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Her heels clicked against the slate tile floor as she walked into the tall building. The sound echoed hollowly. It was odd that she seemed to be the only one around, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. She stepped into the elevator. Punched the button for the eighth floor...where her doctor's office was located. Doctor of oncology, to be precise.
Two years ago, she'd found a lump in her breast. Her world had been turned upside down that day. Her worst fears had been confirmed when a biopsy had confirmed that the lump was cancerous. After listening to the doctor listing her options, she had chosen the least 'invasive' of the treatments available to her. She'd entered the hospital, and undergone a lumpectomy. Her breast had a small scar from the procedure, but it was still there. She'd gone through the associated radiation treatments. Been declared cancer free. And she had picked up her life right where it had stopped the day she'd been told she had breast cancer.
That she now underwent exams and mammograms four times a year was a small price to pay. She'd just had her second mammogram for the year, and was about to learn the results. Which, she told herself, couldn't be good. Not if the nurse had made an appointment for her to see Dr. Kulodochuk. Top oncologist in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area. If there wasn't a problem, she'd have received a letter stating that her mammogram had been normal.
The closer the elevator moved to the eighth floor, the more she began to shake. It had come back. Somehow, she knew it. She'd known the minute she'd gotten the phone call. She glanced at her watch. Wished she'd taken up Bob's offer to be with her. She reached for her cellphone. No doubt her husband would drop whatever he was doing and be here as soon as possible. No...the drive across town was thirty minutes, at least.
And if he was in the middle of a throw, he couldn't just stop it now, could he? There were times she wished he hadn't left the realty firm for which he'd worked for years; where he'd quickly made partner, and a very nice salary. He was good at selling houses. No high pressure. He just had a knack for putting the right buyer with the right house.
She'd thought he was joking the night he'd told her that he'd always wanted to become a potter. But then he'd shown her the catalog. With a potter's wheel and a kiln and several other items carefully circled in red marker. Then he'd explained that he needed something for him...something that 'fed his soul'. She'd nearly told him that she'd like to have the same thing...but realized just in time that if she'd said that, he would have encouraged her to find that 'something'. And she didn't want to face the fact that she had no idea what that 'something' might be. So, she had acquiesced. Certain that it was just a phase. An early mid-life crisis.
At first it had been just a hobby. But when friends began asking him to make pieces for them like the ones he'd made for her, he decided to take a few to a local farmer's market. He'd been sold out of pieces by noon. So he'd made more, and returned the following month. And had made enough in that day to cover the cost of his supplies, and have a bit left over. He started a website, began to take orders. The next thing she knew, he'd moved his 'hobby' from their garage into a studio near the river. And made a decent living at what he truly loved to do. But he wasn't always available for orthodontist appointments, or teacher's meetings. Couldn't pick his son up from band practice at a moment's notice. If he was in the middle of working on a piece, he wasn't able to just stop.
Sometimes she thought she was simply jealous that he was able to do what he loved, and get by with it. Then she realized that his 'hobby' had become his 'job'. He still loved it, or at least he claimed to. But he wasn't as starry-eyed over the venture. He'd always been an astute businessman. Perhaps, she thought with a sigh, he'd simply managed to combine what he was good at, and what he enjoyed. If only everyone could be so lucky.
Lucky. How lucky had it been that their lives had been turned upside down by her cancer? How lucky had it been that it had happened shortly after he'd quit selling real estate. Just before he'd had time to find medical insurance for them. Now...insurance was so expensive for her that they had decided that a 'catastrophic' policy was the best that they could afford. It would pay for the hospital stays. The chemo. The radiation. If she became sick again...if the cancer returned.
She took a deep breath. Stepped out of the elevator. Smiled at the receptionist. Gave her name and appointment time. And hoped like hell she wouldn't have to wait long to get the news. The bad news that she knew was coming.
Her heart was beating so fast! She tried to consciously relax, willed her racing heart to slow down. But her mind continued to torment her. The cancer was back. She was going to lose a breast, she just knew it! Other cancer survivors had bluntly told her that she was too attached to the appendages. That she correlated her beauty, her femininity, her very womanhood to her breasts. That she didn't want the horrendous scars, the empty bra cup simply because she was far too hung up on appearances.
