THE DAY'S MAIL is heavy because of Saturday's accumulation. One of my two partners is in London, the other at his summer home on Cape Cod; so I look through their mail, too, hoping for checks and that there are no emergencies for me to look after. No checks, and no extra work. I get my correspondence and other typing done, for there is no competition for the secretaries.
Late in the afternoon my doctor calls. The week before he had removed a mole, which had become dark, from my thigh. He said he'd call if there was a problem.
"I've got some very bad news for you. The pathology report shows that the lesion was a malignant melanoma." My mind switches off the voice. "Malignant." A knot in my stomach and then churning. "It's a level 3 . . . superficial . . ." I am only hearing words without connectives. I force myself to concentrate on the caller.
"Rich, this is very serious and you should definitely see a specialist immediately." He suggests a surgeon at Georgetown. There is urgency in the tone.
"Thanks," I say. Cancer. Me? Nobody in my family has had it. I don't feel sick. Have no symptoms. Don't sun-worship. Don't work with chemicals. How could I have cancer?
I call Lonie, my wife, at home. Number busy. "That's better," I think. "I'll get organized now, tell her tonight face to face. That'll be easier." I call the director of an association of public health professionals. His deputy had a malignant melanoma last year. He'll be helpful. I tell him my news.
Again, urgency in the tone of the voice. I ask what he knows about the specialist. After consulting a reference book, he reports, "Very distinguished appointments. He's probably as good as anybody in town. From what I can read, you'll be in good hands."
I get an appointment for 3 p.m. Wednesday: two days, 48 hours. My doctor had said "immediately." I'd better be sure that's soon enough. I call and ask my doctor. He assures me I can wait two days. I go on the offensive: "You have certainly disrupted my concentration!" He becomes apologetic, but tells me again how "uptight" he was, for me.
I think about what I will say to Lonie, how I think we should behave with our two daughters at home. But I can't concentrate. I can't stop the churning. I think about how mellifluous is the name of my sickness, saying it slowly -- ma-lig-nant mel-a-no-ma -- many times over.
I go home early but not enough to arouse suspicions. I make Lonie a manhattan and a martini for myself. We talk, as usual, about the day but, with the two girls underfoot I say nothing about the only thing I want to discuss. I have a rare second martini, but dinner is late and it tastes good. After diner, I tell Lonie what has happened. She wants to know what it means and angrily wants to understand why my doctor and client had both been so alarmist. I can't comfort her.
I sleep badly.
I have a quiet day, working on my bills. Even with the distraction, I manage to do some real work.
Except for thinking about "it," I feel great. I bicycled 8 miles before 7 a.m. I ate well. I thought I was in good health, always watched my diet and weight, exercised regularly. At some point in the day, I decide all that is silly; I should instead drink at lunch, eat french fries, fatty meals, rich sauces, desserts, sleep late instead of exercise, etc., etc., etc. After all, what good had health consciousness done?
I think about my age, my children and their futures, and most of all what I had accomplished and how much more there was I want to do.
I realize that our wedding anniversary on Thursday has a cloud over it -- Lonie wouldn't want to go out for dinner. And our vacation is in jeopardy.
In the evening, I can't wait for the next day. Lonie and I talk about my feelings. She makes me feel better. Again, I sleep badly.
By 6:45 a.m., I am on my bike. Speed, attention to traffic and the riding surface all help keep my mind where it should be. By the time I get to work, however, there is no external compulsion to concentrate and I go over the questions again.
As my appointment comes closer, I begin to wonder what a cancer doctor's waiting room will look like. What ghastly, morbid, depressed beings will I see?
At 2:45, I pack my briefcase and go downstairs where Lonie is waiting, drive to Georgetown Hospital. The Vince Lombardi Cancer Center is right where I'd been told it was. A receptionist gives me a pad to sign. I look around. Most of the people waiting are like me -- healthy looking, normal people.
By the time my turn comes, there aren't many patients left. In the examining room a few minutes, the doctor says, "Hello, I'm glad to meet you." Glad to meet me . The phrase sticks in my mind. Why? Is he trying to put me at ease? Is that a habitual greeting? Or is he thinking about me as a salesman thinks about his prospects? When I greet new clients do I seem so callous? I tell him I want Lonie to hear what he has to say. He pokes at my leg, reads the pathology report I brought and calls Lonie into the room.
"Well, Mr. Landfield has a maglignant melanoma. We'll bring him into the hospital, put him to sleep and do what we call a wide excision and a skin graft. We ought to do it as soon as possible. We sometimes also remove the lymph nodes. How do you feel about that?" I am not prepared for that.
