After examining his notes, Dr. Johnson adjusts his glasses and brings his eyes to meet mine. My stomach drops as he opens his mouth to give me the results. I always get anxious during these appointments, but I know I’m fine. I’ve survived, I’ll be fine. “Dave,” the doctor began, “We’ve gone over the test results…and there is…growth.” The look on his face confirms what was said and helps the muscles in my throat tighten. Every appointment I’ve sat in this chair, looked him in the eye, and had my stomach drop. This time it didn’t stop dropping. “The tumor,” he continues coolly, “began to grow and…”
“But how could this happen?” I plead, “I’ve had tests for years and never a problem. How can it just grow?”
“It began to grow six months ago. Since we were slowing the check-ups down to bi-annually we didn’t detect it.”
“Well it’s no big deal right? I mean, we’ll just treat this one like before and I’ll be fine. Everything will be fine right?” There’s nothing to be afraid of, I survived before, I can do it again.
“It’s not that simple. The tumor,” he began, pushing his glasses higher on his nose, “the tumor has spread. If we had seen it earlier…” I can feel my heart actually stop as he finishes his sentence, my death sentence. “I’m very sorry Dave. If there’s anything I can…”
“How long.” I interrupt, my head muddled. I try to grasp all that’s been said, but that’s impossible. How can I grasp my own death?
“Dave listen to me…”
“How long, dammit! How long do I have to live?”
“Six months, maybe a year.” That was it. Those were the words to make everything clear, real. And it is real, this isn’t a dream. Oh, how I wish this was a dream. I wish I could wake up right now and hold my wife and be fine. But it’s not a dream, and I’m not fine. The rest of the meeting meant nothing to me. He gave me some brochures, offered his assistance, and that was that. I’m off on my merry way.
* * * * *
On the drive home I had to think about what’s happened. How am I going to tell Mary? What about the kids, what will we say to them? What about me? Driving always used to help me put things into perspective, this was no different. One year, my whole life will be wrapped up in one short year. That doesn’t sit well with my stomach. Feeling the urge, I pull over to the side of the road, get out of the car, and vomit. My disgust, horror, and sorrow all mixing in a blend of emotions I just cannot contain. What am I going to do? What have I done with my life? Why?
As I reach my front steps I go over what I’ll say to her, what I’ve rehearsed. I will tell her I am going to die. Hanging my coat on the door, I walk slowly into the family room where Mary sits and watches television. She sees me and stands to hug me. I struggle with the words, with the speech I have planned, but I can’t open my mouth. It hurts too much. Mary begins to show worry and her eyes look so innocent, so loving, so… Overwhelmed with pain, I throw myself to the floor and clasp her tightly. I burst into tears as I give her the news. Shaking from my turmoil, I clutch tightly onto my wife, not wanting to let her go in fear that I may never hold her again. Mary joins in my tears and we huddle together in the middle of the living room, just crying and holding for the longest time, just being together.
“What about Josh and Sarah? What will we tell them?” I ask, wiping the tears from Mary’s beautiful face.
“I don’t know.” she replies warmly. Mary’s always been good with tough decisions. She always says it’s because of her sign, Taurus. She says Taurus people are good in emergencies. That doesn’t make sense though, she’s good at everything. Breathing a deep, calming breath, Mary continues, “But we have to be careful, maybe we should think about it for a while before we mention it to them.”
“Not too long though,” I include. “Dr. Johnson says I’ll get sick soon and they’ll know for sure by then.” Mary looks at me and opens her mouth to speak but I know what she is about to say. I could always tell what Mary was thinking. She calls it psychic, I call it love. “I know. I’m not sure what to do about treatment but I think it’s something we need to discuss together.”
* * * * *
I wake to the sound of my alarm clock and start with a yawn. 6:50am. Before getting dressed for work, I stretch and do push-ups and sit-ups. I finish getting ready and head for the kitchen. The sweet aroma of pancakes fills my lungs and calms my soul. I’m not going to die. I don’t even feel sick, just a little stressed from work. I survived before and I’ll survive again. To make me stronger I’ll exercise and eat healthier. We could all eat better.
“Good morning dear,” Mary says, as I throw my arms around her and give her a kiss.
“Good morning honey! I feel great today. I’ve decided to exercise more and I’d like to cut down on the greasy foods. What do you think?” Before Mary has a chance to reply, I pick up my son Josh and give him a pat on the head. “Hey buddy! Ready for the school bus?”
“Yeah Daddy! Today we’re making clown masks!” Josh exclaims with enthusiasm. He always did love pretending. What an imagination!
