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I panic the moment Dr. Henderson, shakes my hand, and calls me Drake. No one that knows me calls me by my first name. To everyone I am 'Parker'.
The fact that my dear friend Dr. Martin Henderson is calling me by my first name, makes me anxious.
"Please, take a seat Drake."
I have trouble following Martin's request, but I manage to do as he says, then watch as he moves to his chair behind the big mahogany desk.
Dr. Henderson, known to me as Martin, I think looks much older than me with his gray hair showing just a sprinkle of the raven black it once was. He sports a manicured beard and a mustache that is totally gray and the fact that he has his glasses dangling from a strap around his neck just accentuates his elderly appearance.
I continue to stare at Martin as he nervously shuffles through papers. This is another sign to me. I know Martin well and he is always prepared and organized.
I watch as he tries to smooth out a piece of paper and see it as his way to stall for time. Only I can't take it any longer. "Come on Doc, it can't be all that bad. Give it to me."
Dr. Martin Henderson looks at his friend, Parker, and clears his throat. "Because you complained of stomach pain, I decided to do a little more during your yearly checkup."
"Yes, I know. I also remember that you mostly yelled at me for putting off my physical. Time got away from me Doc and it was not until I felt that pain, did I finally make it in. What is it three; four years later?" I add with a nervous laugh.
"Yes, I'd say that is about right." Martin hesitates, trying to find an easy way to say what he has to say.
"I mentioned to you that I felt something that lead me to believe you might have an enlarged gallbladder. That's why I did a biopsy and sent you to get imaging testing done."
"Yes, and I did that. You should have gotten the results by now."
Martin is quiet, and I stare at him trying to read his expression. Only I can't as Martin's head is lowered. Finally he looks up and I see his eyes remain slightly lowered, his lips squeeze tightly together above his manicured gray beard.
"So, do I have an enlarged gallbladder?"
Martin straightens in his chair. He has known Parker for some time, ever since high school when he was the nerdy guy and Parker the fun loving popular one. Even to this day he couldn't fathom how or why Parker had taken the time to befriend him. He admittedly was so different from the kids that Parker usually hung around with.
But Parker did take him under his wing and as a result he was accepted. That acceptance allowed him to come out of his shell and experience being a part of the popular crowd.
Martin leans back in his chair thoughtfully. He knew that it was the friendship with Parker that made his school years memorable and he had thanked him over and over for it. Now, he only wished he could give something back to this man instead of bad news.
He knows Parker will take it hard. This is a man who has little practice with bad news. He is a happy go lucky person with an overabundance of self-confidence. He does not live in fear because he believes things will work out for the best. Only what Martin must divulge is the cruelest thing to tell his patient; his friend.
Martin keeps his eyes focused on the paper in front of him, so Parker can't see the smirk on his face. It's an oxymoron to be using nothing but kind words for a stock broker. Having seen Wall Street no one would say or think of their agent as kind or even a friend, but Parker is different in that he loves people and wants to do his best for everyone. Parker is the real thing. And now, Martin must be the bearer of bad news.
"Martin! Doctor, where did you go. I'm waiting here."
Martin shakes his shoulders and stretches his neck. No matter how much he wants to ease the blow, with Parker he must give it to him straight.
"I um, I have ..." He starts, then quickly he blurts out. "You have gallbladder cancer."
My mouth drops open as I lean back in my chair staring at the ceiling. I lower my gaze so that I am looking directly at Martin. "That can't be right. I feel fine. I get a stitch in my side is all." I pause, then add. "Cancer! I have cancer?"
"Yes, I'm so sorry Drake."
Martin calling me Drake again meant there is even worst to come. I try to remain calm, I remind myself that Cancer IS a bad word but there are more things that can be done allowing more chances for recovery. I must not jump to conclusions just yet.
I breathe deeply and then my breathing quickens as I think no matter what, it does not take away the fact it's Cancer. Not an automatic death sentence, but, yes for some it is.
"Stop it Parker," I say silently as I try desperately to calm myself before interpolating.
"Okay, if I have cancer ... What type of cancer is it again?"
"It's gallbladder cancer."
I bob my head up and down. I know nothing about gallbladder cancer or for that matter, what a gallbladder does. What I do know about cancer in general is there are stages of cancer. My pain is sporadic and not that bad so how serious can it be.
"Okay, I have gallbladder cancer. People can live without a gallbladder, right?"
"Yes, they can." Martin pauses before adding, "But in your case, surgery is not an option."
Not an option! The room swam around in front of me and I leaned back against the chair waiting for it to stop.
This is not happening. I look at Martin and I see he is having trouble telling me this. I pray that this is some kind of joke or I am having a bad dream, but I know neither one is true.
