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Thread: We've Only Just Begun

  1. #1
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    We've Only Just Begun

    We’ve Only Just Begun

    Avoided it for several days. Wouldn’t write it. Refused to even think about writing it. Didn’t know where to start.

    Pamela questioned me.

    “You are writing this, aren’t you?”

    Then, after all the tests and tears, decided against the path of avoidance. Pamela was right. It was time to face the monster and describe him.

    The Big C.

    Barb found a lump in her breast, decided to have it checked out. It had been two years since her last mammogram. Mammograms and ultrasounds were ordered post haste. That was last week, and yes, it was cancer. Sh*t, I don’t even want to give it respect by capitalizing its name.

    Biopsy was next. In the meantime, there’s a lot of waiting and nail-biting to do. This nail biting is compounded if your significant other is any good at using Amazon prime, because slews of books are about to arrive at your door. And all of them scare you. Not to death, but close enough.

    Barb cries on and off for days. Each time she cries it tears me up too. But I don’t wail. Men aren’t supposed to wail. And besides, I can save the wailing for later if I need it. But I know what Barb is crying about. She wants to see Judith, our granddaughter, graduate. Hell, I want us to be at her wedding.

    And what about us? What about we two? As the song says, “We’ve only just begun.”

    “The odds are with us,” I tell her. “If I had to bet, I’d bet on it.”

    They called and said it was the size of a pea. Barb and I wonder.

    But what stage of a pea? What kind of a pea? Where is the pea… exactly?

    Hope Hospital is organizing and marshaling its forces of good. The soldiers take their places. For the biopsy we have Dr. P, the radiologist, and Mary and Jane, the oncology nurses. Mary is a survivor herself. That’s inspiring news. They numb her left breast after she lies down stretched out on a table. Not one of them is wearing white, none wear grotesque masks, and the lights dim and flicker like candles. The room grows hushed as a monastery while they bow reverently over their healing machines. You imagine you smell incense and hear Gregorian chants, but it’s only the rhythmic rush and whoosh of their miraculous machines, and the frankincense and myrrh that comfort and surround you, only the fleeting scent of Mary the Survivor’s perfume.

    Numb turns the sickened breast. In goes the device. It’s a tube, and it clips out a piece or two using ultrasound to locate the microscopic infidels. They plunk the slim clippings into a plastic container and snap on the cap. This particular battle is over, but not the holy crusade for Barb’s life. I pray to our Lord the medical team gets it right.

    We wait a couple of days for the results. As Tom Petty sings, “The waiting is the hardest part”. And that’s true. But he also sings in the same song, “Don’t let it get to you.” I pray Barb takes that advice. Barb’s heart knows no fear. Together, we’ll mold a new reality closer to the heart. Barbara is strong, and refuses to live in a land of fear. That’s the part of Barb I can always count on, the fighting part.

    “I’m going to be a ninja about this and kick this cancer’s butt,” she told me as they rolled her off.

    “No, you’re not. You’re going to be an up-front warrior, more visible than that. You’re going to be a samurai. Tishiro Mifune is going to be jealous of your Occidental butt.”

    But nobody sleeps. This endless waiting is a trial by fire. My formerly stiff upper lip is getting weary.

    It’s Wednesday, we’ve got the call, and just pronouncing ‘invasive ductile carcinoma’ makes me shiver.

    Friday is the big meeting where they’ll discuss how to treat it and have more info on her HER hormone, some kind of estrogen? I need a medical dictionary to keep all these words straight.

    Barb is courageous. To get her mind off her own problems she throws herself into other people’s problems and still goes to work. That’s what she does, that’s who she is. Sometimes I’m so proud of her it hurts.

    The Surgeon

    It’s a family affair and the kids are here. To a man of my age anyone under fifty is a kid. Dr. M says her breast will be disfigured to an extent, if not from the surgery, from the radiation. She draws a breast on the piece of paper you sit on during the examination. Her ductile tubes look like Broccoli upside down. This is why Dr. M is a surgeon instead of an artist. Said it wouldn’t matter if it was a few inches lower or higher, I can’t remember which. Barbs two daughters and I exchange glances so packed with meaning it’s clear what’s on our minds.

