Nothing truly prepares you for hearing that your loved one has the dreaded C.
Health Life

When Your Significant Other Gets a Significant Diagnosis

Nothing truly prepares you for hearing that your loved one has the dreaded C.

By Lauren Salkin of Think Spin

My husband, son and I sit in the urologist’s waiting room. It’s New Year’s Eve; a skeleton staff runs the office. I hope it isn’t a prognostic metaphor.

After several minutes, a nurse appears and herds us off to a conference room, down a private hall.

This can’t be good.

“Just another ten minutes,” she chirps and then shuts the door.

We’re in pre-diagnostic purgatory. A large conference table, stacked with pamphlets, takes up most of the room. When we squeeze into high back chairs to sit, they smack the wall. Behind us hangs a diagram of the prostate and male anatomy. Across from it, a white erasable marker board stares blankly at the room.

I swerve around in my chair to study the diagram. One of the sweat glands is called a secretary. I wonder if she brings the other body parts coffee.

Mindless brain chatter keeps me from thinking about why we are here.

“This is nothing,” my husband blurts out in an attempt to convince himself that a positive diagnosis is forthcoming.

I wish he were right. But this is definitely something. Why else would the doctor put us in a room with an erasable marker board and all those pamphlets?

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been learning prostate cancer lingo because my husband’s blood test had a PSA score of 17, which is high. In urology circles, PSA is an acronym for “prostate specific antigen,” not “public service announcement.”

I stare at the white board across the room and let my thoughts take a trip someplace warm, possibly the Bahamas …but only for a moment (or so it seems). I return when my son stirs in the seat next to me. He nervously flips through a pamphlet.

“This is NOT good,” he says, echoing my thoughts. “All these pamphlets on the table.”

“It’s probably nothing.” My husband again tries to change the inevitable.

“It’s definitely something,” my son fires back, then checks his watch. “We’ve been waiting a half an hour.”

That long?

“This place blows.”

“I don’t like it either.”

“Cut them some slack,” my husband interrupts. “It’s 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve,” giving them the benefit of the doubt.

All I have is doubt.

“This is wrong.” My son jumps up. “I’m going to find out how much longer.”

The door bangs behind him as he leaves.

I grab a pamphlet and start reading it. My eyes blur from all the numbers and medical words. It’s unintelligible scary. I drift back to the Bahamas but take the red eye home when the door swings open and my son plops in his seat.

“Ten more minutes.”

We can only hope.

My husband posts to his Facebook wall while my son plays a game on his phone.

I look for more interesting words on the prostate diagram but can’t find any. Another head-trip may be imminent. As I prepare to leave, activity in the hall stops me. An exchange of muffled words and an audible ,”Yes, Doctor,” then one set of footsteps pads toward the room.

The door opens and a kid in a white coat steps inside.

My mother warned me about skewed perceptions as you get older.

“Hello!” My husband smiles as if he’s seen an old friend.

Doctor takes a seat at the head of the table next to my husband to his left. I sit one seat over from him, next to my son.

“This is my wife and son.” My husband gestures like a magician.

Doctor nods without smiling. This isn’t a social call.

I already know the diagnosis by the look on Doctor’s face. Poker’s not his forte.

Doctor adjusts his glasses. “Let me walk you through the results…”

A litany of medical words spew from his mouth, none of them good. All of them precede the declaration, “You have prostate cancer.”

Sound leaves the room.

“These are your options.” Doctor grabs a marker and scribbles on the board.

It’s time for the presentation portion of the program.

“The cancer is here.” He draws a picture.

His drawing sucks.

“We recommend surgery for younger men your age.”

A backhanded compliment?

“Surgery entails…. blah, blah, blah… And the recovery…”

The room disappears.

“How are your erections?”

The room reappears, and I remember our son is here. Did he just ask about erections? Did my husband just answer him?

My son and I squirm in our seats.

The phrase “body scans” takes the edge off the bedroom talk.

“What are the chances it hasn’t spread?” my husband asks.

“About 90 percent, but I can’t give you a definite answer.”

Of course you can’t.

Doctor scrawls something on a business card and hands it to my husband.

We walk out the door with an armful of pamphlets and a positive (malignant) test result.

I never understood opposite medical talk. How can a positive be a negative? There’s nothing positive — yet. Two weeks later we find out my husband’s CAT scans are clean. The cancer hasn’t spread to his lymph glands or bones. Only the biopsy report after the surgery will seal the deal in a few days. Until then, life’s a cliffhanger.

I try to hold onto those take-for-granted moments: a bathroom door closing, footsteps thudding toward bed.

One day you could blink and all that you love could be gone … except for the pictures and memories and armful of pamphlets.

This piece was originally published on The Huffington Post.


About Lauren Salkin

Lauren lives in Connecticut with her husband, son and two mutts. Her essays have appeared in various newspapers as well as in The Huffington Post, ByLine Magazine, Front Porch Syndicate,, and Her noir short story “Priming Pamela” was published in Shroud Magazine. Lauren writes humor at her blog Think Spin. Follow her onĀ Twitter, Facebook, and Google +.