A Work Of Fiction
Although he is a fictional character, I am hopeful that a doctor like Richard Blake will become a reality. This is not the story of cancer treatment as it exists today, but rather a vision of what it could be. Many doctors and practitioners are making dramatic advances in the way we treat and think about cancer. Their discoveries are often restricted because of the big business of health care and the expense of drug development. But the advances will continue. A cancer revolution has begun.
Within is a fictional novel. Any names, characters, corporations, events, institutions, organizations and incidents are either created by the author’s imagination or used in a completely fictitious way. Any resemblance to real people, corporations, events, institutions, organizations or real occurrences is completely coincidental. Doctor Richard Blake and his treatment do not exist.
Excerpt – Opening Pages
It wasn’t that Andy Stone wanted to die. He was just more conscious of death lately. As he walked along the sidewalk leading to the Denver Journal, he realized that a shift of his body two feet would send him careening into oncoming traffic. Only two steps to the right and the bus charging at him would end his life. Just like that, the tension would release.
Despite these thoughts, he knew he wasn’t anywhere close to the edge. Those two feet could have been twenty. Perhaps it was the phone call he was anticipating; perhaps it was his newspaper’s grim future. The thought of death was creeping into his life.
Andy walked into the glass-encased entry of the Denver Journal. The second-floor elevator light was illuminated. He hastily smacked the already-glowing button a few more times. His phone buzzed to life. Andy’s hand trembled just slightly as he reached into his pocket. He was desperately waiting for a call from his father. Whether the call would bring encouraging news, or whether he would need to board a plane immediately, he needed to know. Even bad news was better than the uncertainty. He recognized the number, but it wasn’t his dad.
“Lucas. What’s up?” Andy asked his fellow reporter.
Lucas asked, “Did you hear?”
“About the public relations guy, John, from The Leadership Project,” Lucas explained. His words weren’t clearly enunciated.
“Public relations,” Andy scoffed. His slender frame paced back and forth in front of the elevator door. “I’ve never heard a more deceptive euphemism. Hit man would be more accurate. What about him?”
“He’s been calling the paper nonstop, trying to find the reporter doing an undercover story about their leadership course,” Lucas answered.
“What?” Andy begged. He stopped pacing. “How does he know? I’ve been planning this investigation for months. Nobody knew anything. And they find out now?”
“Forget about that for a second,” Lucas replied. “Where are you?”
“Downstairs. Stupid elevator’s jammed on the second floor again.”
“You’re downstairs?” Lucas asked.
“Andy, he’s coming here now.”
“If he sees you, the story’s over.”
Andy scanned the parking lot. Sporadic cars dotted the spaces. Thin clumps of densely packed snow were melting. It was a mild day in March. Tributaries of water flowed out of the small mounds of snow, over the pale concrete, and into the budding grass. Spring was coming. A silver Ford sedan whipped into the parking lot and abruptly came to a stop at a reckless angle over two spots. A younger man with neatly-combed, brown hair and a pressed blue shirt climbed out of the car.
“Oh, no…” Andy whispered into the phone.
“What is it?”
“I think he’s here.” Andy squinted. “That’s him.”
Lucas whispered back, “Get out of there.”
“I’m coming up.”
Andy waved his identification card in front of a scanner next to a thick gray door. A light flashed from red to green. He pulled open the door and climbed the metal stairs, skipping steps along the way. His long, toned quads still burned from an epic day of snowboarding a few days before – a foot of new snow, open powder fields and steep cornice drops, graceful turns etched into a blank canvas like a form of snowboarding calligraphy. He loved the holy cathedral of the Rocky Mountains.
Andy ran into the newsroom. He passed stacks of abandoned promo materials once destined for the old music editor. Campaign signs from an indicted state representative were scattered around another empty cube. As he searched the vast room for Lucas Smith, he passed the arts and entertainment reporter who collected small figurines. Hundreds of trolls, elves and army soldiers encircled her chair, as if they were all sitting in an arena and she was the main attraction. A core of reporters and their cluttered desks remained in the middle of the newsroom, but empty desks were rapidly expanding inward. The occupied desks shrank into a circle in an Alamo-like last stand.
