From a work in progress, Midwestern Reserve
Michelle was dying when I met her. She was changing baby #4’’s diaper when baby #3 kicked her in the breast. Not in a mean way; she was tickling him while changing the baby’s diapers. It hurt when baby #3 kicked her. Hurt worse than the normal kick in the tit from your preschooler. She went to the doctor because it swelled up. The specialists called her lump a Stage IV lump. Michelle called it Bob.
Bob took Michelle places. She went to Chicago and Indianapolis and St. Louis in an effort to encourage Bob to live less aggressively in her boob. But Bob’s friends moved in; they moved in to her spine and her lungs and hung out in several organs. Bob and his friends are stupid because killing the host generally results in certain death. Death wasn’t on Michelle’s to-do list. No time for death.
Juggling work and kids and cancer happens every day, just off the interstate in Outlet Mall Town. While meth and illegals and Wal-Mart goods pass by on the interstate, cancer and state football championships keep us grounded. Living with cancer, its life-sucking roller coaster ride to hell and back, is not your grandmother’s living, unless your grandmother also had breast cancer, which is highly likely since, Science reminds us, it’s genetic, except when it’s not because it’s environmental, except when it’s not. Despite the contaminated waiting for hospitals and insurance and nurses and doctors and cancer cells to stop multiplying, there amidst the trials and experimental meds and exhausting rounds of chemo, Michelle attended every baseball game and every school concert for all four of her boys, cell phone in hand, the hand-held device delivering Treatment times and test results.
Michelle’s husband couldn’t be home and wasn’t always the one to take Michelle to Treatment. He drives one of the twenty trains a day that pass us by in Outlet Mall Town. He did, however, slow the train down just enough when he knew one of his boys was at a baseball game at the park. He’d slow down and pull the train whistle five times, four for the boys, and one for Michelle. He did not honk for Bob. When they could all be at the park watching their kids grow faster than the weeds by the railroad tracks, they kept their sense of humor. He and Michelle were always sniping at each other in fun--marital schtick. That snarky schtick kept the family together during Treatment. In public, they never got mad at Bob. They reserved their rage for the health insurance industry, an industry that does not like to pay for Treatment for Stage IV women. Michelle was young. Young means cancer’s more aggressive. Young means it eats your hormones. Eating hormones is expensive. Insurance companies don’t like expensive.