"What do you mean 'the treatments aren't working'?"
My tone could have come off nicer, considering the atmosphere and the situation. But that was the last thing I wanted to hear about my mother's condition and niceties were not my first priority.
I crossed my arms and stared heavily at the doctor, waiting for him to say something stupid and justify my reaction.
"Pookie, don't yell at the doctor. He knows what he's doing, even if we disagree with it."
My mother's calming voice and childhood nickname did nothing for me then. What he was saying was not fair! She couldn't be dying; it was too soon, we didn't have enough time!
"Your mother is no longer responding to any of the treatments we are giving her. I estimate you have about a year left, maybe more if you take care of yourself." The doctor sighed quietly to himself and shut his eyes briefly, opening them only to look at his watch before closing them again and pinching the bridge of his nose. "I have some time, so I'll remove your port now so you don't have to come back. Unfortunately there's nothing more I can do for you."
He turned around and set to work. The time it took for him to get his supplies and prep the area seemed like ages as I sat there and watched him, doing my best to keep my angry mouth shut. How does this asshole get off without doing anything more? He acts like he doesn't even want to be here!
20 minutes later, the port was out and she was stitched up with a brand new bandage on her breastbone.
"You are all set Mrs. Galvin. Just so you are aware, we plan to discontinue all treatments in order to try to make you as comfortable as possible. If you see the nurse at reception, she'll be able to give you information about hospice and home care." And with that, he walked out, leaving the door slightly ajar. Similar to the way my mouth was currently hanging, open on a hinge.
"What the FUCK. He just told us you've stopped responding to treatments and his follow-up is hospice? I swear to Bob I'm going to give him a piece of my mind." My mom's soft, weak grip on my hand stopped me in my tracks. She let go and began to speak.
"If there's nothing left to be done, let's go home so I can discuss this with your father and try to make arrangements early."
The smile on her face, the one that never ceases to quit no matter how bad the treatments affect her, is what forced my decision to leave quietly. I ran a hand down my face and turned around, situating myself behind her wheelchair, preparing myself to lead her out the door.
Cancer. Six letters, two vowels. But a whole hell of a lot of meaning and emotion held by the word itself. Her cancer isn't just six letters; Osteosarcoma has 12 letters. I've counted the letters many times trying to figure out why it chose her. Osterosarcoma is not just normal, boring cancer; it's an aggressive form of bone cancer that controls your life. You can get rid of it, but don't be surprised when it makes its appearance somewhere else in your body.
For most people it's an immediate death sentence before they slip into depression and let the disease take over. My mom? She took it as a new look on life, a reason to better herself and look at things with only positive inflection. Not that getting cancer changed her behavior much; Lucille Marie Galvin always looks at things positively. The diagnosis was just fuel to add to her powerful fire. One that burned me down and put an immediate stop to any sort of behavior or action I was heading towards.
You might wonder, how did my father react? He didn't, not at first at least. He heard the news and locked himself in their bedroom, only coming out to go to work. Once the information settled in his mind and took root, it induced a disease of a different kind. It's amazing what fear and anger can do to a person.
Mom patted my hand as it gripped the handle of her wheelchair, already knowing what I was thinking about and attempting to comfort me. With a soft sigh, she settled into the chair and smiled at everyone we passed, always trying to brighten someone's day.
Cancer. Osteosarcoma. Unresponsive to alternative medicines and aggressive treatments.
I pushed her quietly down the hall, passing reception without a second glance. They can take their hospice pamphlets and stuff them somewhere unpleasant; I do not need to hear another empty apology or see their fake smiles. They do nothing for her anyway.
"Actually I think I would like to get custard first, what do you think Pookie?"
Custard was our silent agreement that whatever we needed to talk to father about could wait; his reaction was surely one that would need preparation.
"Sprinkles sound good today."
Father reacted exactly how I expected: poorly and without tact.
"So that means you're going to die soon? Good thing we got the life insurance increased last month." He walked away quickly, back to his room.
