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  • Once we met with our local oncologist, the next few days were a flurry of activity. We still hadn't disclosed the news beyond a handful of close friends and some family members.

    We kept to ourselves and declined many social obligations. We needed time. Time to process the news. But, after some consideration, I decided to reach out and contact my former boss who also was the primary care doctor for my mom. He was stunned when I told him the news about my husband.

    When he called me back he admitted that he wasn't familiar with Mantle Cell Lymphoma (MCL) at all and had to look it up on the internet. He made a few phone calls to colleagues and then guided me in finding a center of excellence for this particular type of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (NHL). Then we notified our local oncologist of our decision to seek expert opinion and his office helped facilitate an appointment for us at MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC) in Houston.

    They followed through and faxed over copies of all the medical records and my husband obtained the pathology slides from the hospital to hand-carry. Then we just waited for the day to come.

    We flew to Houston and then grabbed a cab to our destination. I've been to Houston before but that was in the 80's and it was somewhere in the suburbs. This seemed like a different city entirely. We saw hospital after hospital! It was astounding! I can't recall exactly how many, but 50 seems to come to mind.

    We checked in at our hotel. The hotel was owned by the hospital and managed by Marriott. It was connected by a walkway to MDACC. Once we checked in, we were directed to the Patient Guest Relations office where they printed out my husbands schedule for the duration of our 4 day stay. This was definitely a different kind of "vacation". We reviewed the schedule and noted that many of the tests our local oncologist had ordered and had been done in Florida. We were told that when we met with the specialist he would review the schedule and determine which tests needed to be done. It seemed pretty efficient.

    The hospital is internationally renowned so there were all sorts of interesting languages and accents evident as we walked through the lobby and towards the elevator. One thing is for certain, cancer does not discriminate. There were people of both sexes, all ages, and nationalities who were evidently bald from chemo. Some had scarfs, wigs, and hats to cover their baldness; others seemed comfortable without anything. Many people were wearing masks due to immunosuppression, and many were using wheelchairs and/or using oxygen. Many of them had that anemic pallor that was white as sheets.

    There was a "ding" as the elevator approached and we waited for people to exit . We rode the elevator in silence with a very emaciated elderly woman who wore a jaunty head-scarf and was leaning heavily on her husband's arm. In her nose was a nasal cannula and she carried portable oxygen with her. She looked frail and exhausted. Then there was a beautiful, exotic-looking young teen in a wheelchair. She wore a pink rhinestone-encrusted baseball cap to cover her baldness and was wheeled by someone who may have been her brother, or perhaps a relative. No one spoke ....everyone seemed trapped deep within their own thoughts.

    I'm not a novice to hospitals, cancer, illness or death. I was a candystriper when I was 13. At age 17 I began nursing school, earned my RN, and worked actively for 28 years. But this was different......this was family, this was personal. And this particular lymphoma is so rare, there is no consensus for treatment. I felt like I had been through a tornado these last few weeks. Too much information and nothing made sense. My mind kept racing, racing....going nowhere. And right now I just felt numb.

    The ride seemed to take forever. We stopped twice as the occupants got off on their respective floors.

    As we finally arrived on our floor I turned to glance at my husband. Tears were quietly streaming down his face and he quickly brushed them away with his fist. My heart felt heavy, and i realized I had been holding my breath.

    I reached over and took his hand in mine as we headed towards our room.
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