    You have a vain woman here, a proud beauty, one that can’t pass a mirror without seeking its approval and getting it. If Barb made a great pile of her vanities and stacked them into a bonfire, they’d outdo Hitler youth burning books in those old thirties newsreels. And when you consider all she’s got to be vain about, the fabulous mug, the hair, the figure, the confidence, the love, the kindness, the total commitment to motherhood and grand motherhood, what’s one tit more or less? I’m going to love her no matter what shape or form she’s in, as long as the surgeon leaves me a morsel to nibble or a place big enough to kiss. My Barbara is never going to suffer from a lack of loving, and that’s a fact.

    Love isn’t just a noun, or even an action. It’s a growing thing and isn’t nurtured on the number of teeth or tits we have. Not after we’ve matured enough to place a value on a spiritual connection, a spiritual connection to our maker through the woman of our species who is therefore a priestess. A man can give up his virility, a woman can give up her tit, but they can never give up that vital connection to spirit we all need. You’ll never let go. Your woman isn’t just a part of your life. Your woman is your life.

    The Lumpectomy

    Sophie, one daughter is here and after they finish the pre-op she leaves and Natalie will show up later. They roll Barb off and she’s wearing a brave face but a funny hat like a shower cap. This should be easy. I’m hoping it’s easy. They wheeled her in at one o’clock and put her number up on a screen so you can see where she’s at. It says number 3888 is in pre-op, then she goes to op, then she goes to recovery, then she’s sober and ready to see visitors. As far as I know, it shouldn’t take long, usually only an hour and a half. I may be wrong about this. So many times and facts and figures have been flying at my head lately I’m not sure of anything.

    After forty-five minutes the surgical concierge comes out from behind her desk and announces they started late, it will take more time than usual. The waiting room is full of people, maybe a couple of dozen. They have an iron cart with a bottle of water with lemons in it and a stack of plastic cups. It looks like an escapee from Mardi Gras in Louisiana. As comfortable as they try to make it, I don’t feel comfortable here. Maybe I’m coming down with something.

    After half an hour more she comes out again an announces to everyone that she’s out of here, but she’s going to turn her phone around and if you need anything just push the extension where it says surgery concierge and they’ll hook you up. Sounds good to me, but as time marches on, I grow more nervous with every passing minutes. The people in her are fewer and fewer. Now it’s 14 hundred hours and no news yet. I’ve read three magazines by now and suspect something is up. I walk over to the concierge desk and give the phone extension a try. It’s a case of Hall and Oates No Can Do. It rings and rings but no one answers.

    Now it’s almost four and I’m worried about Nat. What must she be thinking. I’ll text her and tell her they started late. Again it’s Hall and Oates. Again it’s No Can Do! My dumb phone says it doesn’t have sufficient funds for texting messages! Why, I’ll just call instead. Again No Can Do!

    Then it hits me, like Kurt’s crystalline bullet, it slams into my noggin. About three weeks ago we thought my credit card was lost. We cancelled it, and ordered a new one. The day before it arrived, Barb found the original in her wallet. My phone bill tried to charge that account, but couldn’t, that account was dead, so it cancelled my service.

    I took out my composition book and made an entry.

    Nat, was going to tell her they started late, but my phone doesn’t work due to me being an unorganized idiot. Sorry, Nat, I love you, but I just pulled a Nat on you. You get no message.

    At four thirty-nine a petite woman wearing a blue shower cap and scrubs appears and it’s Dr. M! It’s Dr. M!

    Seems the machine broke down twice and the tumor and the lymph nodes were tiny and hard to find. Of course she can be exaggerating, but she isn’t. I can see she’s been through the mill herself. You’d think doing a bit of slicing and dicing was an easy job but this woman looks like a rock star after a stadium concert for fifty thousand people. She takes her job seriously. Would we want our doctors any other way? Women this dedicated remind me of Barbara. You just have to love them. Surgeons are the rock stars of the medical world.