Were they right? Surely not! After all, her life had been on the line when she'd made the decision to have the lumpectomy. The doctor had assured her that the lump was small, and that the procedure would be a complete success. And it had been. Without leaving her disfigured. She knew that Bob had been pleased with her decision. He'd always been a 'boob man', as he called himself. He loved her breasts; he'd declared that fact to her many times during their marriage. That they were a bit larger now, not quite as firm as they had been when she had been twenty...or thirty...or even forty...was something he didn't seem to mind.
She jumped slightly at the sound of her name. Hadn't realized she'd been so deep in thought. She rose on slightly unsteady feet. "Yes?"
"This way, please."
The nurse led her down a hallway, past the examination rooms. Three doors were closed, four others were open. Into the office where she had sat the first time she had been told she had breast cancer. The paneled walls hadn't changed. The bookcases that lined two of those walls were still filled with a collection of medical journals and a few art pieces that Dr. Kulodochuk had told her briefly about. His degree was still hanging beside the door. His desk was still in front of the floor to ceiling windows that made up one full wall, offering a breathtaking view of the Twin Cities. There were still two brown leather chairs in front of that huge walnut desk.
She sank into one of the chairs. Wasn't sure whether it was the same one she'd been in before. Wondered for just a moment if it mattered...if she sat in the same chair, she'd hear the same horrible news. If she didn't, then this would be just a false alarm. Or maybe the doctor was going to discuss her schedule of exams and tell her that it was time to reduce the number of times she came in...
"Rachel! I hope you haven't been waiting long!" The doctor was a short, stocky man. His Ukrainian heritage apparent in more than just his name. His light blue eyes were guarded, although his smile was warm. He held out his hand, shook hers firmly. He settled into his leather executive chair before speaking again. "I have the results of your last mammogram."
"Is it clear?"
The doctor frowned. "I'm afraid not. We've detected a small mass near the lower left inner quadrant of your right breast. We almost missed it, because of the location. I'd like to have a CT scan done, to see if the mass is wholly in the breast tissue, or if it's attached to the chest wall."
"Is that a bad thing? If it's attached, I mean," Rachel asked.
"It can be. This time there's no question but that we'll have to remove the entire breast."
Her heart fell to her feet. Scarred. She'd be scarred. Have no right breast at all. Even a partial mastectomy would be better! She'd read articles in medical journals that spoke of surgeries that could remove the affected tissue, and then the breast could be closed and the nipple put back into place. There would be a loss of sensation, but...
"I've scheduled you for a CT scan tomorrow afternoon."
"So soon?" There was always breast reconstruction. Or even the prostheses that gave the illusion of breasts being where they belonged. But...either way, it was still just a substitute. It wouldn't be the same as having her own breast.
"Rachel, you've had breast cancer before. If this is cancer, we need to get it taken care of immediately."
Her ears perked up, her heart rose slightly. "It might not be cancer?"
"There's always a chance of it being benign. I don't hold out much hope for that being the case this time."
Heart back into her feet. At least, she sighed silently, he wasn't trying to sugarcoat the situation. He was being bluntly honest, as a matter of fact. She'd appreciate that trait later. When she'd had time to think about it. "How soon would you have to..." she took a deep breath. "How soon would you operate?"
"No later than Friday."
My god, he isn't giving me any time! None at all! She had to think about this! She had to come to terms with losing her breast! Damn it, she needed time!
"I know that seems fast, but the sooner it's removed, the sooner we can get you into chemo, and the sooner your treatment will end. You've had radiation, you're not a candidate for that treatment a second time."
"But will the chemotherapy work?"
"The regimen we would put you on has a ninety percent success rate," Dr. Kulodochuk replied gently.
Ninety percent. Which meant that for ten percent of his patients, it didn't work. Would she be in that smaller percentage? And if she was, then what would happen?
"So, I'll see you at the hospital tomorrow. Don't worry, Rachel. You've fought and won before. This time the battle is going to be a bit more...involved...than just a simple lumpectomy, radiation and chemo. And you'll have to have mammograms every two months for awhile, rather than every three.
She shivered slightly. It was difficult enough to pay for the tests four times a year. To increase that number to six...Bob wasn't going to be pleased about this, she just knew it.
"I want you to go home, relax, have a light dinner. I know it's difficult to do, but try not to think about this. Worry will only make things worse."
