The Dr. Trenton’s diagnosis echoed through my mind. “I’m afraid you have a malignant tumor located near your brainstem Mr. Johnson. We reviewed the reports of the biopsy and found it to be Glioblastoma. Unfortunately, due to the location and how aggressive this type of cancer is, it’s inoperable.” As I sat there frozen in disbelief, I heard my voice saying, “How long do I have?”
“Possibly six months. If you come in for chemo, hopefully a year. I’m sorry I don’t have any better news for you, Mr. Johnson. On your way out, check with the front desk, they will give information on where to receive grief counseling.”
As I stormed out of his office with my wife Eleanor following behind, I shouted, “Grief counseling, my ass. I already know how to deal with my grief, so why would I want to sit with a group of dying people all crying, “Oh, pity me!” As for Dr. Trenton, he didn’t seem either afraid or sorry. He handed me a death sentence and left me be, as if I was an annoying nuisance. Then without further ado, he dismisses me and sends me on my way! Without any compassion, or showing any sign of remorse, he treated me like a dead fish floating in a pond and left me to rot. That cold-hearted son of a bitch. I wonder how many times a week he delivers unwelcome news to his patients, then ends the day by playing a round of golf.”
Taking my hand and patting it, Eleanor said, “Don’t get yourself worked up, George. He could be wrong. Doctors are human too. Let’s get a second opinion. One of the ladies in my bridge club swears by her oncologist. She gave me his card. Let’s call and make an appointment to see him.”
Eleanor meant well, but Dr. Trenton wasn’t my first doctor or even a second opinion. In fact, he was the fourth opinion I sought out, and each one concurred with my original diagnosis. I was dying and nothing was going to stop it.
I was pissed with Dr. Trenton, but as I saw the look of desperation in Eleanor’s eyes, all my anger faded away. “I love you, Eleanor, more than anything else in the world,” I began. “But we must face facts. No more second opinions. I’m dying and now we must figure out how I’m going to live the last days of my life.”
“It’s simple,” Eleanor replied. “You’ll go through chemotherapy and afterwards we’ll live life like none of this ever happened.”
Those words were filled with hope and easily spoken. Most people would have taken them to heart, but as for me, I could only think of my mother, and how she suffered with ovarian cancer. Each week she would go to the hospital, then return to run the gauntlet. For three days, she would lay sleeplessly in bed writhing in agony, only to rouse when she needed to vomit. Her body wasted away literally to skin and bones. Her hairless body more resembled a ghoul rather than a human being, erasing any resemblance of the mother I used to know. Four short days were all she had to recover before it would all start again. Thirteen months after her diagnosis, she suffered and died. I turned seventeen on the day of her funeral.
I’m not sure how many times I’ve told this tale to Eleanor, but today it was obviously far from her mind. Oblivious, to what suffering she was asking me to bear, Eleanor is focused on only one goal. Time. Precious time in which I don’t look forward to spending in agony.
Eleanor must have read my mind, for she said, “I know I’m asking a lot of you, but think of our children. Darla is getting married in the spring. Don’t you want to be there to give her away at her wedding? And what about Jack? You know how devoted he is to you. It would tear his heart out knowing you left us before your time.” Eleanor squeezed my arm. “If you can’t do the chemo treatment for yourself George, do it for your children.”
Being a strong-willed woman, Eleanor could be very persuasive and if I were a lesser man, I would readily have agreed with her. But the image of my mother bent on her knees vomiting in a toilet wasn't a memory I wanted Eleanor or my children to live with for the rest of their lives. Now I must try to explain this to Eleanor.
Intertwining my fingers with her own, I said, “Eleanor, you've made me the happiest man in the world, and you know I would do anything for you. I wished we could have grown old together as we planned, but it wasn’t in the cards. I’m sorry to say this, but you’re asking me to suffer in agony just so you can see me living on the brink of survival. You're asking for too much. Yes, I may live a little longer, but what life are you asking for me to endure? Each time I receive my chemo treatment, my body will feel like it’s on fire and every time I move, it will be as if sandpaper is adhered to my joints, grinding away my bones. Adult diapers will be my bed partner and trips to the crapper will only be for vomiting. As for you, my love, any joy you may feel, for having me around, will be limited to those moments I fall asleep and not cringing in pain. In the end, it would be wiser for me to live out my remaining days as myself, not those of a man in agony. With all my heart, I hope you understand that this is not just for me, but for everyone in our lives.”
As we left the hospital and entered the parking lot, Eleanor leaned her head against my shoulder and said, “We’ve been married for thirty-one wonderful years George, and I wouldn’t give them up for anything. I thank God, he brought you into my life and if he says it’s time for you to come home, who am I to argue with him? As for the wedding, who knows? God willing, you may live long enough to give Darla away, but why take the chance. If you feel up to it, we can take a road trip down the Atlantic coast to Tampa and pay Darla a surprise visit. I’m sure Jack could take some time off from work and meet us down there. We could have a family reunion. What do you think?”
Eleanor was smiling radiantly as tears streamed down her face. I drew her in my arms and kissed her forehead. “I can’t think of anything I would like more. Come on. Let’s get home and start packing.”
As I drove home, the sun began to set. As the overcast sky diffused the sunrays, God created a masterpiece bathed in crimson red for everyone to adore. The sun bleeds and disappears, only to rise again, brilliant as ever. Is that's what life is, an endless circle of beginnings and ends? No one knows for sure, but I do know my time with Eleanor is near its end. As for the possibly of eternal life, who knows? It won't be long before I know the answer.