    “But she’s doing fine, you can see her soon.”

    I take a breath, the first real breath in three and a half hours. You know when it’s time to give thanks.

    We meet in recovery and Barb is conscious but still in outer space. I tell her what the doctor told me but as soon as I do she asks the nurse, who repeats it, and then within seconds, asks me again. The anesthetic hasn’t worn off completely.

    “It took longer than expected and they took only four lymph nodes. Both cancer and lymph nodes were so tiny they had trouble finding them.”

    In a few minutes it’s time to take her home. Time to go get the car. When I get out to the parking structure I take the elevator to level three. It’s not on level three. Maybe it’s four. I go to four and look the same place. No Can Do either. I try five and make the circuit. No Can Do. Level two-the same. Something is wrong I’m beginning to suspect it’s my brain.

    I feel aches and pains all over and my nose is getting stuffed. We’ve been out here several times and I can’t remember which time this was. And it’s been over twenty minutes and I can’t call them because my phone is dead and tell them I can’t find the car. Yet I know it must be here somewhere. I make one last circuit of three and there it is. It takes even longer because the parking attendant is having trouble making her little barrier stick pop up to let the cars through. She has to jump out of her glass box and lift it by hand. People behind me are honking like geese.

    Finally we make it home and go to bed. I start to have uncontrollable shakes. We take my temperature and it’s 99.9. Thinking I’m having something communicable, and I don’t blame her, I’m banished to Sophie’s old bedroom upstairs, where I spend the next morning alienated from my Honey, which is pretty weird for a guy who is always so near.

    Now we’re home and have more visitors than the San Diego Zoo. Flowers arrive in droves. Cards arrive in stacks. Elizabeth, Nicole, Michelle, and Pamela arrive. The phone rings off the hook. Texts text all over the place. Barb is kept busy with e-mails and calls all day.

    “Everybody wants you, babygirl with a small b.”

    Shaky Jake should repair to Hillcrest to see his doctor with no appetite, a runny nose, and shaking all over. At this point his idled brain is asking, “Where are my flowers? Where are my cards? What about me? It’s an odd thought that’s been running around in my brain all day. Barb is getting all the attention. Where’s my attention? I mean, I have a virus, and I have a nasty sty in my eye, I have South American quality runs. Barb only has one thing… cancer. No matter what I do I just can’t compete. And at this very moment, Me, Mister Helper Supreme, is on the outside. I can’t even get near her. I have to use sanitary hand-wipes on everything I touch, the doorknobs, the light switches, the toilet bowl lever, the refrigerator handle, the towels, which have to be washed now, and I can’t be the one to wash them. Barb’s plan is for me to order the doctor to,

    “Just draw some blood.”

    She puts out her fingertip as if she’s diabetic. I picture something like a big tube sucking blood out of a vein in my arm, leaving a bruise the size of Oklahoma. My reptilian brain sings No Can Do. I Can’t Go For That.”

    “By the time they get the results back, I’ll be over it.”

    “Never mind that. You’re going.”

    So I go. Down the 163 I sputter, praying to God my latest bowel attack isn’t ill timed.

    The parking lot guy calls me Boss. I like it when people call me Boss. The receptionists are pleasant and pretty.

    I ask one of them if they have a record of my latest flu shot. Barb would be happy to know I asked this question. It shows I’ve learned organizational skills.

    “Yes, you had it last October.”

    In a few minutes I see Dr. B. He’s dark-haired, handsome, and stylish to boot. His shirt is blue in a tartan design with three shades of blue. It’s almost exactly like the one Barb just gave me! He’s wearing navy blue Dockers and a brown leather reversible belt. His shoes are two-toned variations on brown leather and suede wing-tips.

