It was Sunday morning. I was 36 hours into an unexpected hospital stay. The doc, a new friend, was in my hospital room for what I thought was a casual chat with Mom, Dad, and me.
Room 217 on 4 North A had become my new apartment. It was November 8, 1998; a beautiful, sunny, crisp fall day.
My doc’s hand shook, the chat was ambiguous, my mom broke through the growing tension with, “Doctor, what do you think it is?”
No definitive tests were back, thus the ambiguity. Her tremor we now know is natural. Her answer changed my life and those who love me forever.
“Leukemia. We think Geoff has leukemia.”
We have never talked about what we were expecting to hear from Mom’s question.
The word “leukemia” sparked a numbness within me. I can see so clearly now what I was going through in the moments, hours, and days that followed. At that time it was my natural reaction to a challenge that lead. It was the combination nature and nurture in full effect.
I played that word — leukemia — over and over in my head while still remaining practical, of course. How soon can I get out? What would I do with these six hours of freedom? Would they be my last?
While one small track of my brain I played with that word, the highway inside my mind planned out the six hours.
Leave with Dad. Hit Signal Hill to ensure I see my city under the sun one last time — not that there was any doubt I would get out again, but my Dad assured me we would do whatever took to get through this.
Home to my apartment to gather my essential things — pillow, comforter, music, sweats, and computer. While there, my roommate Gunnar (nickname) comes into my room and corners me.
After a few one-liners back and forth, he it’s me with, “What do they think it is?”
I knew the answer to that question but I couldn’t get the answer out. I sat on my bed, looked up my buddy, and tried to say the word. I don’t know how long it took but it felt like hours.
And then it came. “Leukemia. They think I have leukemia.”
What a bomb I dropped on Gunnar! That bomb started an mantra in my head: “Leukemia. They think I have leukemia, and I can fucking handle that.”
The afternoon was hanging at Mom’s, supper at Dad’s with a bunch of buddies who felt something was up but had not received the news I shared with Gunnar. Back to the hospital with Mom via Signal Hill under the lights.
That afternoon gave me the space to process, to put my mental hockey gear on and get ready for the game of my life. I had no idea what was coming but I felt ready to take it on. The reality and sadness would sink in later during random late night emailing. On this day I knew my whole world changed. I’d move back home, close my business, live isolated, and fight for my life.
I can feel the determination I channeled walking back to room 217 on 4 North A.
I still feel it today, every day, as I work to help other young adults who know what it feels like to be in those shoes.