“He’s coming up,” Lucas said. He was a large, light-skinned black man with blue eyes that gave away his white father. He was a gifted journalist who had worked for several years at the Washington Post. He had been a correspondent in Israel, Baghdad, Paris and London.
“What do I do?” Andy pleaded to his friend and mentor. “If this guy sees me, he’ll recognize me at the seminar today. The story’s toast.”
“Get out of here.” Lucas pointed to the next level of administrative desks and an adjacent restroom. “Go into the bathroom. I’ll deal with him.”
Andy rushed into the bathroom. As he leaned next to two sinks, he caught his breath. Bright blue cakes rested inside three white urinals. Hand towels were piled over the top of the garbage bin. A daily cleaning crew was a luxury the newspaper could no longer afford. Andy slapped some water on his face. He scanned his reflection in the broad mirror above the sinks. His crystal blue eyes illuminated from the intense sunlight penetrating through the skylights above. Most people first noticed his eyes. His hair was somewhat long, expertly disheveled. He had a slender build. His face displayed angular, attractive lines with a round nose and childlike cheeks that belied his age. He had just turned thirty.
Andy hid inside the back stall. He sat on the edge of the toilet. Through a small window, he could see the city and mountains to the west. The front door of the bathroom swung open. Andy’s breaths shortened. He pulled his feet closer to the base of the toilet.
“Don’t worry, Andy. It’s just me,” a familiar voice said. It was the graphic designer who sat near Andy’s desk.
Andy asked, “Is he still out there?”
“Yeah, that guy’s nuts.”
“I know,” Andy agreed.
“Stay put for a little longer.”
Andy peered through the small window. The urban center of Colorado, known as the Front Range, had been booming for the last decade and a half. But the wave had finally crashed, and its growth was receding from its peak. Two cities anchored the Front Range – Denver and Boulder. Sharp, distinct rock formations known as the Flatirons rose to the northwest. At the base of these mountains was Boulder. It was a city full of unique brilliance and innovation, but also disturbingly isolated. It seemed like everyone in Boulder discovered within the last ten years that they were allergic to gluten. Denver was different. More blue collar, less money. More people ate bread. The city had an industrial background. It was still a hub for technology and innovation, but to a lesser extent than Boulder. Denver was more diverse in race and income.
The bathroom door swung open again.
“He’s gone,” Lucas announced. The sound of his voice bounced around the white ceramic tiles.
“You sure?” Andy asked. He quietly exited the back stall.
Lucas answered, “Yeah, positive. Reception is watching the entrance closely. Even if he comes back, you’ll know.”
Andy hurried over to his desk. He grabbed his computer bag and stuffed his laptop inside. “I’ve got to get out of here.”
“You’re still going to do the story?” Lucas asked.
“Is it worth it?”
“Lucas, they barely clear me to do any stories,” Andy said. He jammed some papers into his bag. “I’ve been planning this one for months. I have to go. Today is everything. It’s when they do all of the controversial techniques.”
“There will be other stories,” Lucas said. He reached for Andy’s arm.
“Honestly, I’m not so sure how many more stories there will be…for me.” Andy stopped for a moment and scanned the newsroom. One editor was watching his frantic movements through inquisitive eyes. He continued, “Editors are already walking away from me right now. I’ve promised this provocative investigation of a psychologically dangerous leadership course. I have to deliver. There’s no choice.” Although Andy had been reporting for a few years with the newspaper, there just wasn’t enough money to keep his salaried position. He was demoted to freelance status a few months ago. He started bartending again to pay the bills.
“What’s the deal with this place again?” Lucas asked. “Some sort of leadership training?”