She nodded numbly. Not worry. Yeah. Right. That would happen. Not! She'd obsess over the situation. Unless she was actually successful in pushing it completely from her mind. She wasn't about to tell the kids. Not yet. Julie had just started her new job in Chicago. Getting time off would be problematic at best. Not to mention the fact that Warren had just taken time off to get them moved into their new condo. And Chris was a senior at the University of Minnesota. She was studying for her finals. No way was she telling her. She thought about Toby. He was fifteen now. He had such a hectic schedule, what with school and band practice and then his karate lessons and being on the freshman debate team...She'd call Carla Burton, she knew that her neighbor would be willing to take Toby to school, and pick him up after band practice...there wasn't a karate lesson until Saturday afternoon...
Dr. Kulodochuk smiled. "I just asked if you'd like a few moments alone? I know this is a shock for you."
She stood to her feet. Amazed that her legs, as wobbly as they felt, were able to support her. "No, thank you for the generous offer, though. I need...I need to tell Bob."
"Yes, you do."
"What time is the appointment?"
The doctor checked the notes in the medical file. "Two p.m. You should plan to arrive at about one-thirty, to check in."
She nodded. "One-thirty, at the hospital. I'll be there."
"Good. I'll call you with the results as soon as I have them, and we'll plan our strategy from there."
Peachy...just peachy. 'They' would 'plan their strategy'. That was how the good doctor viewed the task of putting a patient on the path to health. As if it were a war to be won. She wasn't fully convinced that he was wrong. Cancer was certainly an enemy, and the most aggressive enemy known to man. She smiled...or at least, she was pretty sure she had. Shook the doctor's hand. Then made her way back to the parking garage. She didn't even think about having her parking ticket validated.
The car was warm. She turned on the engine, cranked up the air conditioning. Sat there until she was shivering. Oh, God not again! Not cancer! Her hand went to her breast. The breast she was about to lose. No! It wasn't fair! She'd already beaten that damned disease once! It wasn't fair! She didn't want to lose her breast! She wrapped her arms around the steering wheel, lowered her head and began to sob.
A A A A A A
The thought of fixing dinner was almost more than she could cope with. She stopped at the grocery store on the way home. Picked up a frozen entree...just a simple lasagna. A loaf of French bread, and a ready to eat salad. She hesitated beside the display of wine. Gave in and grabbed a bottle of cabernet. She needed it!
It wasn't until she'd put the car in the garage did she realize that for a few minutes, she'd actually been able to forget about her prognosis. Maybe, just maybe, she could forget again. Just a few minutes at a time. Wasn't that what she had learned in her support group? Take the day just a few minutes at a time.
Bob was in the family room - feet up, shoes off - watching television when she walked through the door, two shopping bags in hand. "Hey, Hon."
"Hi. You're home early."
"I finished up that big order, shipped it off and decided I'd earned a couple hours off."
"Does the boss know?" she teased.
"Nope. But I won't tell him if you don't," he grinned. He padded into the kitchen. "So how was your appointment with Doctor K?"
She put down the bags. Pulled out the wine. Searched for the corkscrew. "I'm scheduled for a CT scan tomorrow at two. I have to be there thirty minutes early to check in."
He froze, the box of lasagna nearly falling from his hands. "What?"
She fumbled to get the bottle open. Reached for a glass, filled it. Took a long sip. "It's back," she whispered.
He tossed the entree onto the counter, reached for his wife. Held her close. "No...no...no..." he murmured. "We'll have another test done. It can't be back. You beat it!"
Denial. The first phase, she thought numbly. "Doctor Kulodochuk says the lump is in the back of my breast, it might be attached to the chest. He said-"
Bob tucked a finger beneath her chin, forced her to look at him. "He said?"
"They'll have to take the entire breast. The right one."
He nodded. "Then a round of chemo? You'll be okay then, right? It will be over after the chemo?"
"Bob, he's taking my breast."
"I heard that part."
"Don't you care?"
"Not really. They can take both, as long as you're alive and healthy, that's all that matters to me," he replied.
She looked up into his hazel brown eyes. "I love you," she said softly.
"I love you, too." He let go of her when she moved away. "You were afraid I was going to freak out over this?"
"Maybe a little."
"Rach, I love your boobs. But I love you more."
"But I'll be scarred and hideous-"
"That's not true! You'll be alive and beautiful and I'll love you more than ever."
