"I hate this kind of cancer, I hate it, I hate it"....Dr. B. trails off. He is speaking to me on Friday, March 25th, at about one in the afternoon, and I am in my office, with the door closed, most of my co-workers on lunch on this beautiful, new-spring day.
I had only just arrived at work about two hours before, to a kind-of-kitchen-crisis, and I can tell you, I was in no mood for any of it.
I was late because I'd spent the morning at the Oshawa hospital, where my father had been staying for most of the month of March. We'd had a 'team meeting' that morning, my father, upright and clutching his dignity in an open-backed hospital gown, my wide-eyed, terrified mother, not taking anything in; my aunt and cousin taking notes. The ward physician, holding court on the only comfortable chair in the room. The Social Worker, the Respiratory Tech, the Home Care nurse, the Nurse-in-Training. Me and my sister, on my dad's hospital bed, because there was no where else to sit. All we are trying to do right now is figure out how to control my dad's ongoing pnemonia and get him home, where he wants to be. Where we want him to be too.
Two days earlier, spring was far away. It was a freak snowstorm and the date of my father's scheduled appointment to Princess Margaret. His original cancer doctor, Dr. C., had retired at the end of 2010, when my dad's prognosis was still looking good. Now, post-tracheotomy, the surgery that saved his life after the tumour had recurred near his trachea, this appointment was a grasping at straws. But we still needed to do it. My dad and mom arrive, after a three-hour journey in the snow, to Princess Margaret. I have left work early to meet them there. On the way, to save time and parking anxiety, I pick up my sister, and my aunt, who is still staying in Toronto to support her younger brother, my father. My cousin looks after my sister's children for the few hours we will all be at the hospital.
We are all on time, and God bless Dr. B., he is too. And I know he is busy. There is a full waiting room at this office a few floors up, and he has more than one emergency page during the time we are there. He is young, not much older than me, young in doctor years, and does not appear rushed or hurried. For this I silently thank him. Oshawa, of course, has had some hand in f*cking this appointment up--although I give them credit for arranging the ambulance, getting them there; but we are all there, for this critical appointment MINUS the CT scans that Dr. B. needs to see. I catch my sister's eyes, her furious expression, mirroring mine, across the stretcher my dad is lying on after Dr. B. tells us about the missing scan. We have dealt with so much this month with our Dad, being his advocate, trying to keep this house of cards from being completely blown to bits. We both hold on to our composure while Dr. B. arranges for a scope for my dad, so he can get a better look at things.
Afterward, my dad resting, my mom sitting down, processing in her own way, I imagine; we take Dr. B. aside. He draws a rough diagram of what he has seen in the scope, what, upon instant visual clues, he imagines the tumor is doing. I take the diagram in, (he says, attempting a joke "I never claimed to be an artist". My sister and I are silent, not in judgment. I think we are both, truly, unable to speak.)
He talks about needing to see the scans, look at the images himself. My sister and I divide, quickly, the tasks between us; she will obtain the scans and get them to Dr. B. by tomorrow. I will talk to my father and assure him that no one has, or will, give up on this.
We give Dr. B. our respective cell numbers to contact us. He has promised to look at the images by Friday and call us to discuss.
We get my father ready for his ambulance ride back to Oshawa with his nurse, R., whose name means "born again".
Dr. B. calls my sister's cell number Friday afternoon, and she misses the call. For this I am glad; the conversation that ensues once he called the follow-up cell number--mine--was an exercise for me, in self control, and in not crying as Dr. B. tells me his very learned opinion, for not losing it when he speaks in terms of weeks, not months, and for being able to take notes, somehow, about his recommendation for a Plan B (that's how bad it might get). I thank him as we end our conversation, this young doctor who has already seen enough of this type of cancer for him to almost chant his hatred of it. I salute him for this, for his passionate hatred toward it.
For me, I am left with the task of calling my poor sister, and relaying this news to her. I break it to my mother later, in the days that follow, in a Coles-notes version, one that is easier to swallow than the real book. For my father, I steel myself. We have a kind of conversation that I am now used to having with him, since he can no longer speak. He talks with his eyes. This time, I talk with mine too. I speak through them and let him respond in kind. I simply can't put this kind of news into words.
It is only (how?) three weeks since that conversation; three weeks out of the rest of the months and years that will likely compose my life. But three weeks out of my father's countdown seems much larger a timespan. Still, I can scarcely believe that this much time has passed, will pass again, and I will look back on this scattered time as a time of innocence and of being gifted.