Andy explained, “The Leadership Project is an international corporation. Everybody there calls it ‘TLP.’ The majority of its money comes from seminars and courses. They claim to be a personal improvement organization. Making people’s lives better.” Andy zipped up his computer bag and slung it over his shoulder. “They hold this super-intensive, closed-door course. They promise more happiness, success, and all that stuff.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Lucas said. His curious eyes narrowed behind wire-rimmed glasses.
“Their technique is psychologically reckless. The first day was brutal, and supposedly the worst is still today. It’s the last day of the leadership course, and I have no idea what the hell I’m going to see.” Andy looked at him with vacant eyes. “The whole thing is just bothering me. The psychological attack is intense. It’s hard to resist, Lucas. No story has affected me like this.”
“That’s not like you, my friend.”
“I know,” Andy said.
“Any other news?” Lucas asked. “Have you talked to your father yet?”
“Not yet. I’m in a bit of a fragile state right now.” His eyes welled up. “This crazy Friday isn’t helping anything. I’m doing this leadership course, then I have to work tonight at the bar.”
“I can’t, Lucas. I’ve got to go,” Andy said.
Andy rushed toward the entrance. He checked his phone again. His tear-filled eyes appeared to beg the phone for an answer to his growing concern – a call from his dad telling him that his mother was going to be fine. It had none.
Andy pushed the glass entrance doors open, shuffling through his messenger bag. He pulled out a red lanyard with a Leadership Project nametag attached to it. He was late for the investigation. Just as he raised his hands over his head, he was stopped at the edge of the parking lot. John, the public relations hit man, stood in front of him. His arms were crossed. His smug eyes gazed at Andy’s red lanyard and TLP nametag with satisfaction. Andy stopped. He stood expressionless, waiting for a clever excuse or explanation to arise. Nothing came.
“I thought you were the one,” John sounded like a detective. “Good luck with your story,”
“What story?” The words drifted away from Andy’s mouth without conviction.
“Exactly,” John said in between two satisfied chuckles. “Tough to do an undercover investigation when the people you’re investigating know who you are. Don’t you think?”
Andy slumped. His gaze lowered to the ground; his eyes narrowed.
“I have a little advice for you, my friend. Stay away from us,” John stated. “Your paper has no business devoting time and energy to our organization. We’re a self-improvement seminar, and our clients absolutely swear by us. We change their lives. What’s your problem with that?”
“You brainwash them. You recklessly brainwash them! You’re not a self-improvement course. You’re a cult.”
“It would be best for you to leave this whole thing alone, Andy Stone.” John walked a step closer with eyes blazing. “Accidents often happen.”
“What are you going to do to me? You don’t scare me, John.” Andy blatantly enunciated every syllable. “I see what your organization is doing. I see your game of mind manipulation.”
“Is this really how you feel?” John shook his head. A louder chuckle resonated throughout the parking lot. “Not exactly objective for a reporter.”
“You’re breaking everyone down and destroying their sense of self so that they’ll be dependent on you. Just like David Koresh. You’re going to put us all in white robes and make us drink Kool-Aid.” Andy knew he shouldn’t continue, but he couldn’t stop. His emotions were rising to the surface, directed at the smug little bastard standing in front of him, ruining his prospects for a good story.
“Man, you really have it out for us. I guess we’re finished here.” John turned and began to head for his diagonally-parked car.
Andy clutched John’s shoulder and spun him back toward him. “Don’t you ever threaten me.”
John ripped his shoulder away. “We’re done here.” He walked briskly toward his car, thumbing through the keys on his chain. His black dress shoes clomped on the blacktop.
Andy marched after him, yelling, “You’re committing the cardinal sin of all existence – to rob other people of their power and awareness. You’re a fucking cancer, and I think The Leadership Project is appalling!”
John sped away. Tires screeched around the corner.
Andy stood in the middle of the parking lot, wondering what just happened.
