On May 17, Rob called me at work and said, “I’m at the hospital. I checked myself into the ER this morning because I was doubled over in pain. They did an MRI and they told me I have a mass on my pancreas, and more spots on my liver, but they’re sending me home.”
I left work and met him at his cabin. He was waiting for me on the front porch. I sat down with him, and his first words to me were, “I don’t want to die.”
By the first week of June, I was spending every night with him. He wasn’t able to sleep due to hours-long bouts of hiccups, and he was afraid he’d stop breathing in the middle of the night. My cats were home alone in my house, so I’d leave work every night and go home to feed them dinner and check their water bowl and litter box, then race over to Rob’s to spend the night.
I tried to make him fattening dinners…a lot of pasta, quiche, vegetables, soup, breads. Most nights he’d take a few bites and then ask for an Ensure. Other nights, he’d eat almost half the plate but then vomit it up before asking for Ensure.
He went from 179 lbs to 130 in two months. He stopped showering because he couldn’t stand seeing his body anymore. His skin was jaundiced, his muscles were gone, and he looked like a victim from Auschwitz.
I held him anyway. I stroked his back, his shoulders, his arms, his legs. I tried to find the old Rob in the new Rob. I took him on long drives in the car on my days off, just to get him off the couch and out into the air. Give him scenery, a change of pace. He’d put on his sunglasses and lean the passenger-side seat back and look out the window and wave to people. He’d squeeze my hand and say, “Thank you.”
He died at 57 because he was afraid to see the doctor each year. He thought he was healthy as a horse and had no need for annual checkups. When the pain started in his midsection last year, he thought perhaps it was an ulcer but he feared all the tests he’d have to go through. So he kept putting off a physical.
That week in May, after he went to the ER, he handed me seven pages of blood test results. I found the flagged items and googled ALT, ALP, AST, and started sobbing. It was already too late.
But the oncologist told us that he’d get stronger after a few doses of chemo…the gastroenterologists told us they could help unblock the blockage…the surgeon told us that the port-a-cath would make Rob’s life easier…his primary care physician told us that his meds could help the pain…
Rob is gone but the bills keep coming to his mailbox, all of them from the oncologist, the gastroenterologists, the surgeon and the primary care physician. They all knew he was dying…now they want to collect, the bastards.
Cancer is silent until it grows.