When cancer’s the houseguest, few rooms are truly safe

Special to The Times

The house is quiet today; I am alone. There is so much I should do here, so many things that go undone -- a full wastebasket here, a stack of mail there. Yet instead, I look and see what cancer has wrought.

The front room is immaculate, always just so. I tell the boys to keep it clean, fool the neighbors, never let anyone go farther -- because beyond the front room lies the truth of the matter. It’s always been this way, but the truth of the matter isn’t a full laundry basket or dishes in the sink anymore. The truth of the matter is incomprehensible.

I am like that front room. Pleasant. Strong. Confident. Calm. Just don’t try to push past me. Don’t try to nose yourself in. It won’t work. My back rooms are dusty and cold and belong only to me.

On the left is the cancer-recurrence-rate room. The door is nailed shut, I won’t go in. When spring is in bloom and my boy is healthy and happy again, I’ll venture forth. I will pry open the door and tear through with my bare hands to see what may be in store for him. Not yet.

The financial-responsibilities room haunts me, although I have its door bolted tightly as well. It does not sleep. The gentle, welcome refrain, “This Is Not a Bill,” sings to me down the hall and has become my lullaby. But this room breathes. I hear it at night.

I hate the chemotherapy-permanent-side-effects room most of all. Its door is heavy and unyielding. But it remains there, brooding. It will bide its time.

I should stay out of the hall altogether, but for Brooks’ room. Tousled sheets and games piled high. Raw almonds and prescription bottles and malted milk balls and fan mail and gauze and dirty socks and nothing important but everything important because he’s mine. My beautiful child. The truth of the matter.

So please enjoy the front room, that sunny place that keeps us all afloat. Pleasant, strong, confident, calm.

Just don’t ask to see the rest of the house.

Pamela Welky Paul co-wrote the musical “Song of Motherhood.” She lives in Studio City with her sons. Although her eldest, 16-year-old Brooks, was diagnosed with bone cancer in May 2006, he is thriving.