“Andy,” a voice called from a nearby car. The tone was familiar, authoritative.
“Oh no,” Andy whispered. He peered behind a gray pickup truck to see a senior editor at the Denver Journal resting against his car. Michael was second in command to the managing editor. He possessed a stern gaze and curiously soft brown eyes. Andy could already see the signature vein bulging on the left side of Michael’s forehead as he approached.
Andy rose to his feet. He held out his open palms. “Look, I’m sorry. I know that wasn’t like me. I just haven’t been myself. I’ve had some family issues lately.”
“I know. Lucas told me.” Michael said, as he rested his hand on Andy’s shoulder. It was a gesture in past tense, conciliatory even, like he was trying to placate a losing political candidate. “Look, Andy, maybe it’s time for a break. Everyone’s wound up right now, with the paper’s uncertain future and all. Just work at your bar and take a break from the Journal. Just for week or so. I think it will be a good thing for you.”
“I’m bartending tonight.” Andy checked his watch. His hand still trembled a bit. “Listen, I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me.”
“No. You’re not fine, Andy. I’ve never seen you like that. The TLP story is done. It’s time for a break. Call me in a week.”
Andy’s mind raced. He had never injected himself into a story before. He didn’t know whether his newspaper would still exist when he returned. He walked briskly to his car and sped away. He drove north on I-25 with no destination in mind, finally exited near Longmont, pulled into a quiet corner of a Party City Outlet Store parking lot, and cried.
The sun descended below the snow-capped peaks to the west. The planks were cold. They creaked reluctantly with the weight of footsteps. Andy and his fellow bartender, Justin, had prepped the bar below for the night’s concert. He found temporary comfort in the predictable ritual of working behind a bar. Mary’s Tavern expected about 300 people this evening. The building was a music venue throughout the year and a rooftop party deck when the weather got milder. The two bartenders had climbed the back stairs and walked onto the dormant rooftop for a break. Collapsed umbrellas and plastic chairs were stacked on the wooden walkways between two tiki bars.
Andy walked away from his friend for a minute, raised his phone to his ear, and desperately whispered, “Dad, I was just wondering if there’s any news. Is your phone on? Please call me back whenever you know anything. Please. I love you, Dad.”
The city was thawing. Rooftops dripped. Cold water pooled all around creating glossy mirrors and a hint of a parallel city in reflection. Across the street at Coors Field, workers in purple golf shirts marched back and forth on the terraces. The whitecaps on the mountains were receding back into their peaks. The blue awning of another rooftop bar across the alley sagged and bobbed aimlessly, like a sailboat precariously anchored in a harbor.
The deck was eerily still. Justin lit up a cigarette and offered one to Andy. Andy held up his hand in polite refusal, although this day made him crave vices.
“It’s strange to see our rooftop so dead,” Andy said. His breath rose in a rapidly dispersing fog.
Justin agreed, “It is.” He was a shorter guy, packed with energy. His other job was jumping with newbie skydivers with a camera on his helmet. He had done over five hundred jumps. He had a chin beard that knifed down to the ground like a frozen icicle of hair. He looked tired.
“You all right, Justin?” Andy asked.
He changed the subject and asked, “Quite a show tonight, huh?”
“Jacobs the Great,” Andy said.
Lily Jacobs wrote a song about Andy called “False-Hearted.” There wasn’t a lot of room for misinterpretation. It was about a guy who portrayed himself as spiritual and appeared to search for meaning, but he was just trying to meet lots of women. This image was far from the truth. Andy rarely ever met or advanced on anyone in his bar. He had encounters with two girls during the entire year, a server named Jenna and a bar regular named Amy. They happened to be a week apart. And they happened to meet at a small party and both talked about the guy they had just met by the name of Andy. They happened to have a friend who loved to wedge herself into the affairs of others. She was the singer and songwriter named Lily Jacobs.
