11:14 pm; I texted Josh, who was home, over 20 minutes away, “Scan done.”
The clocked ticked and as no word came back, we waited anxiously. Then, just before midnight, one of my best friends, a world class surgeon, walked unexpectedly into the emergency room in his white lab coat to share the news. Josh sat by my side, tears barely welling up in his eyes as he tried to calmly explain to me what the CT scan showed. He did it out of love, to avoid us hearing such horrifying news from another doctor.
It was a beautiful gesture, and a movie moment I’d also never wish on anyone else. “Brad, you have large tumor on your kidney, about 10-14cm large. And, baseline results indicate several tumors on your lungs and one on your liver. We suspect its renal cell carcinoma. If confirmed, it’s stage IV.”
We sat in silence. We asked questions. Josh patiently answered them as best he could. More tests were needed to diagnose me and ensure the disease had not metastasized further in my body. Two days later, biopsy complete, we’d confirmed the “good news” which was that there were no tumors in my brain, bones or other organs. Two follow-ups were set up with the St. Joe’s Team and, with their support, the Cleveland Clinic. By Friday evening, we were discharged.
As I type this paragraph, it has been a full week since I entered the ER, but less than 24 hours since I left the last one.
Yesterday, I felt good. My pain med regime was working well, I’d actually clocked some hours on the job, my twin brother was in town, and we were having a good time. Then, at 4:30 pm I had a sudden purging of virtually everything in my body, causing me to go slightly out of consciousness,and putting Dana and Dave into a serious panic – what was happening? My doctors were concerned I’d had a blood clot in my lungs. We went to the ER to clear that risk; exhausted, we got home at midnight.
Last night, I sweated my way through four outfits, continued pain medication to no avail, slept erratically. When I woke at 5:40 am, I was panting, hurting, changing my clothes and, for the first time, really heartbroken.
I once wrote about something like 10 cries in my life from the ages of 15-32. I’ve had 10 since last Thursday. They are good.
But this morning, I felt this was all too soon. The shift from sick to seriously ill to hospitalized to given daunting odds to having my wombmate rush across the country to be by my side, and the countless gentle hours with Dana these last 7 days, and the rich conversations with friends and deep love across every corner of my life – to the utter panic of an urgent hospital visit and waking up feeling half dead. Today.
I tried to quietly dress. Turn on our dim lights overhead, and grab my journal. My brother emerged and we spoke. I cried out the fear before the dawn today. After the climb, I looked out over the sunrise and arched my head 180 degrees across the sky to the moon and back. The breeze in my face, I looked over at Dave and Dana, and out across the horizon, and took in a deep breath.
I took it all in and knew: this is it. This is the fight. This is me world, defending my life.