"It's easy to say that now, while they're still here," she said, looking down at her ample bosom. "Wait until they're gone, and there are nothing but surgical scars where they once were."
"At least you won't stretch out the front of my tee shirts when you borrow them," he retorted.
She stared at him. Started to laugh. Hiccupped, and then began to cry again.
"Aw, Rach. C'mere, honey."
Wrapped in her husband's arms, she cried out her fears. Her anger. Noted that he held tightly until the final shudders had passed. "Are you hungry?"
"A little. Better fix this. It's thawed by now," he said, nodding toward the box on the counter.
A A A A A A
They had dinner. Watched television, holding one another on the pillow-backed sofa that took up one wall of the family room. Drank the bottle of wine. Toby called to them when he came through the front door, they could hear him stomping up the stairs to his room.
"Should we tell him now?" Bob asked quietly.
Rachel shook her head. "Let's just wait until we know more about what's going on."
"The girls should know."
"If there's anything to tell them. Chris is in the middle of mid-terms. I'm not about to drop this on her now, and Julie is so busy...Let's just wait and see before we panic everyone."
He nodded. "Okay."
"The doctor said he'd call as soon as he had the results."
Bob frowned. "And if it's there?"
"He wants to schedule the surgery for Friday."
There was more to it. There had to be. When that lump had been found in her breast the last time, it had been a full three weeks before the actual lumpectomy had been performed. If Dr. Kulodochuk was going to move so fast, there had to be more. More that he hadn't told Rachel. And that thought scared the hell out of him.
A A A A A A
Rachel lay awake, watching as the moonlight danced across the ceiling of the bedroom. Bob had made love to her so tenderly, so beautifully...and, she thought, with a hint of amusement, he had completely ignored her breasts. He kissed and nibbled her neck and throat. He'd kissed and nibbled her belly. And they hadn't indulged in oral sex in ages. It had been wonderful...sexy and sensuous and when he'd finally shifted on top of her, he'd kissed her just like he'd done when they'd first started sleeping together.
He was, she realized, trying to prove to her that he'd still love her...sans breasts. But they were still there. Her nipples had been hard and had grazed his chest as he moved on top of her. When they weren't there...when only ugly scars remained...what then?
They were going to take her breast. 'They'. Dr. K and his surgical team. Faces she had seen before, names she had never known. They would sedate her, wheel her into the operating room, and hack at her body. Just how did they go about doing that, anyway? Just open a flap in the skin and just...cut it out? Doesn't matter how. The result will be no breast, and an ugly red scar where it should be.
It wasn't fair! She'd beaten cancer! It wasn't supposed to come back! Not in her perfectly organized, carefully planned world! She took a deep breath. I can do this. I have to do this, she thought.
What she needed, she decided, was to get back into her therapy group. She'd stopped going regularly after she'd been cancer free for a year. She was a cancer survivor, and she'd had no desire to continue to rehash those awful days when she'd been so scared and so sick, when her hair had fallen out and just walking across the house had left her exhausted. She hadn't wanted to dwell on that. She hadn't cared that 'new patients' needed to hear from survivors. She just hadn't had the strength to deal with a burden like that. Let the others...Mona and Debbie and Terri...let them counsel and advise and be there for those middle of the night calls when the pain from the radiation was so bad that ending it all seemed like a logical choice.
Now...now she needed them again. The women who had been there to answer her questions, to listen to her fears...her worries. To help her when she was at her lowest point. Guilt poked at her...forcing her to admit that she had used their strength to deal with her own crisis. This time...she took a deep breath. This time, maybe she'd stick around. No doubt losing her breast would take longer to recover from, emotionally if not physically, than a simple lumpectomy. She'd call Mona first thing in the morning. And hope that the woman would still be willing to talk to her.
A A A A A A
After rousting their teenaged son from bed, since it seemed his alarm clock wasn't doing the job, Bob padded back down the hallway to the room he shared with his wife. She was already in the shower. He glanced at the bed as he walked by, on the way to the master bathroom. Last night had been...nice. No, better than that. It had been great. It had been a long time since they had indulged in such intimate love-making.
He stepped into the shower behind her. "Morning, beautiful."
"Bob!" She turned around. Couldn't help but smile at the satisfied smirk on his face. "Last night was wonderful."
"Yes it was. I'd like to ask you to keep Saturday night open...if you can. Just you and me."
"As long as I'm not in the hospital."