My father's harsh words fell on deaf ears; mother knew to a point what he would say and chose instead to ignore it. He loves her, he really does. But he was raised to take things personally, even if they didn't involve him directly. He took her illness as an insult, forever worried about his reputation at work. I mean, come on, how was he supposed to climb the ranks with a wife who was sick? Get real.
Unfortunately for mother, his words aren't the only things he decided to use as signifiers for his anger. There have been many late-night trips to the emergency room because he just couldn't take it anymore. The worst part? Mother doesn't blame him for his actions; she understands that what he's dealing with is difficult. Him? What about her?
I fear for her life, and not because of this fucking illness she has been diagnosed with.
Instead of dwelling on the treatment from my father, my mother chose instead to sit quietly at our dining room table with me and play cards.
"Mother, I'm going to do some research and ask around. If the idiot doctors at the hospital can't help you, I'll find someone who will."
I felt her eyes on me from her position across the table from me. She loves the sunshine and fresh air and will perch herself as close to an open window as possible. Some days she's well enough to go outside and actually enjoy it. Most days are spent in a comfortable chair inside. Our house is filled with comfortable chairs.
"Honey, you have college entrance exams to worry about. Your future. You don't need to be worrying about me on top of all of that."
"Uh, does this look like the face of someone who cares? No, I didn't think so. I'll drop out if it means helping you get better."
My knuckles turned white as I clenched them on the table, anger filling my veins. I closed my eyes and took a long, deep breath. How can she just let this go so easily? Like her life doesn't matter?
"If it means that much to you, I'll try whatever you find. But you are not dropping out of school. I'll die before I let that happen." I could hear the smile form on her face at the bad joke she made. "I'm kidding, but seriously if you find something I'll try it. No questions asked. Well, except if it involves eating dirt and running around a fire naked. I think I'll pass on that, thank you."
I opened my eyes and stared at her blankly, Does she really think jokes like that will make me laugh?
"Mom your jokes are not funny considering the situation. But I'll find something for you, don't worry. I'll look while I'm cooking dinner and make a few calls, see what I can dig up."
"Thank you for everything Pookie, I don't know what I would do without you."
I smiled at mother as I stood from the table. "You'd probably starve. And I'm not sure what would be a worse death."
She laughed lightly at my joke before standing carefully. Seems like she's not the only one poking fun at death today. I swear I'm going to Hell, but her laugh was music to my ears.
"I think I'm going to take a nap, dear. Wake me up when dinner is ready."
I watched her walk away, a light blue scarf swaying at her back instead of the long, dark hair I grew up with. She had lost her hair months ago and chose to cover her head with beautiful hijabs that we picked up on our travels with father across the world. No, we aren't Muslim, but mother likes the meaning behind the use of a hijab; it keeps her bald head modest and protects her privacy from people who just want to stare and ask awkward questions.
The doctors tried everything for her and nothing worked. She lost her hair, her nails grew brittle, and she lost so much weight most high school cheerleaders would be jealous. But she never lost her love of life. I admire that quality in her and strive to be everything that she is. I glanced out the window where I could see her work come to life. The breeze brought in the scent of different flowers planted by my mother.
She always says, "If I am running out of life, I may as well put some life back into the world." With a sigh I began pulling out pots and pans, preparing to make an organic, vegan dish for me and her to share together, courtesy of the vegetable garden that sat adjacent to the flower garden.
Once I got dinner started, I pulled out my computer and began my research. A certain name and address came up often in the search results and I wondered quietly how reliable this woman would be. A psychic? I know they exist but how could I trust that she's the real deal? At worst, she's a fake and mother uses her better judgment to stop going to her. At best, she's legitimate and she increases the amount of time mother has left.
I snatched a pen off the fridge and wrote down her information. No phone number, just an address to a temple in the woods. It would have to do.
NOTE: Not my first story ever, but definitely one I'm decently comfortable at publishing. I have a timeline in my brain that I plan to follow. I've been throwing different ideas around for a few weeks and this one came to me suddenly. Aren't those the best kinds?