I had been given six months to live. That was it.
It was a cliché and I knew it. Actually, it irritated me that the doctor hadn’t said five months, perhaps even seven. Five months to live sounds quite short. Perhaps it would have inspired me to do something drastic. Go bungy jumping or free running, something dangerous and cool. A sport that made you feel alive.
Seven months sounded quite a long way away. I could take a month to get used to it, if anyone ever could. Seven months was much closer to a year, it sounded, than six. Six months sounded horrible. It sounded like a cheesy romcom film that came out on Valentines Day just to make people realize how important there beau is.
My valentine would never spend another one with me. That was a reality now. I would be gone the next time February fourteenth came around and he would still be here. People see death in the movies, on television, I guess, everywhere really. But they don’t know what it is until it hits them. Or someone they love.
I had been fighting cancer for two years now. I had fought and fought. Lost my hair, wore the bandana, tried out wigs. I had lasagnas and apple crumbles brought over to the house. More shepherds pie than any decent human should ever have to eat and enough roast potatoes to make you wish for another fucking famine. No, not fucking famine, that was the anger talking, not me.
I put my hands on the dashboard in front of me and said nothing. My husband sat in the drivers seat next to me. He didn’t want to drive and I didn’t want to go anywhere. We just sat in silence and stared out the front window.
I watched as an older couple walked past, holding hands and carrying a large balloon saying ‘It’s a boy!”. They looked so happy.
A woman was walking behind them, her mobile clamped to her ear and a cigarette dangling from her luscious red lips. She seemed more focused on whoever was gibbering at the other end of her phone that she didn’t even notice me staring at her.
“Do you want to go, love?” Jason’s voice broke the silence.
“Not yet,” was all I could reply.
I didn’t want to leave the hospital car park. I wanted to sit here and wait for a doctor to come bounding down the hospital steps and rushing over to our small red Corsa. He would run up to the bonnet and slam his hands down screaming “Don’t go, there has been a terrible mistake!”. I would read the piece of paper and it would say I was fine, nothing wrong at all, just some horrible mix up. The past two years had not been in vain and my world would go on.
No doctor came.
Jason sat patiently, the cogs in his mind whirring constantly and so violently it was as if I could hear them. He was planning to fight. He had not cried when the doctor told us. He had slammed his hand down on the table and calmly, almost too calmly, asked what we would do now.
“Nothing, I’m afraid,” the doctor said solemnly. “The cancer is too advanced. It has spread to her lungs and bones, I am sorry Mr Rossin but there is nothing more we can do.”
Then like the bad movie I mentioned before he said those horrible words.
“You have only six months, at the most left to live Mrs Rossin. I am terribly sorry,” then like an after thought he added, “You did put up one hell of a fight.”
We finally pulled out from our space in the car park and drove in yet more silence. You would have thought the advent of my death would have made us both speak of our unconditional love, savouring every second to hear one another’s voices and to rejoice in the miracle of our love. But we didn’t. The car remained still as we pulled up outside the local fast food restaurant and sat in a parked car once again.
I hadn’t asked him to bring me hear, nor had he said he would, but we both knew this is where we would end up. We always came here after the hospital. Always. I enjoyed any excuse to eat junk food and, well, finding out you wouldn’t see Christmas was enough to erase any guilt I could have conjured.
We stepped out into the warming April air and walked through the glass doors. I took a seat by the window and waited for Jason to return. As he stood in the queue I found myself thinking back to the first time we had came here.
It had been in November. I remember because they were playing Christmas songs and I thought that it was much too early. I had also just found out I had breast cancer and that I would require very aggressive chemotherapy. The thought scared me. I had read enough trashy magazines and watched enough soaps to understand the basic principle of chemotherapy. The thought of losing my hair was almost too much to bear.
I loved my hair. It was ginger, lets not pretend it was strawberry blonde. I was a red head and I loved it. My hair had a sleek shine to it, because of a weekly routine that I wouldn’t share with anyone, not even my own mother. Although she swore blind she knew. It hung just passed my shoulders in a thick but manageable way. I could wear it up for work, in rings for a night out and down for when Jason liked me to tickle him with it as we made love.
It had gone almost immediately. One of the first things I lost was my hair in those early days and I had sobbed so hard I thought I would never lose the red puffiness around my eyes. But, inevitably I did, and once I had my determination to beat this disease was cast in steel. You can take my job, you can take my social life, you can even take my left breast but when it came to my hair I was not willing to budge. I was going to beat this thing, grow my hair back and laugh in cancers face. Bastard.
I guess it had won now, there would be no celebratory laugh. It had in fact taken my job, as a primary school teacher. It had also taken my social life as instead of wild nights in Glasgow’s sauchihall street I now spent my evenings with girlfriends watching tv and drinking green tea. Perhaps worst of all, it had taken both my breasts from me. Each one had been surgically removed and I now wore padded bras. But none of that had mattered as much as my hair.
It wasn’t vanity, I want to make that clear. It was not a case of half my personality being my hair. I found myself to be quite a deep person actually, cancer has a terrile way of teaching us things about ourselves we had never known before. Right before it killed us, obviously. It had just always been part of me, part of who I was and how I viewed myself. I was a red head. A ginger and a few times at school a source of ridicule, but I always had the last chuckle, I was proud of my hair because my mum had it and her mother before her. We were all very different women, personalities that did not match and seemed at odds considering how closely we were related but our hair had connected us. Silly from the outside perhaps, but not to us.
Jason sat down, the tray laden with burgers and nuggets, two milkshakes wobbling precariously at the trays edge. We were not a fat couple. On of these ones you saw on channel four documentaries, setting alarms for three in the morning so they could eat a bowl of sugary cornflakes and two cheese croissants. When I had met Jason he had been a strapping lad. Tall, muscular and with devilish blue eyes that made me weak at the knees, he had strode into my life like an Adonis. I had been a svelte size ten and had loved every inch of myself. I had struggled to maintain that weight all my life but it was worth it, I had a will of iron. Would you like some double cream with your strawberries my mother would ask. Indeed not temptress I replied to the size eight stick woman that was my mother. How about an extra portion of creamy mash potatoes she would ask? Back from me seductress of calories for I hear not your call.
But since the initial diagnosis I had found it scarily easy to maintain my weight. I felt sick quite a lot and often missed meals but I would snack greedily and fill myself to the brim when my appetite returned. Jason on the other had found solace in junk food, long gone were the days of his Adonis-ness. This illness had taken its toll on him too. He was still a handsome man but when you looked at his face it looked like there was just a bit too much there. He would have turned to drink if he could, he always had a penchant for whiskey, but he feared that if he got too drunk something might happen to me and he wouldn’t be able to save me.
“So we should start chemotherapy as soon as possible,” he said, finishing off his first burger. I stared back at him, saying nothing.
“Do you hear me? We should start back at once, more aggressive this time. This doesn’t have to be the end, its just another set back. Doctors say this stuff all the time, if everyone listened to what doctors say no one would have any longer than six months to live,” he said smiling, inviting me in on the joke.
I said nothing and we just sat looking at each other over the tray full of chips. He sipped his milkshake, banana no doubt, and spoke, “You’re not fighting this are you?”. His face visibly dimmed
“No,” I said. And that was the end of that.