“Good morning Sarah! How’s my little girl doing today?” I ask, as I reach to give my daughter a kiss.
“I’m not a little girl. I’m a woman Dad, but good morning anyway.”
“You may be a teenager but you’ll always be my little girl to me.”
“I’ve got to go now, have a good day everyone.”
Just then, Mary grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into the next room. “What’s going on? You seem really happy? What about the cancer?”
“Honey! We have to be quiet. Besides, I’m not going to die, we’ve gone through this before. I’ll get sick then I’ll get better. We will be just fine. I’ll make sure of that.” I kiss her on the cheek and head out for work. We’ll be just fine.
When I came home from work, Mary was sitting at the kitchen table wiping tears from her face. I rushed over to comfort her and asked, “What’s wrong honey? I would have thought you’d be happy after this morning.”
“I talked to Dr. Johnson today. He told me there was no mistake, and that he was sorry but there was nothing he could do except…, “ she explained with tears, “except maybe prolong your life a couple of days, maybe weeks.” With that she burst into tears and hugged me tightly.
“Honey, please trust me. I feel much better today. I just needed to sleep on it. It was such a huge event, I just needed some rest. I have another appointment next week with the doctor. He’ll explain that I’ve got lots of options. There’s no way I will die, I’m only forty.”
* * * * *
As I enter the doctor’s office, a chill runs up my spine. A chill of doubt. Ever since that argument with Mary last week, I’ve been thinking, doubting little by little if I really am okay. Dr. Johnson enters the room and greets me kindly. “Dave how are you feeling?” he asks.
“A little weaker than usual. I’ve been exercising and eating properly, but I still feel fatigued.” I stopped to take a deep breath. Seems things get a little more real, a little more grim whenever I come here. “Doctor? Rob? What am I going to do? How do I fight this? I can’t die, I’ve got responsibilities. Who will take care of my family? Rob, help me fight this.”
“Dave I…there’s no cure for this cancer. Our only hope was it’s remission. You won’t be cured but we’ll do all we can to fight it, to give you some extra time. I won’t lie to you, or Mary. She knows you won’t live long.” Rob explained. Cleaning his glasses and wiping his eyes, he informs me of the various treatments and their general side-effects. I remember some from before. I also remember the fear from before, but this is different. Medicine can’t help me now. It’s up to God.
A few months pass and I am starting to feel very ill. We’ve begun my treatment which is also making me feel badly. I’ve been able to hide it from the kids so far, but Mary and I have decided to tell them today after dinner, it’s the right thing to do.
In my car I pass by a small church in the middle of town. “It’s up to God,” I say as I enter the church and take a seat on a pew. “Dear Lord, I know it’s been a while since I last prayed, but I don’t know what else to do. I can’t leave my family, my life. I haven’t done anything worthwhile. I don’t understand, I’m only forty. I haven’t had the chance to do all the things I wanted to do. I just can’t die. I won’t see my kids get married and have their own kids. I won’t get to be a grandfather. God, in all your greatness, you must have the time to cure me. Please God, I’ll do anything. I’ll go to church everyday and I’ll pray and confess. I’ll do anything, just don’t take my life away. I’m not done yet.” No answer. What did I expect?
After dinner Mary and I call the kids downstairs and prepare for the worst thing I’ll ever have to do. “What do you mean you’ve got cancer!?!” screams Sarah as tears begin to stream down her face. “You had it before, it went away! You won!” she finishes. It’s too difficult for her right now.
Josh remains quiet throughout most of the conversation until I tuck him in for bed. “Daddy…I don’t want you to die.” he whispers as he begins to sob gently.
“It’s okay Josh, we all have to die sometime. It will be okay.” I lied to him. It’s not okay. I miss him already and I haven’t even died yet.
“Daddy, will you go to Heaven like grandma?”
“I don’t see why not?”
“Will I go to Heaven and be with you when I die?”
“Of course, we’ll be together, all of us. But you don’t have to worry about dying anytime soon. I want you to live a long, happy life. We all have our time, mine is just soon.”
“I love you Daddy,” he exclaims as he bursts into tears and hugs me.
“I love you. I will always love you. No matter where I am, I’ll love you,” I reply. A lone tear streams down my cheek as I hold on to my son. I can’t imagine life without tucking him in at night.
* * * * *
“The last couple of weeks have been especially tough. The chemotherapy is starting to make me seriously ill, I won’t be able to work much longer. We’ve started to have family dinners every night and we spend a lot of time together now. Josh seems to be taking it better and Sarah is opening up more. This is so hard on us. Well that’s all for now. See you tomorrow God.” I stand and leave the church. I’ve been going steadily for the past two months and it’s making me feel a lot better.
