The true story of a woman who knew her life was about to come undone and let it come undone anyway only to find herself in the redeeming grace of the unknown.
The doctors have found a malignant tumor in Ruby’s gall bladder. They closed her up and designated her case terminal. Stacy calls me, shocked. She repeats the prognosis verbatim: the bile ducts are compromised. In the future, and for the sake of comfort, the ducts can be drained of cancerous cells. There is no therapy being considered, and pain management will be arranged. An oncologist will be consulted. “I am sorry,” the doctor said.
“Why didn’t they just take the gall bladder,” I ask Stacy, ignorant of the ambition of a malignancy, thinking that Ruby’s tumor can be excised with a knife, removed from its habitat, and banished to the hazardous waste bin. My mind is torpid; fear sets in. “Stacy, Stacy,” I call out when her voice trails off. “What else did he say?” I ask, and she repeats the prognosis.
That afternoon Stacy, her husband, son, in-laws, and my children and I stand around Ruby’s hospital bed. Everyone in the cancer ward at Memorial Hospital gets a private room with a view.
Stacy is talking on her cell phone. Everybody else in the room paces. We are the rowdy newcomers to the ward. We do not accept – nor do we plan on accepting – any of its lethargy, unlike the mother of the young woman across the way, who watches with patience and concern as her adult daughter tries to get back into the bed, moving as if her discomfort is the size of the entire room. Even the nurses are slow when summoned. Maybe they think there is no need to rush any more. We bring with us the robust outside world and will not accept the ward’s sluggish pace of feeling, being, and thinking. We resist it all – the children want to watch television, the in-laws need a soda and go in search of a vending machine, and Stacy’s husband needs to go home to walk the dog.
When we look at Ruby, we don’t see her any longer. Instead, we see her cancer. Initially, we think: “How can this happen to one of us? Yesterday she was …” More specifically, we look for physical evidence of the cancer, as if it will expose itself, flip us the finger, stick out its tongue, or howl with laughter right in our faces. But, what is happening is more ominous and technical than that:
1.FINDINGS COMPATIBLE WITH ADVANCED GALLBLADDER CARCINOMA WITH LIVER INVASION AND LIVER METASIS WITH MASS MEASURING APPROXIMATELY 8.5 X 7.5 CM, EXTENDING THROUGH HEPATIC SEGMENTS 4B, 4A AND TO A LESSER DEGREE, 5. SEVERAL LIVER LESIONS ARE DEMONSTRATED IN THE APPROXIMATELY1.5-CM RANGE.
2.CANNOT RULE OUT EARLY CARCINOMATOSIS ALONG THE OMENTUM ANTERIORLY EXTENDING TOWARD THE PELVIS.
3.DUCTAL DILATION IS DEMONSTRATED DUCTAL DILATION EXTENDS INFERIORLY TO THE LEVEL OF THE AMPULLA.
END OF IMPRESSION
On the phone, Stacy tells family and friends her mother has Stage 4 Gall Bladder Cancer. Terminal. Some of them speak with Ruby. Others send their prayers and well wishes. Still others are frightened by the sudden and tragic twist of events; they will call Ruby another time. At the moment, the information is too raw and incomprehensible to process – they were just sitting down to dinner, watching the evening news, not prepared for this news. Stacy is cordial. She says she appreciates their support. Any emails, calls, or cards will “lift the spirits.”
B.B. Cape is a freelance writer and online instructor. Her short stories have appeared in Parade Magazine. She will publish her first novel later this year.
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