    We sit down and I tell him why I’m here. I tell him the whole Barb story too. That’s what I do. When I meet people I end up telling them the Barb story. It’s a fascinating story about how we met, or about her accomplishments, or her daughters’ accomplishments. I have bragging rights on them all, even though I didn’t contribute to their success. Their dad did that. But I brag on all three of them anyway and on my son and two daughters too. They’re all my family at this point. I get to brag about all of them. But this was about Barbara, and our closeness and how I’m miserable being banished, even though it’s for both our own good.

    He grabs two long cotton swabs and sticks them up my nostrils. “This is to check for flu.”

    “For a particular flu?”

    “More like a generic flu.”

    “I see.”

    No Can Do. It turns out negative. I draw his attention to my sty. His eyes widen. I notice he uses product in his hair. That’s what Barb calls it, product.

    “I’d like to poke that with a diabetic syringe and drain it.

    “Do it, Doc,” I say, rather heroically. That was my idea, but I wouldn’t trust a rusty old sewing needle so near my eye myself.

    Out comes a itsy bitsy needle and some gauze. He pokes it, and gives it a squeeze with this blue-gloved fingers but nothing much comes out. Finally I’m ready to go, but as usual, have to make a comment.

    “You know, I expected an old man with grey hair dressed in a white lab coat,” I point at my head, “as grey as mine, and wearing wire rimmed glasses. And your staff looks like runway models. Instead, I get a doctor who could be on the cover of Gentleman’s Quarterly like Robert Palmer.”

    “I sometimes wear a lab coat.” He smiles slyly, “But not often.”

    “Not fashionable enough?”

    We laugh.

    In the hallway he hands me a prescription, and being me, Chameleon Man, like George in Seinfeld, decide to go out on a high note.

    ‘Thanks, Doc, and just keep on stylin’ the way you’re stylin’. You’ll make the cover of GQ yet.”

    We laugh again. We bond. Now I have a favorite doctor. This didn’t turn out half as bad as I thought it would.

    Of course… it’s not over.

    Like Karen Carpenter once sang, “We’ve Only Just Begun.”

    ©Steven Hunley2017



    https://youtu.be/4lWKdZv6hZA Hall and Oates I Can't Go For That
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 11-23-2017 at 01:39 AM.

  2. #2
    TheFairyDogMother kiz_paws's Avatar
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    Steven, I absolutely LOVED this work.

    Thank you for your sharing your talents here.
    Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty
    ~Albert Einstein

  3. #3
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    I think this is your best love story!
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  4. #4
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    Nice story and if it is a true story, best wishes as well.

  5. #5
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    It's true and lasted months, through trials and tribulations, whatever tribulations are. I'm not sure, but if they're tough and no good, then maybe tribulations is just the word. I'll have to google it. This is the second phase after the lumpectomy.

    Hiroshima Revisited

    It’s late and we’re in bed watching some program on Net Flicks about dropping the 1st atom bomb. About was it really a choice between losing seven-hundred thousand G Is in the invasion of Japan or dropping the fricking bomb. Really, we were lead to believe, there were no other choices, no other ways out, but that was only what they wanted the public to think. There were plenty of other ways out.

    Not for my partner.

    About half-way through, the film turns to the actual bomb drop, the exact moment it happened, then the aftermath and what was left.

    Here’s where it gets sticky for us. The stick happens the moment Barb realizes her radiation symptoms and theirs are the same. The first half of the film was Machiavellian politics but now it’s a more personal story that matches hers. The exhaustion, the fatigue, the searing sensation, the peeling skin, it’s her radiation revisited, but five times a week in smaller doses.

    The radiant rays are supposed to be good guys, but they cause devastation of their own. For her, the choice isn’t political, for her; there isn’t any other way out… except death. So radiate the cancerous ****ers out of existence. After a few more distressing minutes, Barb falls asleep holding my hand.

    She falls asleep holding my hand a lot lately. I look forward to it. I believe during sleep her body is healing from the effects of the radiation. The dead little cancers guys and collateral damaged good cells are heading out, into the blood stream, to be carried away with the waste. In time, fresh new ones will be born to take their place. It takes time. It’s a process. The process is a monster.

    It’s not easy to slay a persistent dragon. They have to shoot it with radiation twenty-three times to ensure its death.