Fortunately, Lonie asks a question and he says he doesn't see any reason to do the lymph nodes but we can wait to see what the workup will show. Lonie then asks the question I'd been thinking about for days, but didn't know how to ask. "What does this mean? How is Rich going to be?" "Well, the prognosis is reasonably good. We'll remove the tumor and then follow him.The lesion is relatively small and he should be all right.There are no guarantees with this kind of thing but he should be okay."
He wants me to get the biopsy slides from my doctor. He checks his surgery schedule: next Tuesday. I say I can to it sooner if time is important. "Well, you've had this thing for some time. A few more days won't matter." We ask about our vacation. "You won't be going," he says, and adds, "I'll see you before surgery on Tuesday."
Planning the rest of the week is easy. Saturday, we'll go to the Bristol, Va., area to pick up our middle daughter Annie at camp.
More difficult is what to tell the children. We decide not to tell them I have cancer unless they ask point blank. We also have to tell them there will be no trip to Grandma's in Michigan. So the balance of the day is devoted to calling my parents and brother and Lonie's parents and her sisters.
The visit to the specialist was reassuring, because of the sights in his waiting room, his obvious self-confidence as he conducted business and because of the good, though carefully hedged, prognosis he gave.
But I hadn't been prepared for the cool, curt, dispassionate -- with no pun intended, clinical -- manner. Particularly grating was the comment that a few more days wouldn't matter. It was my life, I had thought at the time and, damn it, the few days did matter.
Lonie and I have an early dinner because there is a party and dance at our club for the children on the swimming and diving teams. I am a chaperone. Many of the parents have heard about my diagnosis -- the communications network in Washington is very efficient -- and wish me well. I solicit a copy of "The Covenant" from close friends. As usual bedtime is well after midnight and I wish Lonie a happy anniversary.
I follow my usual routine -- bicycling, cooling off on the patio with the newspaper and a cup of coffee. At work, I discuss a new project with the man who had the melanoma last year. He shows me a Merck Manual article on malignant melanoma. It has a five-year survival rate table. Though curious, I am incapable of reading the article. I begin preparations for my anticipated prolonged absence -- ironically the same as if I were going on vacation.
I talk to my doctor's office to arrange to get the slides for the surgeon; they are to be flown up from North Carolina. My partner, when I tell him, is supportive and offers to help in any way possible. I phone clients and tell our staff, one by one.
Although our anniversary should be celebrated at Lion d'Or, Lonie has invited a law school classmate and a dear friend for the evening because his family is in California and he just had a birthday.
I know that he will bring a good wine; I am not disappointed -- it is a 1964 St. Estephe. Lonie had made a wonderful osso bucco. We finish the osso bucco and nearly kill the St. Estephe when Lonie looks at him and said, "Well, has Rich told you his news?" This is a very effective, though startling, way to force me to reveal what I probably wouldn't. Peter's face drains of color. Then, as we talk, his reaction to the dreadful words changes to be consistent with our own guarded optimism.
My partner went back to the Cape the night before, so I have two secretaries to help complete my work and memos on a number of subjects: artwork for the reception area, law clerk interviews, client matters, merger negotiations we are conducting. It is well after 5:30 before I walk out the door.
Lonie has picked up the slides from my doctor's office and we take them to Georgetown Hospital.
A family dinner, cooked outside, and relatively early to bed. I am exhausted from the many nights of fitful sleep and the depressing thoughts of the week.
I dread the drive to Camp Sequoya. The Shenandoah Valley is beautiful but not dramatic enough to dominate one's thoughts.
Unbeknownst to Lonie, I had read the pathology report which accompanied the slides. Had the tumor been superficial or just a "level 3," I might be encouraged but the report said, "at least level 3." Could that mean it's level 4 or 5, I wonder. These are more serious, with considerably lower five-year survival rates.
I had written Annie that we'd arrive Sunday, so she is tearfully surprised to see us.
After a quick pizza dinner, we return to camp to see Annie dance; she is delighted that we came.
We go to church on the way to camp.I pray hard for health and understanding, though both seem remote. We arrive at Sequoya in time for the waterskiing show in which Annie is a participant.
Lonie breaks the news in private about my operation. Later, Annie and I are walking together and she asks if my leg is going to be okay. She then takes my hand and asks, "Are you going to die?" I laughingly say no and that is the last about my sickness until we tell her about the early morning pickup, explaining about my need to get to the hospital.
Back at Bristol, we drink beer by the motel pool. Every now and then my attention wanders off to the week that has passed, and to the drive home and the week to come.
I go to bed with all of the anxious thoughts of the past week but also with a little anticipation of a better week to come.