A week after the incidents, Lily pulled Andy away from the rooftop bar and presented the two distraught women along the back walkway. He would never forget Lily’s rage combined with satisfaction. She was out for blood. Lily screamed and pointed at his crotch. A lot. Andy twisted his left leg over his right to protect himself from the threat of scrawny limbs in violent, unpredictable motion. The situation made him feel terrible. Since the incident, he deflected all advances from the bar.
“Lily Jacobs.” Andy shook his head.
For the next few hours, Andy poured drinks with his phone set to vibrate in his pocket. He played the role of bartender with ease. Even though it bothered him to be back, he appreciated the time-honored ritual of bartending. Yes, he served poison. Yes, it killed brain cells. He understood this. He recognized the hypocrisy and sometimes it even bothered him. But more than any hypocrisy was the purpose he respected. He fully recognized the need to forget about life and find a temporary escape from the sometimes-harsh realities. Watering holes served this purpose on every corner of the planet.
Andy listened more than anything. He heard about how bad Republicans were, how bad Democrats were, how Atheists could be so ignorant, how Fundamentalists could be so dumb, how kids these days didn’t care about anything, how older generations were closed-minded and just thought the world was going to hell and feared young people. It didn’t matter what they said. It didn’t matter how they said it. Andy listened to them.
As the clock struck eleven, the place was packed, and the opening act, Lily Jacobs, was wrapping up her set with a song called “False Hearted.”
“This goes out to my friend at the bar.” She pointed at Andy and held her accusatory hand, waiting for him to acknowledge it.
“Andy, take a bow for the audience. Everyone, give Andy a hand for being the inspiration for this song.”
Andy continued to plunge dirty pint glasses into a foamy sink. “When will she ever let it go?” He could feel the whole room focusing on him. He waited it out.
“Is that song about you?” A young woman leaned over the bar. She wore a pink tank top. Her skin was the orange complexion that could only come from some sort of spray tan. She reached for Andy’s arm.
“Kind of.” He deliberately pulled his arm away.
“Wanna do a shot with me?” She smiled and searched for a sign of interest.
Andy looked up from his glassware, “Thanks, but I’m going to take it easy tonight. He poured her a shot. It was the house shot for the night. Fruity and sweet, with the crappiest vodka the bar could buy. “On me.”
“Aww, that’s so sweet of you.”
“Have fun,” Andy said as he retreated.
Lily Jacobs clutched the microphone and peered through short clumps of bleached-blond hair at the bar.
I could have seen it coming,
But how was I to know,
How much you said you cared,
How quick you let me go.
A week of loving you,
Till I found out there was another,
The thoughtful man you projected,
Turned out to dive asunder.
How could I have been such a fool?
Andy hid next to the sound booth. He sipped a clear plastic cup of water.
“Great song, huh, Andy?” Chuck the sound guy asked.
“You know about this too?”
“Everybody knows,” another server said to Andy. She was utterly disinterested.
Chuck gazed out to the stage and said, “She keeps pointing at you.”
“Whatever. It’s been a year. How guilty do I have to feel?” Andy asked.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” Chuck said, shaking his head. “I mean, ‘turned out to dive asunder?’ I don’t think you’ll be immortalized by this song.”
Chuck climbed back to his perch and gazed down at the vast soundboard in front of him. Andy liked Chuck. He was old school. He toured with some jam bands from Boulder on occasion. He wore skinny black jeans and a black denim shirt. His dark hair and eyes, and intimidatingly-bushy goatee gave a misleading first impression. He was a peaceful, understated, thoughtful guy. He rarely stuck around after the live acts were finished. If he did linger, it was under the single yellow light of the soundboard. Late one summer night as the rest of the staff was drinking rum on the roof, Chuck shared his philosophy with Andy. Although he just looked like a guy passively standing in front of a board, he was a composer who conducted a symphony through megahertz and decibels. Always shifting, always moving. In this soundboard Chuck saw life. He saw an endless series of dials that needed attention and adjustment. Just when he thought one was perfectly balanced, another one fell out of tune. It was a dance in a world of spectrum. Chuck saw his work as a romantic dance, an art in itself, an expression of awareness during sacred moments of musical creation.
