(Note: my mother has been to nearly 90 of the 97 WRASFF shows that have occurred. No one has been to more, but me, of course).
Medical consultation. Room Number 4. Me, dad, mom – the cancer doctor.
“How old are you, dear?”
Her voice is weak, not from sickness, but fear. A little girl’s voice from my mother’s mouth.
“Who is your regular doctor?”
“I don’t really go to doctors much. I’m always well.”
“How they found out you got colon cancer?” the Middle Eastern doctor asks.
“I was having pains here pains here pains here. And I had been putting up with things slowly since May. But it all got worse. I couldn’t sleep on my left; couldn’t sleep on my right; couldn’t sleep on my stomach. He decided to do the CAT scan. The colon had something the matter with it, and the intestines. He said he found a black spot on my liver.”
“Did you ever have a colonoscopy done before?”
She has not, despite her mother and aunt having had colon cancer. The stage 1 kind.
“Everybody at the age of 50 should have a colonoscopy done,” the doctor says. His stern tone bothers me until I realize he’s actually speaking to me.
I had a colonoscopy last year.
“I was going to wait until I was 80,” mom says.
“Eighty?” The doctor sighs. “Alright. I’m not going to say anything now.”
“I never had a headache in my life. I never had a stomach ache until this.”
“I guess if you stay away from the doctors you stay healthy?” he says.
She laughs at his dark humor. It is from her that I have found humor in everything—damn near everything.
“I assume you do not smoke.”
My toes curl. My jaws clench. Had I not been in the room, maybe she would have said otherwise. She has always hid her smoking from me. It is true that she does not smoke now (she quit over 10 years ago); however, she did smoke for decades before quitting. I never saw her smoking, but outside I saw the cancer cloud reaching around the corner of the house from where she hid.
“Let’s be honest now,” I say.
“A pack would last her a couple of days,” my father fully discloses.
The importance of colonoscopies comes up again. I assure the doctor I had one. He says he’s proud of me.
Then mom reveals this gem. “I always felt like that maybe if I lived long enough I’d get ahead of it and die before it actually hits.”
My jaws clench again.
“You should write a book on that,” I say, hoping I don’t sound too overtly mean. She laughs of course.
“You keep moving and going and maybe you’ll beat cancer and get it over with before it catches you,” she continues.
“That’s inspiring,” I say.
“Keep running ahead of it.”
“That’s called avoidance, right?” Again, she laughs at me. She has always been my best audience.
“But it’s alright,” she says; however, her words are too fragile sounding to be convincing.
Dad changes the subject. “Those shoes look like you spit shined them,” he tells the nurse.
“Pretty. They’re nice,” mom says.
“OK, enough about the shoes,” I say, upset about the obvious avoidance.
There’s an awkward silence as the doctor reviews the surgeon’s report.
“These are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever had,” mom says. She can’t take the silence as the doctor reads to himself.
He invites her to the padded table, examines the 38 staples on her stomach and sends her back to her chair.
He diagrams the colon on paper. He reminds us (me) again about getting a colonoscopy.
“I know it’s too late for that. That was 22 years ago,” mom says.
Room Four’s walls are thin. I hear jokes and laughter in the nurse’s station. It’s just another day out there. Life fleets by in normal fashion. In here, not so much. Time is stilled, stalled.
Then it comes.
“We can divide the cancer into four stages,” he says. He doesn’t beat around the bush: “You’ve got a stage 4 cancer.”
It has taken only 11 minutes and 53 seconds for life as we know it to officially change.
It’s her immediate response that haunts me. One word. The way it’s said. “What!?” It’s hard to imagine one syllable being the vessel for such shock and disbelief and despair. I realize I am holding her hand. Somehow, she adds, “I was going for stage 1. We are in Room 4. Four is not a lucky number.”
She is given a Kleenex. We discuss chemo. “Our goal is to prolong the life. We can’t cure the cancer,” he says. Outside, nurses laugh.
“Hey, should I spend some money?” she asks.
“To find the Lord?” the doctors asks. I like his sense of humor.
“Oh, hell no. I know where he is,” mom says. “Should I have fun? I want to go to Las Vegas.”
“What I tell people is that when you got a cancer that is non-curable, you need to travel, you need to go around. I think it’s the right thing to do. If you need to delay one chemo to travel, we can do that. You’ve got money. You want to spend it on yourself so you don’t leave any money for him,” he says, nodding at me.
“Damn you,” I say to him. Sarcasm has always been my tool of choice for avoidance.
Mom laughs. Like I said, she’s my best audience.