Photo: Edward Lichty
It's clear to you immediately that you can have anything you want when you have cancer.
Your doctor called at 1 p.m. and since that moment, your husband has met your every need, even anticipating needs (proving that he has been capable of doing so all along).
Word spreads and your doorstep shows it—a cheery bunch of gerbera daisies, a little tin of peanut butter cookies, a calla lily. The phone calls are endless.
Everyone treats you like a saint, an elderly disabled saint.
Except two people who still want you to find their bunny—not that one!—and fill up their sippy cup and read them a book. They never say please and they always interrupt and they lean into you even when you are so hot already. And their ignorant self-centeredness is proof that you are still managing to put your children first even when you are in the crisis of your life.
Claire comes toward you with her diaper bulging and her hair stuck to her forehead with the musty sweat that builds up during her morning nap. She knocks over your tall pilsner glass of iced peppermint tea, the one Edward made for you in a moment as romantic as the one in which he proposed. Claire doesn't say she's sorry, she just cries because now her T-shirt is wet on the bottom part and she loves her Elmo and Rosita T-shirt. Georgia cries, too, because the tea went onto her paper where she is scribbling. She is so close to 3. Her party is in five days. You've been talking about it for months—when you cut up her apple, when you push her in the swing, when you put her to bed.
"Guess what's happening in two weeks from today?" you say.
"Ooh, look! The mailman took the party invites!"
Then, between calls to medical centers, long sessions on BreastCancer.org, and e-mails to work colleagues, Edward says, "We're not gonna do the party, right? It's too much." But you say, "No! She has to have it!" because you are feeling dramatic and magnanimous and like you can't possibly let cancer have its way with your daughter's first real birthday party. He says, "She'll never even remember it."
"I will," you say.
On Wednesday, you swing into the mammography center to pick up your films to take them over to the national expert you will wait three hours to see, making lists and pretending to sleep and reading old People magazines about Jen and Brad and that Angelina Jolie. On the way home, even though you've just been told you will do chemo for five months and then probably have a mastectomy after that, and even though it's dinnertime, you pass Michaels craft store and tell Edward to pull in—"real quick"—so you can get some decorations and grab some balloons, and he looks at you like you've just cut your own hair with a kitchen knife.
But then you're there, at Michaels, and it's so exciting to be in line with people whose great concerns are finding three matching green photo mats and some extra-wide grosgrain ribbon for their fall door wreath. The tired cashier says, "How are you tonight?" and you say, "Good!" and it's the biggest lie you ever told as well as the God's honest truth and you don't really know what you're doing but someone's gonna have a great birthday on Saturday and it'll all be because of you and you aren't irrelevant yet, even if you are defective and are messing up everything for your family.
You are perky coming out of the store, even holding the door for the woman behind you, who is having a bad day, you can tell. Edward is slumped over the steering wheel like he's been shot from behind, which he kind of has. He sits right up when he feels you coming toward the car. He is "fine, just tired."