Chapter 2, Diagnosis

During the fall of 2013 Lorna developed a persistent cough that continued to worsen through the winter and into spring. She assumed she had bronchitis and paid little attention to it.

In April 2014 we rented a two-story condo in St. George, Utah for spring break. While there, Lorna had a difficult time going up the stairs and was not sleeping well. Just two days in to the vacation our children convinced Lorna it was time to go home and see a doctor. Upon arriving home, she made an appointment with our family physician for a blood test.

The blood test came back normal. Lorna then asked the doctor to x-ray her chest. Afterwards, while looking at the x-ray it appeared that she had an enlarged heart. The doctor scheduled an echocardiogram for Monday, April seventh.

The echocardiogram revealed that her heart was not enlarged. She had a pericardial effusion—an excessive amount of fluid around her heart. We went to Utah Valley Medical Center to have the procedure that would drain the fluid from around her heart.

Prior to the procedure, the cardiologist told us that the heart is surrounded by pericardial fluid, normally two to three tablespoons. The fluid lubricates the heart, allowing it to pump and turn with minimal friction. Normal pericardial fluid is straw-colored. He said straw colored is good; any blood in the fluid could indicate a problem.

When the cardiologist finished, he had drained—in his words—“Almost three Coke cans of fluid.”  He showed me the bag. The bag was about the size of a gallon zip- lock bag.  It was bulging, and it was all blood.

He sent the blood to the lab and sent Lorna to have an MRI.

A quick review of the MRI didn’t reveal anything unusual. Lorna was released from the hospital, and we went home.

The next day, the cardiologist called. The lab results indicated cancer, and further review of the MRI showed a small tumor, near the bottom of her left lung. The tumor had penetrated the pericardium, causing the fluid build up around her heart. He had proactively scheduled an appointment for her with an oncologist. When she hung up with the cardiologist, she immediately called the oncologist and cancelled the appointment.

A week and a half later she had a follow-up echocardiogram. As the doctor reviewed the test results, he could see no evidence of additional fluid build- up. He then said, “Okay, let’s talk about the cancer.” Lorna replied, “What cancer? I don’t have cancer. Do I look like someone who has cancer?” With a bit of a puzzled expression on his face, he said he thought that the lab results indicated cancer, and the MRI revealed a small tumor. Lorna told him the blood work at her doctor’s office had come back normal; it did not indicate anything unusual. He told Lorna that bloodwork seldom indicates cancer. He left the room for a moment to confirm the reports.

When he returned he told her the lab tests indicated cancer, and the MRI indicated a small tumor, about the size of a dinner olive, in her left lung. He strongly urged her to see the oncologist. An appointment was set for May 1, 2014.

At the appointment, the oncologist asked Lorna what she thought the problem was. She replied that she thought it was bronchitis, and she was fine now. (After she had the pericardial fluid drained, she felt energized.)

He asked her if she had been coughing up blood. She answered no. He asked her if her bones hurt, and again she answered no. (The answer to both those questions should have been “yes”). He then felt the lymph nodes in her neck and chest area.

Upon completing the exam and with the information from the MRI and the test on the blood drained from her pericardium, he carefully presented his diagnosis: stage- four lung cancer.

With therapy, ten to twelve months to live. Without therapy, six months. Lorna just stared at him in disbelief. She didn’t say another word.

I was trying to process what he said. I’m thinking, “The tumor is the size of a small dinner olive. How hard can that be to remove?” I asked him, “When you say therapy, you mean radiation and chemo?” He said “Yes.” “So ten to twelve months if she does radiation and chemo?” “Yes.” “And six months without therapy?” “Yes.”

He told us that if we wanted to get a second opinion we should go to Salt Lake City. He had reviewed her case with the other Utah County oncologists, and all were of the same opinion.

Without saying a word, Lorna stood up, walked out of the exam room through the waiting room, out of the building to the car. When I caught up with her, she said, “I never want to hear from them again. No appointments, no phone calls, no texts, no email, nothing.”

Traditional medicine gave her no choice. Her options were now faith and alternative therapies, some of which had served her and our family well in the past. She expected them to serve her well again.

She asked our children and me to not tell anyone about her diagnosis. She didn’t want people asking the what, why, how questions that would take her focus away from what she believed would heal her.

Lorna had an indomitable spirit and was project driven. To make herself well was now her project, as she said a little later in the day, “I have a whole bag of tricks to solve this problem.”