Warning: This story features cancer and is pretty high on angst. Again, I repeat, this story involves cancer. I did research, but any medical mistakesare my own. I'm posting this in bigger parts rather than smaller chapters because people don't seem able to cope with the angst! Please let me know what you think!
It was small things at first; things I barely noticed. I was a little bit more tired than normal, a little achier, but I shrugged and put it down to going back to bounty hunting full time.
It was my lack of appetite that made me finally go to the doctors; no way in hell was that normal.
The examination was thorough and lengthy. Apparently there was swelling in some of my glands that were worrying my doctor, and that, combined with my other symptoms, had him bundling me off to the hospital for more check-ups.
I was told not to worry, that these symptoms were flu-like, that the check-up at the hospital was just a fail safe, good sense. No need to panic.
The hospital told me that everything's probably fine, it's probably nothing, we'll just send off some samples. No need to panic.
Only now, a week later, I'm staring at this little bit of paper in front of me, and I'm panicking.
'Cancer?' I repeated in shock.
'Cancer.' The doctor confirmed softly.
'Shit.' I said.
I'm pretty sure the doctor told me all kinds of things that I was supposed to be listening to but all I could hear was the C word echoing in my brain. This wasn't supposed to happen to me, I didn't get ill.
In shock I found myself sitting in my car, a wad of booklets on the seat next to me and the doctor's last words in my ears, 'Patients are generally better able to cope with their emotions if they can talk openly about their illness and their feelings with family members and friends.' I had nodded, even though I had no intention of doing so.
I could cope with this, my family couldn't; my mom would alternate between ironing and downing whiskey, my father would fight with my grandma for the TV and Valerie would constantly suggest supplements that were supposed to help, in between bouts of tears. I couldn't face all that - couldn't cause all that.
So I was going to do this by myself because I wasn't going to put my family through the worry. Besides, I didn't want the Burg and the whole world to know, which precluded telling Grandma, Mary Lou or anyone at the bonds office.
I tried to imagine what Joe would say, but the thought that he might start to treat me differently, start to treat me with kid gloves, instantly vetoed any possibility of telling him. Besides, he hadn't seen me since I went back to bounty hunting three weeks ago.
There was only one person I wanted to talk to.
I speed dialled one.
'Yo yourself.' I managed, emotion making my voice warble a fraction, 'could you come over to mine sometime? I need to tell you something.'
'Be there in twenty.' Ranger replied, and he was gone.
I drove to my apartment in a daze and tried to pull myself together for my talk with Ranger. He was the only one I wanted to tell. He had always been there for me; he told me the truth, sometimes he missed bits out, but he never lied, and he wouldn't pull any punches. I needed that right now, someone I could trust, and someone I could depend on.
My locks tumbled open and he walked in looking delectable in black combats and painted on t-shirt. I checked my chin for drool and he looked like he might be thinking about smiling.
Yup. He was amused.
I smiled and gestured for him to sit on the couch. I took the other seat and took a deep breath.
'Let me start.' Ranger said. I blinked in surprise, wondering what he could have to say to me.
He met my eyes, looking scarily serious; 'A while ago I said that if Morelli was out of your bed for long enough then I would get in.'
What? Where was he going with this? My confusion must have showed because he continued.
'Things have changed since I said that, I think that sex would confuse things even more between us, and right now we can't be involved that way. I think that we should keep some distance between us for a while.'
My blank face made an appearance and Ranger blinked in surprise. What the hell? I needed him! Needed him to help me, and here he was, telling me that we needed space from each other?
My heart clenched as I realised what was going on. He must have thought I called him here to talk to him about us, and he was stopping me before I could say anything. He was making it clear there was no us. Perhaps there wasn't, but it hurt that my rock had suddenly turned into quick sand.
I nodded, keeping my blank face on.
'Fine.' I said tightly.
'Babe.' He said.
'We done here?' I asked.
He nodded and got up and turned towards me. He opened his mouth and closed it like he wanted to say something but couldn't find the words. 'I'm sorry.' He finally said, closing the door behind him.
'You have no idea.' I said to the empty apartment. And then I slid down the wall and started to cry; I was alone.
I don't know how long I cried for, but eventually I forced myself to stop. I wiped my eyes, got a grip of all my courage, and started to read through the booklets the doctor had given me. I might go through this alone, but I was going to go through it knowing what the heck was happening to my body.
Two hours later and I was more knowledgeable, more scared, and more determined.
Apparently the type of cancer I had, Non-Hodgkins Lymphomas, had a 50 survival rate. I was trying to be positive, but that meant it also had a 50 death rate.
Most of my current symptoms were listed in a neat little booklet titled, 'So, You think you have cancer?'
What insensitive idiot decided that was a good idea for a title? Must have been a man.
