October 17th, 2008: My first normal day this week. I simply got up and went to work. Imagine! But once at work, I took a deep breath and met with my boss, Michael Wong, about my health issues. What a wonderful, supportive guy. His sole consideration was how to lighten my work so that I wouldn’t have to stress about not being able to deliver my assignments. I felt valued and cherished. This is my third contract at PG&E and it has been very healing for me to be associated with this particular group and to have worked on the assignments that I’ve been offered. It’s been creative and fun beyond all my previous experience at the utility.
On the way home, my cell phone rang a lot. First, Eileen Lemus called, then a person who I didn’t know and couldn’t understand over the chaos of the mid-afternoon bus ride. I returned their calls once I arrived home. The unknown guy turned out to be a clinic scheduler for Dr. Daud, a melanoma oncologist. Since I’d been working with sarcoma oncologists, it was clear that something had shifted. I’d been referred to Dr. Daud by Dr. O’Donnell who performed my open biopsy. We agreed to a clinic appointment, and I’ll meet the Dr. at 9:30 on Monday morning. Then, I talked to Eileen who explained that Dr. O’Donnell had called her after the biopsy and given her a thorough review of his findings during surgery. As soon as he made a slight incision in my abdomen and encountered the tumor, he recognized a melanoma, not a sarcoma. I had been misdiagnosed by the pathology labs at CPMC and UCSF. He took tissue samples and closed me up. Then, he talked to Dr. Daud about getting me into his practice. During the rest of the conversation, Eileen told me what she knew about melanoma treatments, how they can rely heavily or exclusively on chemo. After gearing up for a surgery, it turns out that I may not have one. Rather, the preferred treatment will be a tailored chemotherapy designed to take out the lesions on the liver, lungs and hopefully the pelvic growths. This is a major change of plans. And we won’t consider the path not taken: a deep pelvic surgery with metastasizing nodes on the lungs and liver.
By late in the afternoon, I was explaining this remarkable change of diagnosis to Wendy Ostrow. She brought a gift of Grandma Bessie’s cabbage rolls in roasted tomato sauce perfected with a drop of balsamic and noodle kugel; Passover food to celebrate the delivery through the Red Sea of a misdiagnosis.