Bren and I found ourselves at UCC House, a purpose-built cancer clinic, sitting adjacent to The Princeton Hospital in Sydney on Friday, the 13th of June. In hindsight, that was not a date for the superstitions. Fortunately, we weren’t superstitious.
The clinic wasn’t hospital-y, making it easier to be there. We were worried as we walked through the large sliding glass doors at the front of the building and made our way to level two — for Brens’ first clinic consult. With 30 minutes to spare, after a smooth four-hour drive, we grabbed a coffee from the ground-floor cafe on our way past.
We knew the pain in his right leg was a mass inside the bone and were scared and anxious about what it might be. We were among strangers in unfamiliar surroundings. We had no reason to spend much time in the city in recent years. North had always been our favourite direction. Feeling a little rudderless so far from home, our kids and family, we sat to wait for our call — quietly apprehensive.
“Brendan Maloney?” said an unfamiliar female voice.
She waved us to her and stood waiting to introduce herself. Her manner was friendly but a matter of fact. There was a sense of urgency in her voice and an air of friendly professionalism. She had a job to do, and it was an important one.
“I’m Sandra, Dr Brachs’ CNC,” she said (I would google what that meant later). “I will liaise with you on all matters regarding your appointments. If you have any questions, you can reach me by email or at this number.” Sandra handed Bren her card as we walked toward treatment room 4.
Dr Brach was sitting at a small desk in front of a computer and stood to shake Brens’ hand as we entered the room.
“Hello, Brendan, I’m Dr Brach; you can call me Thomas,” he said.
“Nice to meet you,” Bren said, “this is Callie, my wife.”
Dr Brach reached across and shook my hand with a smile. He was far more relaxed than Sandra. He was a tall, solid and imposing man — with a bit of softness around the edges. His grey hair and spectacles gave him a grandfatherly air that quickly warmed us to him.
Niceties over, the conversation soon changed to why we were there. There was a room the size of a small auditorium on the other side of the corridor, full of patients waiting to be seen. And they all looked as worried as us. Our consult slot was information-rich and time-poor. And it was easy to understand why efficiency was needed when you saw how many patients were in the waiting room. Even so, we felt unrushed.
“Brendan, if this is as nasty as it looks, there is reason to hope for a good recovery. The spectrum of possibilities for what I think it might be — starts at highly treatable,” Dr Brach said, wrapping things up.
“Ok then,” Bren said, nodding.
The mass was confirmed, but the type of cancer was still to be determined. A biopsy would be organised, and the results would tell us if it was benign or malignant. And that would determine what the treatment plan would be.
As we got up to leave, Dr Brach shook Bren by the hand, laying a comforting hand on his shoulder as he did. “We’ll know more after the biopsy results, Brendan,” he said.
He then looked at me and smiled, “medicine has come a long way, and people are living with cancer now just like they do with heart disease.”
He handed me a tissue when tears started to roll down my cheeks. He smiled at Bren and nodded in my direction.
“It’s at this point they cry — every time,” he said, looking at me kindly. “Let’s see what the biopsy tells us, and we’ll go from there. Sandra will keep you informed about when that will be.”
We were in the car and heading home by 2pm. I could smell dinner wafting through the front door, beaten to the car only by two excited 10-year-olds as we pulled into our driveway. I quietly thanked the Lord for Margarets’ cooking, even though I’m not religious. It had been a long day.
“I got an award today for spelling,” Tyz said proudly, swinging my arm back and forwards by the hand as we walked in the front door. Bades was helping his dad carry all the pamphlets and paperwork they had sent home with us from the clinic.
Margaret was busy dishing up dinner as we bustled into the living area. Bren walked over, put his arm around her shoulders, and pinched a baked potato off a plate, kissing her cheek as he did.
“I’ve saved the shank for you,” she said, smiling.
“Don’t tell the kids,” he said, laughing; they’ll crash-tackle me for it.
“What is it,” they said almost at the same time.
“Mind your beeswax,” he laughed, “Nan was talking to me.”
I smiled at Margaret thankfully as I set the table. It was good to be home.