A Note from Fatty: Today, I’m starting work on my next book: Fight Like Susan. It will tell the story of Susan’s battle with cancer. From time to time (honestly, I don’t know how often I’ll be able to pull the energy together for this kind of post) I’ll be writing posts that fill in the gaps of the story I’ve already told — stuff that happened before I started this blog, and stuff that was too difficult to talk about at the time.
Eventually, I hope to have a complete story. Something my kids will be able to read someday and better understand what was going on around them while they grew up.
I may not write in chronological order, and I may not do these posts very often. Or maybe I’ll start doing them nonstop ’til I’m done. Honestly, I don’t know. One way or another, eventually I’ll finish this book.
In any case, thanks for sticking with me while I write this.
It was December 2003. Life wasn’t exactly easy right then. The twins had just turned two, and while they were pretty much the most adorable little girls you could imagine, keeping up with them was no easy task. “Soon,” Susan and I would tell each other, “They’ll be out of diapers. Then things will get easier. And cheaper.”
“Cheaper” was important. I was working as the editor-in-chief for asp.netPRO magazine, and — like with a lot of tech magazines — there was some serious belt-tightening going on at the company.
A Job Offer
There had been two layoffs. And with each layoff, those of us who remained took a pay cut. Which meant that I was taking home about 60% of the salary I had been hired at.
We were not making ends meet, but we faked it by closing the gap with credit cards. Obviously, that wasn’t a great long term solution.
So I started looking around for a job. Luckily, my job had given me a thick contact list, and I started reaching out to companies. Within a couple of weeks, there were two interested companies: one of them was a development house based in New Jersey. The other was Microsoft.
Either way, we’d definitely have to move.
I interviewed with Microsoft. The result was, “We’re interested in hiring you, but not for the position you interviewed for. Let’s talk again.”
I interviewed with the company in NJ. They made a verbal job offer. I accepted. We were going to be moving East.
And then, doing a routine breast self-exam, Susan felt a lump.
Wow. I had a hard time writing that.
The thing is, that moment was the moment that changed everything for us, but I totally downplayed it. “I bet it’s nothing,” I said. “I bet you anything that it’s something like this ganglion cyst I’ve got.”
That was my style. It still is, really: assume that everything is going to work out for the best. Because if it does, then you spent less time worrying. And if it doesn’t, what good did the worrying do?
But I was still worried, and Susan was too.
OK, “worried” is the wrong word. “Scared” is better, but I acted like I wasn’t.
She went to the doctor. They did a mammogram — Susan’s first, since she was only 37. The doctor said that depending on the results, they might need to do a biopsy.
Susan came back, and we worried. But I stayed positive, and kept telling her that it would not be a problem. Everything would be fine.
Then, on December 23 — two days before Christmas — we got a call. Susan got the phone. It was the doctor. Not the nurse or the doctor’s admin, the doctor. He asked if both of us could get on the phone.
Those two things — the doctor calling himself, and his wanting to talk to both of us at the same time — told us the bad news, before he ever confirmed it.
“You have breast cancer.”
I remember I looked for a way out. “You mean she needs to come in for a biopsy, right?”
“No, it’s very obvious. Can you come in tomorrow so we can start making a plan?”
The doctor wanted us to come in on Christmas Eve. Yes, we could come in.
He had already asked an oncologist to come to the meeting. We appreciated it.
We started calling family and friends, telling them the news, or what little we understood of it.
And I called the company in NJ, telling them I’d likely need to start my new job working from Utah until we had things figured out. They told me not to worry about it and to take care of my wife.
The meeting was businesslike, which I think both Susan and I wanted. They could do a lumpectomy, although this lump was big enough that this might be too conservative an approach.
After that, we’d see if we needed to do radiation, too.
“I don’t want to do a lumpectomy,” Susan said, with perhaps the most certainty I had seen in her to that point. “Take the whole thing. I don’t want it anymore.”
In an instant, that breast had become her enemy. She wanted nothing to do with it; wanted it gone as quickly as possible.
I didn’t argue; I trusted her instincts. We scheduled the surgery.
I don’t remember Christmas from that year. I really have no recollection of it at all. But I do remember a phone call that came a couple days later. It was the guy who would be my manager at the company in NJ. I assumed it was to see how Susan was doing.
I was wrong.
“I’m sorry, but we need to retract that job offer,” he said. “I hope you understand.”
Yeah. I understood.