The Big C
Taking Lumps

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Jacob Clifton: A+ | Grade It Now!
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Unhealthy Competition

But Cathy Jamison has a lump. Specifically, on her ass. Maybe there's a better word for it, but ass will suffice, and he asks her to lie down.

On the wall opposite her head, while Dr. Mauer works behind the scenes, there's a poster for a bathtub race. She smiles, brighter than memory.

"Paul and Adam would wear matching shirts. Paul was always so much bigger than all the other dads. He looked like a giant, hunched over Adam in that tub. Paul's fast. You wouldn't know it, but he can really move."

The lump is a met. As in metastasis. Things to duplicate. Things are heating up.

"Which in and of itself doesn't necessarily mean that the cancer's getting worse, it just means that now you can see it." Out from behind the scenes.

Dr. Mauer orders a scan, another scan, just to make sure; he doesn't even need to take it off unless it's bothering her. It doesn't hurt, but it's there. It exists, and that bothers her. Lenny found it, Lenny with his artist's hands, behind the scenes. Todd explains that it's outpatient, easy, but that there's sedation so she'll need someone to pick her up. She stares at the ceiling, curious to see how that turns out.

Dr. Mauer runs through the questions, and she admits the met was found this morning, by somebody else.

"So you told big fast Paul, huh? Good for you!"

Another lie. Something specific this time, something she knows Dr. Mauer feels strongly about, this time. It feels gross. It feels like what she'd always imagined cancer would feel like: A spongy sort of thing. Dark and grey.

"What if I'm making this worse?" Dr. Mauer shakes his head; there's nothing she can do to make it worse. Don't go to the mechanic and ask it how your car feels. He'll respect you less and more importantly he'll feel you respect him less. Not even if your car's come close to making him fall in love. We're not talking about Todd, we're talking about a doctor now. Don't ask him about this. She knows that.

"I read this thing about positive thinking, and doing acts of kindness and... I've not been a very good person lately."

Cancer is an illness that masquerades as God.

Every patient thinks she's being punished because every patient has been warned about it since birth: Be sober, be vigilant; a roaring lion stalks about, seeking somebody to devour. Random events inspire structured response. Moreso Cathy Jamison than most, certainly more than most of the people she knows.

Every patient thinks she's being punished because every person is afraid of forgiveness. Because a truly random universe, in which these things are decided entirely by chance, is two kinds of cold: Cold of heart, or cold of mind. Determinist. And the pressure of being the unlucky winner is too great for any one person to handle. If she could forgive herself whatever sins she thinks have earned it, she'd have nothing left to hold onto at all.

"The fact of the matter is that this illness boils down to two factors: Genes and environment."

Cathy tries again, and fails, again. No thank you. This is no more helpful than that Passport To A Better Life nonsense. Worse, maybe, since it takes away her power completely. And the power of her mind, and the minds of everybody else, to adequately explain the brutality of fate. No. No, if she didn't get it from improperly applied SPF and she didn't get it from second-hand smoke and she didn't get it from PCB or MSG or asbestos she'll be damned if she got it just because.

"What if my reality is I'm creating a bad environment for myself?"

Is that too much control to claim? Will he give her that one? Let her try her good-luck magic and karma-raising spells, before she loses track of things again. Before she realizes it's just another blocked exit.

Let's have all the bathtub races we'll ever have because these are all the bathtub races we'll ever have. Cathy's son Adam agrees, as long as his father Paul plays along: "You know how you like to crap on fun things?"

Genes, and environment. But it will be different this time. She will be different. A new family, a family that does these things. A mother who enjoys making the snacks and the t-shirts and doesn't mind hosting the party because they are memories she's creating, not obligations she's storing up for later. Things to duplicate.

"We call them pizza pillows," Cathy says to her neighbor Marlene. "But there isn't really a pizza part, they're basically just English muffin with melted cheese, and salsa."

Marlene stares at the platter, piled high. "I live alone, and I got a stomach the size of a nut." Cathy rolls her eyes and tells her neighbor to throw them away, if she doesn't want them; Cathy knows Marlene never throws anything away. She's lost too much already.

"And I have a favor to ask," Cathy adds, which lights Marlene's face up with an angry grin.

"I knew it! The pillows have strings." And when Cathy tells her about the met, Marlene is unimpressed.

"Ah, Jesus. More cancer?"

Cathy nearly laughs. "Yes, Marlene. I'm riddled with it. But let's try and keep this light?"

Marlene of course will do it, pick up her friend, take her home, woozy, drop her on the couch. Take out a homeless drifter with a shotgun, dress her neighbor's brother in an old man's gorgeous suits. Take on her neighbor's son in secret, making him a man. Of course Marlene will do it.

"You realize I'm almost eighty, right? I could die in my sleep at any time."

But before Monday?

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The Big C

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