This was not how they’d planned it. Douglas’s PSA test had come back showing advanced prostate cancer, a concerning but not terrifying diagnosis, given the high rates of recovery with good treatment. Marilyn had insisted they get married. Douglas’s professional life had left him with a substantial retirement account but, at the moment, no health insurance plan. And they both knew that even a pile of cash was no match for the cost of cancer treatment.
Marilyn knew this intimately, from her own experience. But neither of them believed that her cancer would reassert itself with such aggressive force in her body. They’d planned a couple of years together, during which they could settle into her little house, tend her back garden, and walk the familiar paths in and around Pine Street.
The cancer eating its way through Marilyn’s vital organs had other plans. By the wedding night, it had possessed one lung, causing her to cough up blood. Within days, she and Douglas were facing the decision they’d talked about so often: aggressive experimental treatment with a low certainty of results, or no treatment at all, with a guaranteed result.
Marilyn had known from the day of her diagnosis which she would choose, and she did not waver when the moment came. No treatment, a peaceful path toward death. “Life offers many opportunities for suffering, and so does art. I don’t need any further invitations. I want my last memories to omit, as much as possible, needles, tubes, and vomiting.”
That was truly how she spoke, Douglas remembered, shaking his head. He also recalled how strongly he fought his temptation, no, his need to convince her to continue her fight to stay alive. By then, he had no idea how to imagine his life without her in it. But he also knew that he could not dissuade her, and that what she needed from him was confirmation and support.
So he’d bitten his tongue, mostly. One time, he’d slipped. “Would it hurt to find out more about this one?” he’d asked Marilyn, referring to a particularly promising, yet brutal, experimental option.
“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt you at all,” she’d snapped at him. Then her expression softened. “Dear heart,” she said. “Thank you for wishing so hard for me to stay. But no amount of wishing will keep me here.”
That was the night he’d called his son, for the first time in he couldn’t remember how long.
Now, Douglas wondered if he would regret that call.
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