Day after day, cycles of patrons walked up to the bar, ordered drinks and faded into the background. Hundreds of them. Through the years, thousands. And then one night, one person is completely different. She emerged out of the crowd at the end of the bar. Her smile and energy magnetically drew Andy’s attention, and his chest thumped, even at the distant sight of her. Andy continued to nod as he made drinks for a couple of guys talking to him. They wore pressed business-casual attire with their sleeves deliberately rolled up. He was pouring them a couple of vodka tonics. On the second drink, his eyes drifted back to the lovely woman at the end of the bar. She laughed and joked with a couple of friends. Andy looked hypnotized. He missed the second glass and poured vodka onto the bar top. It trickled off the other side. Tonic gurgled from the soda gun into the second glass. It was overflowing.
The two guys yelled in unison, “Whoa, whoa!”
Andy returned to them. “Yeah, twelve dollars.”
The taller guy debated. “This one’s all tonic.”
Andy poured half into a pint glass and filled it with a ridiculous amount of booze. “That better?” Andy’s eyes locked onto him with a repressed tension. It was rising to the surface now.
“That’s just fine man. No problem.”
“Twelve.” Andy stated, flatly.
“Here’s twenty. Keep it.”
Andy closed his eyes for a moment as he turned to the register. The rush of emotions of this day was taking a toll. He kept looking at the end of the bar for his strange new woman. He waited for a glance, anything. Then she looked. Her gaze became a welcome oasis from the pain that otherwise defined the last twenty-four hours waiting for one particular phone call. She looked at Andy with a curiously familiar compassion and acceptance. On this night, Andy needed her look. He needed someone to assure him that everything would be fine. And he felt this when they locked eyes.
She leaned on the bar and motioned to him.
She said, “I promised I wouldn’t drink tonight.”
Andy replied, “A wise man once told me that there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism every once in a while.” Lines like this usually elicited condescending looks from flirtatious women. It was a survival mechanism to a statement many of them didn’t totally get.
“But what am I running from?” Andy’s head tilted ever so slightly. He tried to repress a smile. His eyes squinted with cautious amusement.
“So what brings you here?” Andy asked, trying to mask the rush of energy he felt in his chest.
She explained, “I’m staying with a friend down the street. She dragged me out tonight.”
“Where are you from?”
“San Francisco,” she said.
Normally this answer would be a deal-breaker. But not tonight, not with her. “Well, I’m glad you’re here.”
Emma said without hesitation, “I’m glad too.”
Others waved money at Andy and pleaded for drinks. His fellow bartender, Justin, was struggling to keep up with orders at the other end of the bar. Andy couldn’t see any of this. He was lost. Andy and Emma talked for a few more precious stolen moments. She spoke with intelligence and poise. She spoke with a broad smile, and they locked eyes for intoxicating seconds.
He said, “I’m Andy.”
“Nice to meet you, Andy. I’m Emma” Her voice, her smell rang through him like a tuning fork, as if he had only heard the perfect tone a moment ago.
Andy leaned over the bar the next time she came back for a drink. They exchanged a few words. He was smashing his phone in his pocket. He pulled it out and laid it in the corner under the bar. He inhaled the entrancing scent of her skin where her neck met her shoulders.
She moved to the end of the bar where she could watch him work, and where he could see her. Her high cut shirt showed off just the hint of a tight midriff. They shared glances. Her smile was intoxicating, broad and genuine. She mentioned working for a cosmetic company. Rows of drinkers flashed money, but he couldn’t see them.
In between rows of drinks and drunken banter, Andy returned to the corner to speak with Emma. Her energetic friends dragged her from one group of guys to the next. Meanwhile, buried in a corner under the bar, Andy’s phone repeatedly buzzed. No one noticed.