    For Barb it’s contorting herself into impossible shapes, and being shoved into the breach, and the deafening roar of the machine while the table she’s strapped to shakes back and forth like an earthquake.

    So my warrior, the heroine, needs sleep. I grab the remote and turn off the boob tube. Her hand is still clutching mine, and she’s still wearing her black Lois Lane glasses too.

    When her Superman carefully lifts her glasses free of her face, a lock of dark hair falls over her eye. He pushes it aside and plants a kiss on her cheek, and tunes into his own thoughts as easily as Alice falls down the Rabbit hole.

    The worst thing about radiation seems to be that the nasty effects: tiredness, exhaustion, the burning sensation, is worse after the treatment than during. It hangs around to remind you of the horror you just faced.

    Then I suppose it’s over. Well, not completely over. There’s always the hormone blocker to worry about. We’ll deal with that when we come to it, as Scarlet O’Hara once said,

    “Tomorrow is another day.”

    And it’s true. Each day is different and filled with friends and love. It’s after dark when it gets to you, when you’re alone with yourself and the fear. The Boogie Man always comes in the night after you’ve been reading Despairing Tales of Horror on the Cancer Message Boards, the ones that rival Poe.

    After she falls asleep, these Cancer Board Memories haunt her dreams. She tosses and turns and calls out for me in the night.

    So I hold her hand while she sleeps.

    ©StevenHunley2017

  6. #6
    TheFairyDogMother kiz_paws's Avatar
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    It takes guts to write so eloquently of something so very close to home.
    I thank you for your frankness and how beautifully written the story is.
    Kizzo
    Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty
    ~Albert Einstein

  7. #7
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Threat of Imminent Death

    Threat of Imminent Death

    You’d suspect that after all of this, the last hurdle would be easy. That’s what I told her.

    “Babygirl, after all that, the surgery, the radiation, the swelling, the aches, this Anastrozole should be a piece of cake.”

    “You may be right. Let’s see what we can find.”

    Barb grabs her I-pad and petitions the God of Google; since he/she knows all, sees all, and there are charts and they have more than one pill that does the trick. It looks like variations on a theme. If one doesn’t work, you try another. It’s an easy to read chart. It’s easy on your eyes and easy on your brain too, with numbers and words in neat little boxes and not one of them look too foreboding or threatening.

    What the chart leaves out is a story in itself, but we don’t know that yet.

    “We can do this,” I stated, and sprinted to the closet.

    “And, after all, it’s only one little pill a day,” she smiles back, like an innocent monkey.

    When I appeared again, I was sporting my Mr. Can Do tee-shirt, the one Barb got for me at the La Jolla Playhouse.

    We were there to see Hershey Felder and one of his one-man shows, doing Irving Berlin. When it was over, we walked hand in hand through the parking lot. It had sprinkled while we were inside. The black pavement, and the eucalyptus trunks, smooth and slick, reflected sodium vapor lights. Warm tones ran like honey down their sides. Rain is a blessing on the California coast this far south. Like our night at the La Jolla Playhouse, we never get enough of it.

    People learn to thirst in Southern California. For water, for love, for recognition, for solitude, for acceptance, they thirst. They make the best of what they’ve got in the meantime and they’re good at celebrating the moment with a significant other as long as it’s a short moment so they can get back to their phones.

    For the rest of their moments, for the future, they covet, they thirst. They have their heads too far up their own *ss*s to smell the coffee brewing. It takes a life-threatening moment to make them slow down and smell the roses.

    This is their plaintive song.

    If you are the desert
    I'll be the sea.
    If you ever hunger
    Hunger for me.
    Whatever you ask for
    That's what I'll be.


    Tomorrow we pick up the pills at the pharmacy.

    For almost three weeks it’s smooth sailing. But then the wind picks up, and it’s subtle, but it’s a red flag. It’s a red flag small enough to fit on a cupcake, but it’s there. We should have noticed it earlier.

    “You know, Totsky, my eyes seem dry lately, and I feel tired all the time.”