His heart thudded against his chest at the reminder. "Of course, I meant if you aren't. If you are, then the first night you're feeling up to it."
"I'll write it in my date book," she smiled.
"Good. I'll meet you at the hospital. I need to check orders that might have come in during the night."
"I've been thinking about pulling the site down for a few days. I can just post a notice about being on vacation or something. I haven't done that since I started this."
"I think..." she paused, ran her fingers through the wiry hair on his chest. "I think I'd like that. I can't do this without you," she whispered.
"Together, every step of the way," he said softly in return.
She was still terrified. Had the sinking feeling that things were about to go very badly. She'd been telling him the truth. She couldn't do it without him. Rushing through her regimen, she finished up, kissed his shoulder as she moved past him, then hurried to pull on sweats and a tee shirt. She'd dress for her appointment as soon as Toby and Bob were on their way to school and work. Hopefully she wouldn't fall apart before the then.
It was nearly ten-thirty when she picked up the phone, searched for her address book, and settled on the sofa in the living room. She had made the beds. Vacuumed the floors. Taken a steak out of the freezer for dinner. Straightened the family room. Trying to avoid making the call she knew she had to make...needed to make. As much as she needed Bob through this ordeal, she'd need the support of this group of women as well. She flipped through the pages, found the number she was looking for. Trembling fingers dialed...she waited breathlessly for an answer.
"Hello, Mona. It's Rachel. Rachel Ward. I...I..." Her voice cracked, and she took a shuddering breath.
"Oh, honey." Her voice was full of compassion. Understanding. "When did you find out?"
"CT scan today. If it's what the doctor suspects, I'll go into the hospital for a mastectomy tomorrow."
"Do you need me to be there?"
Rachel smiled. "No. But thanks for the offer. Bob will be there."
"I could still be there...for both of you."
"I...I think I'd like that."
"I have to be there at one-thirty."
"Regions or St. Joseph's?"
"I'll be there. Now, tell me what's been going on with you."
By the time Rachel ended the call, it was almost noon. She was caught up on what had been happening in Mona's life, as well as the highlights of Debbie's life. Terri, it seemed, had finally decided to live her dream, and had moved to a little house on the beach in Florida. She fixed a peanut butter sandwich, then hurried to get dressed. She wanted to get it all over with. So that she could get on with her life.
A A A A A A
She had to smile when Mona walked into the waiting area. The only thing that had changed about her was the color of her hair. She didn't think she'd ever seen a brighter, more vibrant shade of red on a woman's head. It was typical Mona. The two women hugged tightly, and then Mona turned and hugged Bob as well.
"I hate the thought of losing my breast," Rachel admitted.
Mona patted her hand. "So did I, honey. I was very attached to the girls. Until it came time to decide between life and death. I have to say, after I got over the shock of not having them, I haven't actually missed them. Did you know I can see my belly button? Unobstructed view now."
Rachel laughed out loud. "That would be...different."
"And I save a fortune on bras."
She shifted slightly. One of her indulgences had always been pretty, sexy underwear. To not be able to wear the sexy, lacy bras...
"You can always use the cup fillers, and wear whatever bra you want," Mona said, instinctively knowing what the younger woman was thinking. "Eventually, you won't need them...you'll do just fine without them."
Eventually. How long? A year? Five years? Ten years? Would she even live that long? If the cancer had come back so soon, less than two years after the lumpectomy, who could guarantee that it wouldn't return again...and again?
Her heart leapt to her throat. Bob stood with her, hugged her tightly.
"I'm right here, Rach, and I'm not going anywhere," he whispered.
With a nod, forcing a smile she didn't feel, she followed the nurse to the CT room. She was led to a small closet-sized room, given a hospital gown, instructed to disrobe completely, and put the gown on. Familiar routine. And that, she thought, was just depressing.
A A A A A A
The scan seemed to take forever. She could hear two voices murmuring in the control room. Twice she had heard the words, 'scan that again'. Which, in her mind, couldn't be a good thing.
A glance at her watch when she put it back on had her shaking. Two hours! Why had a simple chest scan taken two hours? Her fears increased when she was escorted to the phlebotomy lab as soon as she had finished dressing, and two vials of blood were taken. This is wrong, she screamed silently. This isn't supposed to be happening again! I beat cancer, it can't be back!
