The air conditioning was broken in their office and I was 30 minutes early. The doctor was 30 minutes late.
An hour after sitting in the chair in the exam room, sweating like a stuck pig, the doctor came in. He told me what I knew he was going to say – but hoped he wasn’t – that I had cancer.
Couple things went through my mind: why is this happening to me? What will the next few months be like? What’s going to happen to my career? What will be the impact on my quality of life? Will I have a life?
I didn’t have the balls to ask the last question…. Couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead asked what questions I was forgetting to ask that others ask and the Doctor brought that one up.
That was Tuesday, May 21, 2013. Not a great day for me. I left the doctor’s, called my parents, cried my eyes out in the car, and drove back to work. After all, I had conference calls to prep candidates every 30 minutes till 9 p.m. that evening.
This hasn’t been my favorite month. It started about 8 weeks ago when I saw myself on camera and noticed my face looked fat. I thought it was nothing — just some weight gain. A month ago, I was home with my mother and she asked, “What’s the swelling on your face for?” (Imagine it said with a hint of leftover New York accent.) Oh shit this could be “a thing.” I went to a doctor – he told me it was nothing. Probably just an infection, but 3 weeks of Advil and antibiotics didn’t help.
I kept the swelling covered up pretty well by letting my beard grow. I could tell though – especially if I saw a picture of myself.
The second doctor got a CAT scan to look at it and it showed something. She sent me to a specialist. We thought it was a stone in the salivary gland – no one had even mentioned cancer. They did an ultrasound of my face, and running the scanner over my face the doctor saw several masses in my cheek and neck. I could see them too. He looked concerned.
There was a team of doctors hovering over this device. The only times I had ever seen an ultrasound before was on TV and it usually involved pregnant women – this was decidedly not that. He told me he wanted a biopsy. Gulp. I know what that means.
We did the biopsy and a few days later I went back to get the results. That’s the day the AC was broken – May 21, 2013.
I’m lucky to have parents as supportive as mine are. It’s really amazing. They were ready to drop everything to drive me to an appointment or just be there when I got back with bad news. They are ready to do whatever I need over the next few months to fight this. I’m lucky.
I started telling a few folks. Some of my closest friends. Some family. Told my boss. Everyone was fantastic – supportive, ready to help, told me to focus on my health.
I can be a bit obsessed with work (just a bit). I’ve been a work-a-holic for about 15 years. I’m the type of person who checks news clips between 2 and 3 a.m. because I can’t wait till the morning to find out what’s going on. My phone doesn’t vibrate or beep when I get an email, I just check it often enough that I catch everything. That’s going to make this hard. One good friend put it in perspective – my JOB for the next few months is to fight cancer. I think I get that.
I told more people – some folks I work with, some long time friends from college. They were incredibly supportive.
It’s a weird conversation to have. It usually goes something like this: “Hey, I gotta tell you about some medical stuff. My face has been swelling up. I have cancer. I’m going to beat it. It’s going to suck.” Then the person I’m telling responds with “Oh my god, I’m so sorry. Let me know what I can do to help. We’re here for you.” I have no idea what to ask them to do. It’s really nice to have the offer – and there is nothing else anyone else can say – but unless you have some cancer-kicking magic machine in your purse, there isn’t much I’m going to ask you for.
Other than that, I tried to go about my normal business. I worked a lot. Went out and saw friends. No one there knew what was going on. Went to a party with reporters late into the night and a friend’s birthday party the next. It was all very normal. But in the back of mind, I couldn’t stop thinking: this is going to be the last time I do this for a while. I’d better milk it while I can. But I snuck out of the bar early from a colleague’s birthday. I wasn’t in the mood to do a round of “goodbyes.” I took the rest of the weekend to relax. Tried to keep my mind on watching TV and doing a little work. It seemed to actually work.
The last two weeks have been doctors. Some in DC, some in Richmond. Conflicting opinions and differing recommendations for treatment. I don’t like that part — I want to know what to do.
The hospital visits for opinions and reviews are surreal. I’m a bit younger than most cancer patients and I stick out like a sore thumb. On one visit I checked in at the desk in the cancer center. My full name is Jesse Franklin Ferguson. The person checking in next to me was Franklin Ferguson. He was born in 1937. We met one person there who my dad had known 10 years ago. He had spinal cancer and lymphoma. I know I should have felt bad for him, but in truth, it also reminded me that my situation could be worse.
We’ve had some good news: The cancer hasn’t spread anywhere outside my head and neck. I feel a little better because of that. Over the five days it took for the scan results to come back, I had these irrational — though explainable — concerns. Every time any part of my body hurt, I was convinced the cancer spread there. I stubbed my little toe one day and 3 days later was convinced the pain in my little toe was cancer spreading. I’m glad that’s over.
Now starts the hard part: Surgery, recovery, treatments. It could be months. I’ll be back to work when I can be, but it will be a while. I’ve got a good team at the office so they can handle things without me. I’m not worried about that. We will see how well I handle things without them.
I’ve created this blog because I’m going to want to share what’s going on with friends and family and this seems to be the best way to do it.
I’ll be taking leave from my work sometime in the next 2 weeks to begin the treatment. If I can’t give quotes and interviews about Congress all day, I’ll need something to write and talk about. I guess this will be it.
Welcome. You can reach me at Jesse@JesseFerguson.com or on twitter @JesseFFerguson. Thanks.
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