    “You’re still healing. You have to recuperate.”

    “I guess I can get back in bed and read. Hand me that copy of Becoming Myself. How do you like it so far?”

    “I’ve gotten to the point where Irvin just met his future wife. But I want to finish Orwell’s dishwashing episodes first. Down and Out in Both Paris and London, you know.”

    After a few minutes of reading Barb looks up and says. “My eyes feel swollen and they’re so dry!”

    She calls a nurse on the phone. It’s a side effect and we have eye drops to put in. Now she can’t read even if she wants to. And it isn’t just her eyes.


    “What’s the temperature? I’m feeling a bit cold.”

    This is what Sir Edmund Hillary was rumored to have said at the foot of Everest to Tensing Norgay. Norgay, like me, knew he had troubles.

    “Babygirl, it’s set at 72. It feels alright to me.”

    “Then bring me my mother’s comfy fuzzy blanket in the closet.”

    “Can Do.” Since the cancer, we call me Mister Can Do. I have a “special” T-shirt that says “Mr. Can Do.” When you say “Special” you have to screw your mouth up like Trump and look as stupid as possible. Now you get the idea.

    We stole the idea from Hall and Oates. I Can’t Go For That. No Can Do.”

    Music rules my life. I say to you unbelievers, “So what?”

    Now back to the story.

    I wrap her up like Boris Karloff, drop two drops of Blink®Tears in her eyes, and hand her Yalom.

    After twenty minutes she’s shivering.

    “Turn it up to 76,” she suggests, in the way Napoleon suggested, “Let’s take Moscow.”

    I knew something was up.

    By the time Chris Mathews came on, the room was 76, and that isn’t so bad if you’re watching a Tarzan movie or something. But by then we’re on Facebook looking at piks Johnny O took of Ironwood today and it’s snowing. It’s Christmas-card-quality when it snows in Ironwood Michigan and looks like Currier and Ives.

    “Honey, it’s getting pretty warm in here,” I say as diplomatically as possible, sounding as neutral as possible, like I don’t really mind sweating my way through the night like Maugham in the tropics or something. Like I like feeling like malaria.

    “Never mind,” she scowls back, “Get me the electric blanket. And turn it on high.”

    I try to set it on medium when she isn’t looking, but it’s No Can Do. Barb catches me and tries to bite my head off, but I duck and she misses…for now. But I have a feeling this is only the beginning of something ugly.

    So I set it on high.

    Then another aspect of the Anastrozole Beast began to raise its head.

    “It’s my eyes again,” she tells me.

    It’s the end of the day and the late news is over. The lamps on each night stand are brass shell casings from World War You Didn’t Know When. At the tops they narrowed and were fluted like Buddhist temples. Like the ones you see in Anna and the King of Siam. God only know where she got them.

    She’s got her head on a pillow and is reading the latest copy of The Week. I’m doing the same, and reading an old copy of The New Yorker I found in the bathroom.
    You know how reading is, like roughage for your brain.

    But even these two ancient war-like towers of light and the latest mag didn’t help.

    “My eyes are dry and swollen shut too! I can’t read!”

    “Yes,” and her eyes take on hurt and her eyebrows hold it tight. Mouth goes down on the corners.

    “On the page or on the screen or what?”

    “Both,” she whimpers, and bursts into tears.

    “Wait a minute, Babygirl, let me go get the Blink.”

    “I’ll never be able to walk again,” she said, and pulled a Kleenex of the box, “and never be able to see again,” and pulled out another, “and never be able to read again either.”

    “Look up and I’ll squeeze a couple of drops in,” I replied, like an Ophthalmologist or whatever you call the official eye-guy. There’s something about their signs that remind me of the cover of Gatsby.

    In they drop. One, two.

    In seconds she feels better.

    “Never mind,” she says, like Emily Litella on Saturday Night Live. Once soothed, a woman can change her mind.


    On and off and between all of these side-effects, another monster is taking a chew off her sleep.

    Nightsweats.