Escorted back to the waiting room by one of the techs, who smiled just a bit too brightly, she thought, she was told that the doctor would be calling her as soon as the results were 'confirmed.' Which tests? The blood tests? The scan results?
Bob and Mona were on their feet, waiting for her. "What took so damned long?" Bob asked, wrapping her in his arms.
"I don't know," she admitted. "They took blood, too."
Mona said nothing. Put put her arms around their shoulders. "One step at a time. One skirmish at a time."
It sounded so easy. It was the most difficult thing she'd ever done. One step at a time. One minute at a time. And try to forget the fact that death is looming just around the corner.
A A A A A A
When the call came, it was simply to request that she, and her husband, come to Dr. Kulodochuk's office for a meeting. At five-thirty. His office closed at five-thirty. This was not going to be good. She just knew it. She called Bob, who told her to stay put, that he'd pick her up. He knew it, too. She'd be in no condition to drive home after she received the bad news.
Rachel paced, from one room to the next, feeling as if her life was tumbling completely out of control. There was a difference, she realized, from the panic and the anger and the worry that she had dealt with the first time she had been faced with breast cancer. This felt...worse. There was a finality to this...she was, she was certain, going to die.
Her thoughts took a turn, her memory bringing up things from her childhood; places, people...even toys that she had completely forgotten about. A favorite doll. The first dog her family had owned. Trips to Grandma and Pappy's house. Family vacations to Pappy's cabin. High school...lord, those had been good years! She'd had so much fun in high school. She'd managed to complete one semester of college before dropping out for an 'M-R-S degree'.
She remembered meeting Bob. Falling in love. Getting married. Getting pregnant the first time, almost immediately after the wedding...a result no doubt of the fact that they no longer felt a need to use birth control...and the second time, not quite thirteen months after Julie had been born. Having two in diapers. The shock of learning she was pregnant with Toby. Bob's delight in having a son. The years she'd worked as a receptionist in the realtor's office where he was an up-and-coming agent.
No regrets. Not even for never completing her education. She had her husband. Her children. She'd lived a blessed life, she knew that. No regrets.
Her memory assailed her with images. Feelings. She pushed them away. Not her fault. She'd done her part...she'd reached out. What had happened...was not her fault. She might still be angry, but she had no regrets.
Time seemed to have slowed to crawl. And then suddenly, Bob was standing in the kitchen, asking her if she was ready to go. She wasn't. But she really didn't have a choice, did she?
The thought that she needed to search for a good funeral home skittered across her mind as she settled into the seat of Bob's Mustang. What a depressing thought. Too damned many depressing thoughts today. She shoved it away with all her might. She decided that she would spend the weekend relaxing. She was going to finish the book she'd started reading almost two months earlier. The weather was beautiful...it was rare for the days to be so mild and sunny the first few days of March...she'd sit on the deck in the sunshine and read. And not think about anything else. Certainly wouldn't think about the fact that she had cancer. Again.
A A A A A A
Dr. Kulodochuk was waiting in his office for them. He ushered them inside. Waited until they were seated to settle in his chair. He folded his hands on his desk, studied them for a moment.
"How bad?" Rachel asked, her voice quavering.
The doctor looked at her. "Worse than we thought."
Ohgodohgodohgodohgod! No! Suspecting, even expecting the worst made it no easier to face. "How bad?" she asked again.
"There's a squamous cell carcinoma in the middle lobe of your right lung. Which is invading the lower, inner quadrant of the right breast."
"Translation?" She sounded bitchy. She didn't care.
"The lump in your breast is just the 'tip' of a larger tumor. One that has attached itself to the middle lobe of your lung. That tumor appears to be growing into the lung, rather than into the breast."
"So what does that mean?" Bob asked, his voice hoarse with emotion.
"At this point in time, we don't believe removing the breast will significantly improve the situation. We can remove that part of the tumor that's inside the breast."
She wouldn't lose her breast! They weren't going to take it...which meant...The rest of what the doctor had said...or rather, hadn't said...rushed forward. "What about the lung?" Rachel asked.
"We'd have to remove the entire lobe."
Bob cleared his throat. "What would the ramifications of that be?"
"Well, Rachel probably wouldn't be able to run any marathons." The small joke failed to bring a smile to either face. The doctor grimaced slightly. Returned his attention to Rachel. "You're healthy in every way, so I doubt that you'd notice a significant change. You'll find yourself becoming breathless a little quicker, and that would most probably be the extent of the changes."
