It was after a well-woman visit at Planned Parenthood. There was a lump and the nurse practitioner recommended a doctor. The next week, Lori went to her appointment and within a few minutes, the Doctor diagnosed her with Stage 4 cancer and scheduled a double mastectomy the next week. There was a biopsy, with no anesthesia, in the Doctor's office. The receptionist behind the counter asked me to take over the phones while she assisted the Doctor. Lori said that she felt like a pin cushion and there was blood everywhere from searching for the tumor. It was weird on so many levels, but when you're being told that you have stage 4 cancer, you're not in your right mind, and you don't question the "expert". I'll never forget one of my phone conversations with the Doctor the day after the biopsy, when she said in a matter-of-fact tone, "All we can do at this point, is prolong her life".
About this time, our friend Micah Thompson heard about our diagnosis and called to see what he could do. I told him the story and he suggested that we get a second opinion, and recommended a high school friend who is now a highly regarded oncologist. Dr. Haslem wasn't taking any new patients, so Micah called the doctor's wife to work the back channels, and got us in.
After another actual "standard of practice" biopsy in the hospital, it turned out that Lori had early stage 2 and very curable breast cancer. Yet, despite the relatively positive diagnosis, it took months for us to accept the second diagnosis. After the surgery, the chemotherapy, and radiation, the oncologist, surgeon, and the radiologist finally convinced us that she was going to be OK. When the first thing you hear is Stage 4, incurable, it takes a while for a new reality to take hold. And if it weren't for Micah's phone call, we would have gotten the double mastectomy.
That was 7 years ago and there's still some trauma residue from that ordeal, but all is well and we're onto looking forward to many years of creativity and adventure. But, that wrong diagnosis changed the trajectory of our lives.
I had just started teaching full-time, as an assistant professor. I was commuting from Toquerville, about 45 minutes to Southern Utah University. Since we were operating under the assumption that she was going to die, I needed to figure out how to get my family to Cedar City, because I didn't want to be 45 minutes away from my kids if I was going to be a single dad. I remember going in to see the Dean, and in between sobs, asked her for advice on what I needed to do over the next 5 years to be awarded tenure. I was seeking security in a very chaotic time. She gave me wonderful advice and was very patient and understanding. I have since gotten tenure and we live about a block from where I teach.
The house we moved away from has so many memories, even more so for the kids. I feel bad about taking them away from their childhood home. I still think it was a good move, but we lost as much as we gained. It's hard to know what would have happened had we stayed. I would have continued to commute, putting resources into the gas tank that are now going into savings. Our community in Toquerville, that we have grown to love has frayed, but we have a new community that brings us joy.
Still, the memories. Ella sitting on my work counter as a toddler, making little characters, red clay stained diapers needing to be changed before going back into the house. Brynn sizzling streams of water from my squirt bottle on the hot wood stove, the only source of heat. Or checking in on me at 2am as I'm struggling to get the soda kiln to temperature. Eli and I getting up before sunrise, snuggling in a blanket to watch a meteor shower. Then a few years later, we hosted a house concert for Eli, 15 at the time, so he could raise money for a school trip to Disneyland with his school orchestra. Friends, Hal Cannon and Greg Istock brought their instruments and jammed with Eli after the concert. That was the first time Eli improvised a simple tune, and the band 3hattrio was born.
Then there were the Holiday Sales that brought in artists from across the country. We never made very much money, but the community and after hours party and meal with our neighbors and visiting artists were so fulfilling and meaningful.
One night, after the first day of sales, Dan and Maria Murphy from Utah State/Logan offered to make dinner. After a run to the store they got to work making steaks and potatoes and all the fixings. After a fantastic meal, about a dozen of us sat in the front room/gallery with the lights turned low and sipped really good bourbon. The stories told that night and the kindness emanating from the room, set the tone for all the rest of the holiday sales to come. Our annual sale ran for about 10 years, and like all things, it came to an end. Then the cancer diagnosis.
Who knows what would have happened had cancer not showed up. We might have stayed. But many of our friends who made our community, moved away. We would have made new friends, but the kids may have grown cynical about small town Utah and become stuck, and instead of nostalgia for the house, the house may have been viewed in a different, more negative light. Friends of ours who remained in Toquerville have kids who are now teenagers. They complain about Toquerville and the prevailing small town, provincial, Utah attitude.
We can never go back, but we can always make the best of where we are. You cant control what happens to you, but you can control your response. It hasn't been perfect in Cedar City, yet we work to create a life that's fulfilling and meaningful. We're not waiting for life to come to us, we're creating, so that when our time comes, we have as few regrets as possible.