The doctor had already sent off a biopsy for the swelling on my glands, and those were the results that I'd seen earlier in the hospital office, so there really was no doubt that I had cancer. Still the booklet helped let me know what symptoms I could be expecting.
I vaguely remembered discussing treatment with the doctor, but none of the details were clear in my mind, mostly I'd been a haze of 'what the fuck?'
The booklet seemed to think chemotherapy was the way to go. I might have to have radiotherapy depending on the type of cancer it was and how fast it was growing.
Both the chemotherapy and the radiotherapy had side effects, one of them being the potential loss of my hair. I've never been fond of the rat's nest on my head, but I suddenly felt rather attached to it. I didn't want to lose my curls, but it was a small price to pay for life.
I pushed my vanity and panic aside and started to make a list of things I needed to do.
I needed to check my life insurance policy, update my will, and start planning my funeral for the worst-case scenario. Some people might see that as grim, but mostly I didn't want my family to have to deal with that on top of the shock of my death. A few months ago I would have gone to Stiva, no question, now I was more than apprehensive about using his establishment, even if he was locked away. Still, everyone knew Mosel uses too much make-up. Maybe I'll have to go to Stiva's anyway; it is under new management after all. Grandma Mazur's there five days a week now, even missing out on strip bingo at the retirement home, so it can't be all that bad, right?
Next on my to do list was quite simple: live.
Now that was the general plan, but more importantly it meant do all those things you've always wanted to do but been too scared to do. I don't have time to be scared anymore.
Number four, live, was subdivided into other things like; go on a hot air balloon ride, and go horse riding.
I didn't know how much time I had left, but I was going to spend it living.
I decided the list wasn't going to get shorter by looking at it, so I picked up my cell and started calling. I had things to do, wills to make, a life to live.
Dickie set me up with a lawyer to help me sort out all my affairs. He was good, polite and discreet; everything I had demanded. Dickie had gone silent after I'd told him why I needed a lawyer. Then he'd asked quietly, 'You need anything?'
'A lawyer.' I repeated. 'And your silence.'
He made agreeing noises and then sighed. 'I'm sorry.'
Somehow I knew he wasn't just talking about my cancer. 'I know.' And then I hung up.
When had I stopped hating Dickie? I guess my woman-scorned fury had finally run out of fire, or maybe it's because I finally realised that life was too short to be wasting it spending my time hating.
Two hours later and all my wishes were recorded and documented, right down to the songs I wanted to be played. For some reason, 'I did it my way' by Frank Sinatra seemed appropriate, and I wanted yellow roses; they were cheerful, and Lord knows the church could use some brightening up. All that stained glass was pretty, but it didn't really lend itself to a light filled room.
Three hours later and I'd listened to half an hour of 'easy-listening' music on hold and half an hour of an annoying life-insurance person's voice. I had my insurance all sorted out, but I was ready to track down the idiot that thought up easy listening and give them a piece of my mind. But my mind was too valuable to give to that fool, so I decided against that idea. Instead I crawled into bed and let myself drift to sleep listening to a teach-yourself-Spanish tape. I didn't have a moment to lose; even sleeping I was going to do something productive.
I got up early the next day and went for a walk; Ranger was right, it wasn't the length of your life that mattered; it was the quality of it.
Thinking about Ranger made my heart ache. As much as I tried not to admit it - I was scared. I wanted to cry on someone's shoulder besides my old teddy bear's, but every time I felt weak I told myself that I could do this, I could deal with this myself. Ranger had made it clear he didn't want to waste his time or emotion on me. He may claim to love me in his own way, but he wasn't there when I needed him, so maybe his type of love is pointless. Worthless.
I let out a heavy sigh and trudged my way back to my car. I got back to my apartment without incident, and sat slumped on my couch, trying to get my feelings sorted out. Thinking things through really wasn't helping, so eventually I pulled out a pad of paper and started writing.
Yesterday I found out that I definitely have cancer. Today is another day, but everything's different. Every breath I take feels fresher, well, as fresh as New Jersey gets. I would say everything feels brighter, but that would be a lie. Everything feels darker. Like there's a cloud looming over me. I still can't believe it. I think some small part of me is hoping this is a dream I'll wake up from.
I decided not to tell people yet. I need to come to terms with it first. The only person I wanted to tell was Ranger. But, well, he's decided we should keep our distance for a while. I don't need distance right now. I need him. I need him to hold my hand and tell me I'll be ok, that everything will be ok. But he's not here, and I'm less convincing than he would be.
I'm so scared.
I dated the letter, sighed and put my pen down. I felt better now that I'd faced my feelings.
I put the letter in my bedside drawer and got ready for the day; putting away my emotions as surely as I put away the letter. I had things to do.