The Working Waterfront

​The merits of living on Vinalhaven when illness strikes

Cancer is a frightening diagnosis, but a caring community helps

Phil Crossman
Posted 2019-03-20
Last Modified 2019-03-20

By Phil Crossman

Late last year I began to experience a pronounced discomfort in my abdomen and, towards the end of the year, on several occasions, it became much more than simply discomfort. I was sent to the Penobscot Bay Medical Center’s emergency room in Rockport for tests. 

Thus began my way too familiar acquaintance with a pale blue hospital Johnny.

At the end of a full day of cardiograms, CT scans, sonograms, EKGs, MRIs, and so forth, of wandering from one facility to another trying to keep my Johnny secured and wondering if the image presented to those in my wake was as troubling as I imagined it to be, I was finally visited by a lovely young woman.  I gathered my Johnny around me and listened as she told me that two abnormal growths had been found on my liver and spleen.

She also said she was sorry, in such a way that left little doubt that this was serious.

I went back to the island to share the scary news and a hug with Elaine and returned the next day to undergo a biopsy of the suspect growths. This was a remarkable procedure.

Guided by an overhead sonogram, the surgeon positioned his little excavator over the growth and, having cautioned me excessively against a big noise, pulled the trigger whereupon a needle was driven to a precise depth into the tumor, withdrew a sample and moved on to the second tumor. The area had been numbed and I hardly felt anything, but I think a lot of that had to do with his warning that I not be frightened by the big noise; a clever ploy that worked.  

We went home and spent a stressful weekend and then several equally anxious days till, on Friday we were notified that it was a fast-growing lymphoma. Things moved quickly then.

I went back on Monday for a test to determine whether my heart was healthy enough to handle chemotherapy. It was, and I went straight into surgery to have a port implanted in my upper left chest, through which blood would be drawn as needed and chemo administered, for four to six months, depending on how well I tolerate it.  

The team at Pen Bay Cancer was terrific. The coordination among labs, doctors, nurses, pharmacies, specialists, scattered here and there throughout the hospital and elsewhere was kind of miraculous. The empathy, understanding, accommodation, professionalism, and just plain helpfulness were manifest.

I’ve undergone three chemo sessions, seated in one of eight, big, comfy recliners, and the cast of characters that comes and goes during the day, most for shorter treatments than my own, is often interesting.

I don’t suggest getting cancer on its own merits but if your options are limited, I strongly recommend you live in Vinalhaven for a long time before you do. I’ve written before about living in a little island community like this and about the ups and downs of acknowledging that everyone knows what you’re doing, with or to whom, where, why and so forth. Today I feel like those downsides are of no consequence.

The outpouring of love, support, good wishes, and offers of assistance have given me a warm fuzzy feeling and I don’t think that’s just because I’m the center of attention for a few minutes. 

After the last treatment, a device, programmed to administer an injection a day later, was attached to my tricep. It flashed a green light and would until its mission was accomplished, at which time it would flash red and could be removed. Getting into bed with someone who is already stressed, while flashing a green light, can certainly ease the tension.

Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven, but those beyond the island also are rooting for his full recovery.