She watched the doctor's face. "There's more, isn't there?"
Dr. Kulodochuk nodded. "I'm afraid so. There were 'granules' in the CT scan images. They resemble small...peas. There were several throughout your lung."
Rachel felt as if she'd been slapped. "You're sure?"
"Are they...are they cancerous?"
"From the images, I'd have to say yes, they show all of the characteristics of cancer."
It was back. Damn it to hell! She'd beaten it once. It wasn't supposed to come back. Not in her world! This wasn't fair! Memories of the radiation...the pain, being so sick, feeling as if dying wasn't such a bad option, flooded her mind. No. Not again. Not ever again!
"What can you do?" Bob asked, his voice completely raspy at this point. This didn't make sense! Rachel had been faithful about having her mammograms...she'd just had an MRI not so long ago...nothing had shown up, there hadn't been any hint that there was a tumor...hiding...growing...no hint at all!
"We'll try to get as many of the granules as we can when we remove the tumor, leaving the upper and lower lobes of the lung as undamaged as possible. Chemotherapy should halt the growth of the granules, with luck will destroy the cancer cells," the doctor replied.
"If I don't do the chemo, how long would I have?"
Bob stared at his wife. "What do you mean, if you don't do the chemo? Of course you'll do it!"
"It's my body! My life!" she snapped. She stared at the doctor. "How long?"
"Rachel, this could be stage four cancer. If it's not, we have to act aggressively to prevent it from moving into that stage-"
"How long?" she asked firmly.
The doctor sighed. "Your last MRI, three months ago, showed no traces of any of the granules. Certainly didn't show the mass that was identified today. As quickly as they have...appeared, and seem to be growing, I'd guess a few months at most."
A few months. Which meant that more than likely she wouldn't make it to Thanksgiving. Christmas was definitely too much to hope for. The wild, half-crazed thought that she wouldn't be required to cook the meal for either holiday, and would be spared Christmas shopping, made her giggle hysterically. Then the tears came.
"Rachel, we need to start your chemo right away," the doctor insisted.
"I need to think about this," she said, wiping the tears from her cheeks.
"Rachel!" Bob protested.
"Monday," the doctor said. "No later than Monday."
A A A A A A
Bob waited until they were in the car before he said anything. "How can you even consider not doing anything? What about the kids? What about me?"
"Julie and Chris are grown women. They have their own lives now, they don't need me. Toby is at the age where he needs you far more than he needs me," she replied calmly.
"What about me?" he asked softly.
"You won't be burdened with taking care of a terminally ill wife."
"Jesus H. Christ! Rachel! I wouldn't be burdened! I love you!"
She turned tear-filled eyes toward him. "And I love you. I love the kids. But I can't...I won't live that way. It's not living, Bob. It hurts and it makes me sick and it makes me just want to die. I'll lose my hair again, and I'll look awful and I'll feel awful...and there's no guarantee that they'll be able to get it all..." her voice caught on her sob. "There are no guarantees. If I have to go, I want to do it my way. With dignity."
He reached out, cupped her cheek. "I don't want to lose you," he whispered, his own eyes filled with tears.
She pressed her face against his palm. "I know."
"We have to tell the kids."
"Can't we wait until Chris finishes her finals?"
Bob frowned. It was only the first week of March. Chris wouldn't take finals until April. How angry would the kids be if they waited? Did it really make a difference? Knowing sooner rather than later would only be more time for them to grieve. "It's your call, honey."
"Let's just wait. We can tell them...we can tell them when we get together for Memorial Weekend."
He nodded. Started the car. And drove them home. Nothing would ever be the same again.
A A A A A A
There had been a book, she thought, about a list. Things to do before you die. She stared at the paper in front of her. So far, she had written nothing. What she wanted was not to die. Not yet, anyway.
But there wasn't anything that filled her heart with a burning desire to see, or do, or accomplish. There was, however, one thing that she knew needed to be done. Just to have closure. To know the reasons. To have the answers, regardless of whether they were the truth or were what she wanted....needed...to hear.
Computers were a marvelous thing. The Internet was amazing. With the right information, anything could be found. Or anyone. She was stunned at how quickly she had found what she was searching for. She'd made her flight reservations, found and booked a hotel room and a rental car before she could change her mind.
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