I am Parker, the guy voted most likely to succeed in high school, the one who others wish they could be. I have good looks, am in great shape ...
I stop myself. Once my life was perfect. I had a great job, children and a loving wife ... No, I won't think about that now. I need to concentrate on the present.
"So, I want you to explain to me what I am facing here. I mean, how long do I have?" I stop to choose the proper words. "Tell me what stage?"
"Come on Parker. I know people hear the word, and the first thing we think is that we are going to die. What you should be thinking about is how you spend the time you have left. Gallbladder cancer life expectancy is a statistical number. Do you really want to know this instead of what treatment is available to you?"
Without hesitation I reply, "Yes, I really want to know."
Martin is on his feet now moving around the office as if trying to get his bearings straight. He turns back around, sits down and with determination says," Okay then, you have Stage IV gallbladder cancer."
I nod my head. "Go on."
One look at Parker and Martin knows that he won't let him off easy.
"Okay, then, well, your cancer has metastasized to other parts of your body and, well, surgery is not an option at this point."
I grit my teeth trying not to allow any sound to pass through my lips. When I am sure I am in control I say, "So, it's my fault for waiting so long?"
"No, no, Drake, Gallbladder cancer has a poor prognosis, mainly because it is difficult to catch the disease early. Gallbladder cancer is difficult to detect and diagnose because there aren't any noticeable signs or symptoms in the early stages and symptoms that are present are like the symptoms of many other illnesses. It's location behind the liver also makes it hard to detect. Even if you had kept your appointments it might not have been discovered. It is nobody's fault. However, though we can't remove the gallbladder there is palliative treatment."
"Damn it, Martin, stop calling me Drake. Each time you do I know before you say it, more bad news is coming my way."
"Okay, so you said, palliative treatment. Don't know what that means." The word sounds promising and I allow myself to hope.
"Yes," Martin says. "It's specialized medical care focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both you and the family."
About now, I am willing to settle for any crumb of hope. "Okay, I'm listening. Tell me what I need to do."
This is harder than Martin imagined. He is a doctor for God sake and must tell many patients bad news. He takes a deep breath then continues.
"Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with you and other doctors to provide an extra layer of support."
The disappointment can be heard in my voice. "So, you're telling me it's a bandage and there is nothing medically to be done for me?"
"No, I ... This is a form of treatment".
Ignoring his reply, I ask, "So, Martin, how long do I have?"
"Nobody can say how much time you have, but with adequate medical therapy, there's a good chance you can survive for many months."
"Months! We're talking months here!"
"How long, Doc, take a guess."
Martin takes a sip of water and then clears his throat. "Maybe a year."
I try to remain calm, though deep inside there is turmoil.
"You're telling me I'm going to die."
"We all are going to die, Parker."
"Yeah, but not as soon as I am.
It is not fair. It is like someone has pulled the rug out from under me and not slowly either. First, dealing with the separation I thought was the worst that could happen. I love my family but must admit that I was not the best husband, but I am a good father. I tried but failed often to please Cameron. Even when she threatened to throw me out I didn't believe she would. No, it wasn't until after she made good on her word that I began to feel a loss.
I was not happy with the way things were, but the irony is that despite my own dissatisfactions with parts of our existence together, I did not want a divorce. I had at once scrambled to salvage our marriage, citing family and finances, and was prepared to agree to anything to keep our world intact.
Yes, that's what I thought, only that proved to be a reaction to the shock, and not being prepared.
So, my life has turned upside down again, and I am not prepared. I look at Martin.
"Okay. Give me a synopsis so I know exactly what to expect."
"I don't understand what you mean."
"I mean ..." I announce finding I am having trouble breathing. "What do I do. What do you think I should do?"
Martin leans toward me. "Medically, it's up to you. You can decide to treat the cancer as aggressively as possible, hoping to extend survival or improve quality of life. You can opt to decline treatments that are not likely to be curative to avoid side effects that may be uncomfortable or dangerous. It's your choice."
"Come on Doc. Give me some hope. I'm only forty-five years old."
At that moment, Martin wished it was him instead of Parker. It hurt so much to disillusion his friend. He manages to make a suggestion. "Well, you could have immunotherapy."
"An attempt to stimulate the immunity so your body can rid itself of the tumor and prevent further spread of the cancer."
Hope must have shown in my eyes, forcing Martin to add, "You are wondering if it will save you? I must be honest. It will not. It has spread too far for us to do anything but try to arrest the growth and give you more time."
I think about this. "So will I be in pain?"
"There will be pain, but when the pain begins there are treatments that will help."