    On some nights my fashionable woman, (she hates it when I refer to her as fashionable, since fashion is based on appearances and beauty runs fathoms deeper than that) goes to bed feeling normal for a change. Like a raven-haired Goldilocks, not too hot, not too cold. It’s a Saturday night after the run to Solana Beach and Barb’s hair is perfect. I mean to say Werewolf of London Perfect. The color is perfecto beyond belief and each and every highlight is in place and solid gold. She makes me keep my hands off. It’s the movie-star thing, kiss but don’t touch the special effects, like lipstick.

    Somewhere in the night something happens and she wakes up wet! Like her half of the bed has suffered a monsoon. She has to get up and change her nighty.

    When we wake up Barb is gone and some woman, who looks like a fair-skinned Tobriand Islander, is there beside me in a soaking wet Mumu, like Dorothy Lamour in Hurricane. It’s Barb, and her hair has gone Polynesian, makeshift, kinda bambooi, with a mind of its own.

    There’s another problem too. Barb’s blowing up like a balloon monkey. I keep thinking it’s the wide-angle lens, because my eyes don’t see it, but after a while she notices too. It’s gradual, but it’s there.

    And it looks like the time frame is blowing up too. The talk now is of taking the pill for ten years, not five.

    At this point I begin to really appreciate Barb’s attitude about this.

    I watched her suffer daily from one side effect to another, and there were over a dozen, yet she still carried on. It made me consider how much pain I might be able to bear on a daily basis if it meant living longer. How far does one go in these matters, when trading pain for longevity?

    The thing is, it isn’t a matter of how far one goes. If you have any kind of family, and considering families are not always born under the same roof, you’re not alone, you’re not considering for just one. That’s why she’s put up with it so far, for her family. To be in their future, to give them some love and direction. Just the thought of that has given her strength so far. We all need her and she knows it.

    When we first met I told her she was worthy, meaning worthy of my love. Now that worthiness has grown tenfold.

    In the end we decide she’s had enough. What’s the point of a percent of living longer if the quality of your life is tanked? Her doctor agrees and instructs Barb to lay off the processed foods, white flour, especially sugar, and exercise regularly. A conscientious diet is just as good as the hormone blocker. And no pill to take either!

    Three weeks later and she’s on the mend. But then there’s an examination and they notice some liquid. A mammogram and X-ray are ordered.

    In the meantime, while you’re waiting, it’s back to the Cancer boards, skewed to the gills with horror stories, and the sad thing is, they’re all true. You read them and wince in pain, saying, “Ooo! Ouch, Oh my God, I hope that doesn’t happen to me.”

    You pray nothing can go that wrong with you, but it’s one of those things you’ll never know until it’s too late. This notion tints your rose-colored glasses blue.

    Three days later.

    For the mammogram I get to watch. It isn’t easy, kinda like watching boxing and wincing with every punch. Barb sidles up to the machine, so close it can compress her breast. They do and it hurts. Then they twist the machine and squeeze her boob in the other direction until it hurts that way too.

    “Take little breaths,” they tell her. Isn’t that the ***t they tell you when you’re having a baby?

    Later, they have to take one more because she moved. This time they give me a lead suit, and it’s heavy and black and ill-fitting. I don’t like it, but it’s better than getting ****ed by some x-rays that don’t even know you.

    After the mammogram proves negative, “You’re fine. You’re good.”

    Copious tears of joy fall down.

    Then it’s a dash to the ER to find out about the pain in Barb’s foot. It’s crowded and I drop her off. By the time I park and get to the ER the triage nurse is walking out singing, “Barbara ?” like a bellboy at the Waldorf.

    “I can’t stand,” the patient yells back, and identifies herself by her malady. They wheel us into an examination room and lift Barb onto a gurney, both feet up on pillows, waiting for the X-ray tech to arrive. Barb taps on her I-pad while I look around. With a metallic swish they pull a curtain shut and exit stage right.