I’ve also been depressed lately. I don’t really think this treatment is working, it’s just making things worse, and it’s really hard for Mary and the kids to see me whither away. What’s the point to all this anyway?
My last day at work and I’m taking an extended lunch to go to church. Why didn’t I think of this twenty years ago? I’ve said goodbye to most of my friends already, did the whole farewell party thing. Wasn’t too cheery. I guess they care a lot about me, I never knew. I’ll miss them. I want to talk to Janet before I go. She and I go a long way back. You could say she was my best friend. “Hey boss! I came to…to say goodbye. I’m going to miss you most of all.” I hug her as we both start to cry. Seems like that’s all anybody’s doing nowadays.
“I don’t know what to say. I love you. You my best friend. I don’t know… what I’m going… to do… without… you.” she sobs as she gives me a big hug and a warm farewell from my boss, my friends, and my life.
I enter the Rob’s office and head for the waiting room. The receptionist smiles kindly and lets me go through without waiting. Rob greets me and helps me to my seat. “What’s on your mind Dave? You don’t have another treatment session until Wednesday.”
“Well Rob, I’ve made a decision. Well Mary, the kids and I have all made this decision. We don’t want to continue the chemo.”
“If that’s what you want, you got it. I must remind you, though, that you will not live much longer if that’s your choice,” he explains, though I already understand fully.
“We know, but we’d like to spend our last moments together happy and somewhat healthy, doing things we enjoy, not dying painfully in a hospital bed.”
“I understand completely. Dave you’re my friend and I’m going to miss you, but I want you to feel as little pain as possible. If you would like, you could sign a living will. This means you decide when you want to stop accepting medical care from the hospital.” He hands me the paper and I sign it without hesitation.
I give him a handshake and a hug and leave the office. I’ve got one more thing to take care of before I head home. I enter the legal firm and present my lawyer with a copy of my will. I want my estate in order for my family. I don’t want them to suffer from my parting any more than they have to. After the grueling task of evaluating my life’s worth I find that maybe I didn’t do everything I wanted. I lived quite a life though. Two wonderful children. A beautiful wife whom I love with all my heart. A best friend, great job, loving family. I didn’t do so bad after all. The whole family is coming down. We’ll all be together in the end.
* * * * *
According to Rob I could go at any time now. I’m not worried though. I finally see my life as happy, filled with love, and complete. I am bed-ridded now, but it doesn’t matter. I am surrounded by my family. My wife, my children, my parents, my siblings, and even my best friend. After long and emotional talks with each of my relatives, my little girl Sarah sits down beside me and holds my hand as she cries. “Daddy…I love you. I am going to miss you, and I am going to pray to you every day.” She hugs me gently and kisses my head.
“I love you too baby. You don’t have to worry though because I’m going to watch over you everyday. I’ll always protect you. I love you so much, you’re such a beautiful girl…I mean young woman.” I can’t help but cry as Sarah steps aside and my boy Josh comes over.
“Daddy, I love you too. I will miss you.” he tugs on my hand and cries softly.
“Oh, I know buddy. You don’t have to worry though because I’ll always be with you. All you have to do is think of me and there I am. I’ll always be in your memories and in your heart. We’ll never be truly apart. I love you Joshua. You’re such a big boy now.”
My son hugs his sister tight as Mary, my loving wife, approaches. “Hey there handsome,” she laughs as her eyes water and tears begin to stream down her cheeks. “What am I going to do without you? Oh, I love you more than anything.”
“I want you to be happy. Remember I’ll always love you, always be with you. I’m sorry I’ve got to leave you. Trust me there’s nothing I want more than to stay in your arms forever. Well, someday. Right?” We hold each other so tightly it would hurt, but we’re not thinking about pain now. Only Mary and I. Mary and David Smith, two star-crossed lovers. Our whole life together flashes before my eyes and electrifies my heart. I will never forget her. I will always love her. Death cannot stop that. Our love is eternal. And as we look into each other’s eyes we know what the other is thinking.
“Right,” she replies smiling at me with absolute devotion, “You’ll be in my heart forever.”
As I lay with loved ones around me my breath grows quieter, my eyes grow weary. I know my time has come, but I’m not scared. I leave the world with my thoughts on life and even though I didn’t get my 15 minutes of fame, I could never ask for a more perfect life. I have a family that loves me, and I love them.