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I am having regrets.

I joined E2 a while ago but have been a lurking occasional presence. Now I am full of regrets as the invitee, my sister, is sick and I am frightened. I am wishing that I had joined the community that is so important to her a long time ago. This is just a blatant howl for intimacy with her. Get closer to the group and feel closer to her. She is so brave to go through the treatment again. Cancer of course.

So what does this have to do with flank pain? Do you know where your flank is? Flank is a word that is used for people mostly by doctors. I don't hear parents saying to their toddlers: "Where is your nose? Point to your nose! Where is your ear? Where is your bellybutton? Where is your flank?" Other than doctors, the word flank is used for animals or meat. Flank steak or a horse's flank. However, flank is one of those terms that is used in medical terminology and is part of the language. I got in trouble in medical school for using the wrong language: I said that a prostate felt "squishy" and was corrected by the resident: "Boggy! Boggy is the correct term!"

At any rate, I saw a woman with flank pain. I ruled out a kidney infection, which is a common cause, and then set up a CT scan to look for kidney stones. I got a call from the radiologist. It was not kidney stones: a mass instead, approximately 3 by 7 cm. The radiologist asked me to tell her, he didn't really feel comfortable. I went straight to radiology and told her. I cried. It can't be reassuring, having your doctor cry, but I explained that this could be benign or could be a cancer and that the crying was really about my sister, not about her. My sister had cancer that had come back and I was worried about her. I apologized to the woman for crying and said that I hoped I wasn't scaring her. (How silly. Of course one is scared when told that one has a mass, a tumor, it might be cancer. I try to walk the fine line of being truthful without being too overwhelming. Being kind. I'm not sure anyone hears anything that first day once I've said mass and cancer anyhow.)I called her husband to explain to him too. We then ordered a slightly different CT scan and she needed labs first. The radiologist said that the second CT didn't look like a typical kidney cancer, so that was slightly hopeful. I talked to the urologist and got her set up with him. She went home after the second CT so I called her to explain the referral. She was dismayed that she wouldn't know what it was right away and that she might not know until a biopsy was done. She did very well. She was still in the stunned shocky phase.

I just wasn't expecting it. Or perhaps right now I would cry telling anyone about a possible cancer. It is not fun but it is very real. Stripped to the heart of human vulnerability, a moment when mortality is present in the room and when life suddenly changes. We never know when a moment like that will happen to us. I cried because I had just had those moments: when my sister said the PET scan showed 6 enlarged lymph nodes and then again when she called and said that the biopsy was positive, the cancer was back, and my life changed in that moment. I cried out of sympathy.

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