    On the other side of the curtain, down the sterile corridor of sick rooms, you hear mumbled voices, but after some time they grow silent. Then you notice a pinging, a metallic pinging, like sonar in one of those old submarine movies, the ones you and your mom would watch on a Sunday afternoon, like Destination Tokyo or Run Silent Run Deep. Now it’s Das Boot. You wonder what the pinging is, and where it’s coming from. You consider the surroundings and go crazy with suspense. It’s close in here, and only a thin curtain is stretched between you and someone’s pain.

    The pinging is urgent; the pinging is rapid, like pain shooting up her leg. And to be honest I know Curt Jergins isn’t our captain and we’re not in a U boat and Clark Gable isn’t going to depth-charge us, and we’re not being depth-charged like in Das Boot, and I know at first I exaggerated the pinging and all, but now that I’ve been listening to it closely, now that the voices and moaning are quiet, I can hear it even better, and goddamn it, it does sound real and the ping is getting more incessant and more rapid and I am scanning every wall for my life-jacket and breathing apparatus.

    There are the green oxygen tanks fastened to the wall and on the stainless steel sinks are stacks of Caviwipes piled on packages of blue Sensitive Silk® XL with SmartGuard® gloves, next to two You Have No Idea What They Are® machines. Chromium stands with hooks for hands and five chrome wheels crawl by festooned with care-fusion panels and pumps and clear plastic I Don’t Know What tubes.

    My seat is claustrophobed between Barb’s gurney and the wall, and the rest of the room is either oxygen tanks and chrome and diving apparatus or equipment, and there isn’t a window in sight. TV screen, computer and keyboard are nailed to the deck. These I recognize. Stericycle Sharps Management System I don’t. There’s a machine behind us that says Phillips. Hey, I know Phillips. They make lightbulbs. But this isn’t a lightbulb.

    It’s big and it’s says BIOHAZARD in red letters, and is so complex you don’t have any idea what it does with all the plastic tubes and wires and sensors and gizmos, and whatever it is, and whatever it does, you don’t want it hooked up to you.

    Suddenly, it occurs to me what the underlying similarity between a cancer patient and the crew of a submarine under attack is.

    It’s the threat of imminent death.

    No matter how fast or long you sail away, your fate is always just on the horizon. It’s fuzzy, like in a fog, and you can’t make it out. So you’re always a little lost. You pray one of these days it will lift. The days of sunshine you have while waiting are a gift from heaven.

    The air seems sweeter than before the episode. Minutes are more precious. You’ve survived the attack. You’ve learned the preciousness of life. And now, because of the cancer, not in spite of the cancer, you’re going to be thriver, not just a survivor.

    ©StevenHunley2017

    https://youtu.be/m_9hfHvQSNo Father Figure
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 12-19-2017 at 06:35 PM.

  8. #8
    TheFairyDogMother kiz_paws's Avatar
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    I am humbled just at the reading of this entry, Steven.

    What an incredible journey indeed...

    Prayers for both you and your beloved Barbara.
    Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty
    ~Albert Einstein

  9. #9
    Registered User fudgetusk's Avatar
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    A touching story. Cancer seems to enter all our lives. Mine too it seems.

  10. #10
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Over a lifetime, it's a one in eight chance for women to get breast cancer.

  11. #11
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    What stands out is your gift of making the best of a bad job. In the same way that you probably lighten the burden for your wife and yourself you light if for your readers. Congrats!

    I hope you and your wife got over it.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  12. #12
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    After 6 months they did a mammogram to check. Then they did the other breast. I showed something, but the something was unidentifiable. It had "a-typical" cells. So they scheduled a MRI needle-guided biopsy and we got there at 8 and were out by five that night. Then the waiting, just like the above. About 4 days later the lab told the oncologist, it was benign. Love the word benign.

  13. #13
    TheFairyDogMother kiz_paws's Avatar
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    Amen to that, Steven.
    Hugs to you both.
    Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty
    ~Albert Einstein

  14. #14
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Next week some time she reminded me, is our two year cancer-free marker. You know, emotional support is one of the factors that contribute to healing. Thank you all!!!! My thanks are beyond mere words.

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