Routine day. Used the last of the Christmas stamps to pay some bills. The mortgage, for one. I bank online, but for some reason prefer to mail in the mortgage, a tactile celebration. Like reading a good newspaper.
The afternoon rain was steady and now routine. The new puppy liked going out to lick at puddles. Amid the downpour, I cursed the leak over the kitchen stove. Last thing you need after the holidays, right?
But as I told the kids, don’t bemoan a leaky roof. Be thankful you have a roof. And a puppy who thinks puddles are full of free Champagne.
We finally settled in on a dreary day to watch a little football. Other than the leaky roof, my biggest gripe was the way the cheese spread wouldn’t smear on a cracker.
A few hours later, Posh and I were in the emergency room, where we realized that there are no real problems except for health problems.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news…” the ER doctor began.
Bad news? We’d only been in the emergency room for an hour or two, long enough for them to run a few scans on my exhausted wife and draw some blood, which the tech admitted looked “a little thin.”
Bad news? It wasn’t until a week earlier that my wife had started feeling poorly and complained of abdominal pain. Even then, a little fever, some nausea … maybe the flu? The only alarming thing was that she had shed too much weight and looked, on some days, pale as a paper towel.
But we figured that was her anemia, a genetic trait that could leave her feeling run-down. In the last few weeks, she hadn’t so much as coughed.
So when the doctor we barely knew told us Posh had cancer, in the uterus and in the lungs, we were the two most shocked people on the planet.
Cancer. There had been mercifully little of it in her family. There had been bad tickers and diabetes, but not cancer.
I’d lost my dad to the world’s worst disease and, five years ago, a great and irreplaceable friend. Almost lost my buddy Paul to cancer two years ago.
Paul reminded us that cancer never calls ahead. “No one thinks their aching elbow is bone cancer,” he said. “No one thinks a headache is a tumor.”
At such times, you can’t think of anything but the stunning diagnosis. How far along is it? What are her chances? What are you not telling us?
In the next few days, with all the biopsies and additional tests, we learned little else except that it is an aggressive cancer and that surgery was ahead, then chemo.
“Cancer” is our most-frightening word, followed by “chemo,” which can be as disabling as the disease it sets out to crush.
But first, there was the abdominal surgery. The wunderkind surgeon came highly recommended. But was that enough? I didn’t want a doctor. I wanted God.
She was admitted to a comfortable room with a view of the storms. Behind all those clouds, Mt. Wilson. Nothing smelled of the outdoors, though. Her pillows were industrial, like the ones you get on planes. Suddenly, her life was tubes and get-well cards and lab techs poking around for another vein.
She seemed to have 100 physicians and a new nurse every hour. Some of her doctors were timid and incoherent, others bold and cold. A few were sensational. One told us she wanted to be a dermatologist. Great. Because zits are a big concern for us right now.
And there my wife rests, the woman with the Marlo Thomas eyes and feet like Cinderella. I’d always suspected Posh was a fugitive princess. Like other couples, she and I have had our problems, but now we are a team again.
We’ll beat this, baby. No doubts at all.
Yet, “Why her?” I keep asking. I’m the one who lives like a sailor on shore leave, who mocks kale and anything regarded as “healthful.”
“Why her?” I’m the one who misbehaves, doesn’t read food labels and wraps myself in bacon and bad wine.
Why her, over three decades, one of the most devoted mothers you ever saw, very nearly a saint.
As all this plays out — the IVs, the prognoses, the second opinions — that’s the question that haunts me.
For the love of God, why her?
MORE FROM CHRIS ERSKINE