I am unaware I am shaking my head back and forth, back and forth until finally I look up, "What can I expect? I mean what kind of pain."
"It's different for everyone. Gallbladder cancer sufferers describe it as a gnawing pain, rather than a sharp cramp or ache, and it radiates toward the back. It can incapacitate you, but ..." Martin pauses to take a sip of water. "There is something that we can give you for the pain."
I am listening, but it is like I am hearing him from a distance, explaining all the possible treatment alternatives. I no longer care to control my expression as a fog settles around me removing all positivity from my mind. This is the big one and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It would be dark from now on. I am going to die.
Finally, I manage a smile. I know it is hard for him to tell me this. This man is my friend as well as my physician.
There is silence between us now and I finally stand and watch Martin follow suit.
Martin reaches out his hand and I take it and draw him towards me. I pat him on the back, then draw away before I become overwhelmed.
I manage a weak smile before walking out the door.CHAPTER 2
Martin is worried. He has tried several times to reach Parker with no success. He's not answering at his office or his cell. Finally, with no other choice he dials Parker's home number. The phone is picked up after the second ring. The voice on the other end is his wife's.
"Hello, Cameron? Is Parker home? This is Martin."
"No, he's not, Martin. You know you dialed the house phone?"
"Yes," he says puzzled.
"I guess he didn't tell you."
"Tell me what?"
Martin is silent. "I'm sorry to hear that Cameron." Another awkward pause. "Do you know how I can reach him?"
"No, he didn't tell me where he was staying, and you know Parker and cell phones. He probably hasn't charged it in days."
Martin hangs up wondering what to do next. Knowing that Parker is handling this alone, scares him even more. For a moment he wonders if he should have told Cameron, because from the sound of her voice, she's unaware of Parker's situation.
Martin knows that legally he can share this information if, in his professional judgment, he believes that Parker will not object. But knowing they are separated, he hesitates. Instead he tries Parker's office again.
The phone rings five times and Martin is just about to hang up when he hears, "Hello, can I help you." Martin is shocked and happy to finally hear a voice on the other end.
"Oh, sorry, yes, this is Dr. Henderson and I am trying to reach Mr. Parker."
"He's not in right now."
"When do you expect him?"
A brief silence follows, and Martin can hear whispering in the background. Finally, a male voice comes on the line. "We haven't heard from him in days, Dr. Henderson, is it."
"Yes, that's right."
"We have not been able to reach him on his cell." There is silence on the line.
"Honestly doctor, we are worried about Parker. It's not like him to be out of touch this long."
"I see, well, thank you for your time." Martin hangs up.
Martin paces around his office trying to figure his next step. Has he given Parker enough time to absorb the fact he has cancer. Should he give him space and maybe let him reach out. He just doesn't know.
He wants to help. He wants to tell Parker he can't handle this alone and what comforted him through rough times before his cancer diagnosis is likely to help ease his worries now, whether that's a close friend, religious leader or a favorite activity. He wishes he had told Parker this before.
Now that he knows he hasn't been to work, it worries him even more. Work could help his psyche.
He continues to pace, unsure what to do next. He pauses to look out the window of his office and his mood changes. He clicks his tongue and smiles. He knows where Parker is staying. No doubt he's at his vacation home on the lake. Why would he be anywhere else when he has that house sitting empty.
It's a beautiful day for a drive, Martin thinks as he stands waiting for the elevator. When it comes, he takes it to the lobby and hurries out to his car where he takes a moment to decide what he'll do. Confidently he backs out of his parking space and heads toward the lake.
He's not in a hurry so takes the scenic route instead of the expressway. It allows him to think a little longer about what he is doing. By the time he reaches Parker's home on Lake Ontario, his plan is in place.
He parks a little way down the street from Parker's house and climbs out. Cautiously he goes up to the front door and peeks in. He sees evidence that someone is in occupancy. There is empty cans and litter on the counter and though the shades are drawn, he can peek through the sides easily. He moves to several windows and finally works his way onto the deck in back where the windows are not covered, and he can see throughout the premises.
He's definitely there, Martin thinks, even though he can't see him. He stares inside a while longer and not seeing any blood or signs of Parker doing any damage to himself, he heads back to his car.
No one seems to have noticed him snooping about but Martin walks gingerly to his car. He checks his rearview mirror and seeing nothing coming, he pulls the car out onto the road and drives away.
He takes the expressway back downtown to his office, feeling better than he did on his way out. He now knows how to contact his friend. By the time he reaches his office he has made a decision to wait and phone Parker later when he wants him to start his treatments.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Love Will Find A Way"
Copyright © 2018 Juanita Tischendorf.
Excerpted by permission of Juanita Tischendorf.
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