During a special encore by the headlining band, Andy retreated from the bar. He squeezed through the crowd until he found Emma. He gently touched her shoulder and interrupted her conversation. She smiled brightly at his presence.
“Can I talk to you for a second?” He asked.
“Yeah,” she answered, somewhat breathless.
“I know you live in San Francisco. And I really don’t do this a lot.”
Just then, Lily Jacobs yelled from the bar, “Don’t trust him!”
“Please don’t listen to her. She’s crazy,” Andy insisted.
“I could tell on stage,” Emma said, seemingly unaffected.
“Listen. I want to talk to you again. I want to see you again. Can I call you some time?” The question sat suspended in terrible, thrilling uncertainty for a moment.
“Sure, do you have a pen?”
Andy reached into his pocket with widening eyes. He pulled out a pen and a small piece of printer paper. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She possessed a delicate mixture of a strong body and voluptuous curves. Her face seemed more comfortable smiling than not. He could already see she was funny, kind, and masking a vast intelligence. He wasn’t in love, but he knew he wanted nothing more than to fall in love with her. Her smile lit up the room. She was a drug, and he wanted more.
Justin called over shaking his head, “Andy, I’m a little buried over here.”
“Crap.” Andy gently reached for her hand. “I really look forward to talking to you again.”
“Me too.” She squeezed back. Andy felt her grip tighten. He had always been self-conscious about his small, frail fingers, but the thought quickly vanished as he looked into her eyes.
“I’ll call you.” Andy held up the piece of paper.
He bailed out Justin who was drowning in a sea of drink orders. By the time Andy looked back in the corner for Emma, she was gone.
Under the bar top, Andy saw his abandoned phone. After he helped Justin with the final wave of drink orders, he grabbed it. He had missed six calls. He walked into the dank alley behind the bar. He called his dad. His breaths were rushed and rigid as he waited for his father to answer. Trash was scattered along the ground. Potholes were filled with black dumpster water. Snow flurries descended upon the dirty landscape and were swallowed by the dark puddles. Snowflakes fell from the heavens and melted on his warm face. They fell from miles above down to the precise coordinates on the tip of his nose. The flakes were always destined to land there.
“Hey, Andy,” his father answered. He was wide-awake even though it was well past midnight. His father’s voice hinted that something was wrong, just by the tone. His father liked to joke. He enjoyed some freedom in his dialogue, but there was no hint of humor or desire for multiple meaning. He could sense this in just two words.
“Well, you know Mom went in for her scans. She was feeling really sick. They found something.” Immediately the word “something” conjured up the vision of a giant ball of cancer in his mother’s body, reaching its pale white tentacles into her vulnerable organs. “Her cancer has spread.”
“Yeah?” Andy’s voice softened. He was a kid again, thirteen at basketball practice. All of the years of cancer and all of the calls, they all came back to him. He thought of his mother and how scared she must have been. He wanted to talk to her. “Where is it?”
“It’s in her lymph nodes. They have to run some more tests,” his father said with a sigh. It was the tired sigh of the head of a household, the man who took care of things, the father who always made Andy feel safe as a child. It was a voice that had faced his wife’s death before, but this time it sounded different.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s not good, Andy.” His father’s voice sounded hollow. It had little force behind it, as if he gently released the sound of the words into the receiver and wanted them to hit his son’s ears with minimal pain.
“I think you should come home. We don’t know how much time she has.” Those words had never left his father’s mouth before.
Andy’s eyes welled up. “I’ll leave tonight, now.”
“You can catch a flight tomorrow morning.”
“I’m going to the airport now.”
Andy told Justin and left. As he raced home to grab a few things, his dad told him more. His mother had advanced cancer. It was her third bout and this time it had spread from her lymph nodes to her bones and lungs. His mother had been given a death sentence. It was the diagnosis that the family had always dreaded.