Month 01, Day 01, Year of Diagnosis.
I had worked late, something I seem to be doing more often. As I balance the weight of added responsibility with how I endeavor to do my work, I will sometimes be in the workplace when there’s a handful of vehicles in the parking lot. I was eating dinner whilst the rest of the house were putting things away. We were nearly side by side; more like side adjacent Helen and I. I was in a chair, Helen was on the couch. I had asked earlier in the evening how did the appointment go and in a hushed tone, they told me we would talk about it later. Later was code for “when it can be you and I only having a wee chat”.
I wanted to know the test results, but I also didn’t want to push. The wanting was buoyed with the the look on Helen’s face when ‘later’ was whispered. Helen’s been sick for while now. I was afraid that things had gotten worse again.
I was nearly positive later was going to be later in the week when Helen felt sure the rest of the house wouldn’t walk into the family room. Later turned out to be later that night.
She repeated to me the two words the doctor spoke; two words that, while few in letter content, are heavy, dull…Everest : cancer and ‘mets’ed’
I saw it in the glistening of Helen’s eyes, felt it in the heart of my being. Then we inhaled deeply, yet silently, because for right now, I was all Helen would tell. And we didn’t want the household to hear it.
I told them no matter what, their wishes would be both respected and carried out, come what hell would ensue. We’re no strangers to advance directives; no strangers to Death’s journeys; no strangers to the things that tally up to life’s inevitability. Still, loss is loss. And the last thing I wanted to do was tear up while Helen confided in me. It proved to be a gut feeling well followed when they tell me they weren’t going to tell many people. That they knew automatically they would subsume their own feelings to comfort the receiver.
‘I can’t handle that right now.’
Helen will never have my judgment for that.
And they never had to tell me they were sorry that they may not be around longer than felt ‘normal.’ I would like that, very much, but only if there was no agony. Too high a price.
We resume watching the tele. We do that kind of thing well; resetting.
I use the shower as a guise for my tears. It didn’t feel like I have much choice in the matter; I don’t really know, beyond that I try to be mindful of my needs. That much I was certain of, that I needed those tears shed in those moments. Perhaps they’re enough for now. I’ll know in time.
Helen’s due for a biopsy, in a week I think. The next round of appointments blur together and I’ll have to ask. Helen’s going begrudgingly, mainly because it seemed the only way to get the doctor to let up after they told them they weren’t interested in hearing treatment options. Because they’re aren’t any that would make it worth it. Something that, from Helen’s telling, floors the doc. Helen’s ‘No,’ not really being respected isn’t exactly a new phenom. It’s rarer, but every now and then it shows up, lest Helen forget. So is the convenience in forgetting that Helen already knows more than most by virtue of seeing people close to End of Life care time and again; they know what treatments bear out and what quality is had from it. And for Helen, that’s not how she wants her last days to be.