Getting my biopsy results proving I had quite an aggressive form of prostate cancer.

By Michael B Morris

There are always heart-stopping moments. It’s one of the nuances one doesn’t think about until cancer arrives. There will be tests and more tests, and tests for the rest of your life. Each one has the potential to change the trajectory of your life, usually in the form of a tidal wave of revelation.

Biopsy results, naturally, is the big Kahuna. The doctor warned me pathology took a long time, and I wouldn’t receive results for 7 to 10 days. I set my watch and my calendar to the exact day and minute my waiting time exceeded the maximum estimate. It was excruciating. Day 10 came and went — no contact with my doctor. I called his office and learned he was away from town attending a conference and wouldn’t return until after Martin Luther King Day. I learned that on Friday.

Waiting for biopsy results

On Saturday morning, Mark received a call from his friend Rita, who works in healthcare. We were still in bed, awake, drinking coffee and scrolling on our tablets. Mark explained my exasperation at having to wait through the long weekend before getting results and Rita mentioned that the healthcare portal usually provided test results even before the doctor contacted the patient.

“But I wouldn’t advise Michael doing that it until he’s spoken with his doctor,” Rita quickly added.

It’s prostate cancer, for sure

Too late. I had already logged into the healthcare portal. I had already downloaded the pathology report: Gleason 4 + 4 = 8 for six of the twelve biopsy samples taken. Gleason 4 +3 = 7 for one of the twelve biopsy samples taken. I ran to my office and called my sister. She has knowledge and experience when it comes to cancer as well as the critical thinking skills to understand what this report meant. We both stayed on the phone and began looking up information on the NIH website and other legitimate prostate cancer sites. Not good news.

Gleason scores can range from 1–10. The simple arithmetic presentation represents the highest and lowest score found in a single sample. Gleason 6 and above get the attention of urologists and oncologists. A Gleason 9 or 10 almost always means metastasis has occurred.

What it felt like to get my biopsy results

So I was mainly a Gleason 8, which means I was standing on the top of a tall cliff, my balance wobbling, close to plunging into the dark sea below. And then, there was no more information. Or I should say, there was way too much information, each tidbit requiring us to search for a term or process on another website to explain the esoteric language we were trying to comprehend. We came to a point where we couldn’t learn more, where I desperately needed to speak with the doctor.

I left a message with the on-call unit. No urologist was willing to discuss the results with me, naturally. But I persuaded them to page the doctor to see if he could call me sometime on the weekend.

It’s strange to confront anxiety so strong it is uncontrollable. Powerful swells came over me, waves smashed into my face and pushed me to the bottom where I could no longer breathe, where I hyperventilated anyway. I had no idea how to float to the top.

Gasping for air

I told Mark it was going to be a rough three days. I told him I had to get busy, distract myself from this constant, steady swells — smashing me, pulling me under. Get busy. Go for a nature walk. Go for two. Do a grocery run. We needed to hit two different stores. Drop some stuff off at Goodwill. Wrap up a few neglected errands. Keep marching.

Mark was on board. We did the best we could. Once in a while I would find myself gasping for air or holding my head in my hands. But we managed. We distracted ourselves as much as possible.

At Trader Joe’s, we loaded up with cheeses and nuts and a few frozen foods. We were doing pretty well, distracted by all the busy shoppers. As is usual for Trader Joe’s, we had a perky cashier. We exchanged light banter with her, but we were totally unprepared for her question:

“Are you having a good Saturday?”

Without thinking, we looked at the ground. Our faces must have fallen. Neither of us are attention seekers, but at that moment we were taken by surprise.

“I am so sorry for asking.”

Actually, we were sorry for reacting. This woman had asked a perfectly pleasant question — a question she might never ask anyone again.

On our way to the parking lot, I felt a light touch on my elbow. It was the cashier.

“I could tell by the look on your face something terrible has happened. I am so sorry. I just want to let you know that things will get better.”

We still had two and a half days to wait for the doctor.

Editor’s notes: This post first appeared in Medium.