1. The Call

It was that time of year. My annual physical. On March 2, 2011, I met with Dr. Jim Ditaranto, my primary care physician for the past 17 years. Everyone calls him Dr. D. And they do so out of affection. Dr. D. has a great way of working with patients. He knows you and your physical condition extremely well. He's wonderfully conversational. You feel free to tell him about anything bothering you. And he always responds with sympathy. You struggle with your weight? So does he. You feel pain. He feels bad for you. Too much pressure in your life? Well, at airports, he's had guns trained on him for looking like a suspected terrorist. (Try staying calm while reaching for your passport!) When he sees my wife, Kate, he always gives her a big hug. Me? Not so lucky. But there's no other doctor I would rather see. To me, Dr. D. is tops.

Anything physical bothering me? he asked. Not a whole lot, I responded. I had put on some weight during the winter, which I promised to work off. And I had tweaked my lower back, a chronic problem of mine, that was taking longer than normal to correct itself. Otherwise, I felt great. In fact, probably better than at any physical in recent years. Still, Dr. D. performed his exam. EKG probes were hooked up. Blood was drawn. A urine sample was dropped off. And a lot else, of course. Then I was on my merry way.

Not so fast. As Steve Jobs would say, Dr. D. had just one more thing: it's time I had a colonoscopy. Like any sane man, I tried to weasel out of this. After all, who wants a thick scope to be put into a canal that was not designed for said instrument? Moreover, I had yet to turn 50, typically the time when guys go through the procedure. That would happen in May, and this was only March. Surely, Dr. D. would cut me some slack.

Wrong. He gave me a half smile, which distorted his goatee into a funny shape, arched his eyebrows, and said not good enough. When it comes to annual physicals, 49 years and 9 months is 50 to him. And so it would be for me. Schedule the colonoscopy, he directed. Now I could leave. Darn. And still no hug. What a cruel man my friend could be.

A couple weeks later, I got a phone call from one of his nurses, Patti. In years past, I had gotten similar calls, which described the results of my blood tests. Cholesterol a bit high, so cut back on fats. Vitamin D. a bit deficient, so take a supplement. Things like that. Things easily solvable. But this call was different. There were traces of blood in my urine, she explained, so Dr. D. would like me to get an ultrasound test on my bladder area. That's odd, I thought. After all, I didn't see any blood in the urine sample I had provided. And so I didn't really think about this too much. I scheduled the test and the follow-up with Dr. D., and then turned my attention back to work.

On March 22, I went to the radiology center next to Loudoun Hospital, and had the ultrasound procedure. A couple weeks later, on April 6, I met with Dr. D. to discuss the results. Like a good patient, I also would be meeting that same afternoon with another doctor to schedule the much-dreaded colonoscopy.

Dr. D. was not his usual cherry self. He said that the ultrasound showed a mass in my bladder, and that he had scheduled an appointment for me with a urologist at 8:30 the next morning. Huh? First, Dr. D. had never scheduled an appointment for me before, so why now? Second, first thing the next morning? Goodness, he must be concerned. About what, I couldn't tell. Invoking my sense of denial, I didn't probe. My denial extended to keeping my appointment with the colon doc.

The next morning, I drove to the urology appointment in Leesburg. A pretty drive down tree-lined streets to a new medical center on the same grounds as the old Loudoun Hospital, where my youngest son, Jack, was born on Valentine's Day in 1997. That day, we drove through snow to get to the hospital. Today, it was trees in full blossom. The drive brought back memories of Jack's birthday and -- even though I don't think about it that much -- how important my family is to me.

I met with Kelly, the nurse, and later Dr. Darlene Gaynor. Together, they would prep my private area, insert a scope with a camera, evaluate the situation, and then determine what to do. Now, as a guy, I was a bit weirded out at having two women grab my privates. But there could be no other way. So I got over it.

Dr. Gaynor is great. She talked with me in a pleasant manner, which calmed my nerves about what she might find. Then after discussing my medical history, she sat on a stool, wheeled forward, inserted the scope, and looked inside. Twisting and turning the scope (ouch!) to see everything possible. Then something odd happened. She withdrew the scope and wheeled backwards. But her body language had changed. Shoulders became straight. Face tightened. Eyes pensive. Then the words: "I think it's best to turn you over to our oncologist." That's when I knew. I had cancer. Bladder cancer.

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Reader Comments (1)

I think it is great you are writing, this blog, Jim. Keep going! I will be sharing this with my husband to make sure he gets a thorough physical very soon.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Temple

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