Biographical Non-Fiction posted December 13, 2015 Chapters:  ...68 69 -70- 71... 

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Barbara shares details about her cancer

A chapter in the book When Blood Collides

Before the Celebration

by Spitfire

In my senior years I struggle with family issues.

Previously: When Bobby tells me his mom is flying down to say goodbye, I order a cake for a belated birthday party. All these years, I had saved her favorite doll and now wrap it up as a present. Since she had lost her stuffed panda in a movie theater, I buy her two white and black bears. To complete the party I bring balloons, noisemakers and silly hats including a paper crown with "Queen" spelled out in silver sparkles on the feathery pink band.

Chapter 69 ends:

Pleased with my purchases, we piled everything into the car. Two days later we picked up the cake and headed to Tampa. It never occurred to me that my sister might not have much appetite or be able to taste anything.

Regal and elegant are two words I would use to describe Barbara. Her golden brown soft curls, aristocratic nose, luminous green eyes and commanding presence earned admiration. In her teens, she would walk around the house balancing books perched on her head. I caught her practicing smiles in front of the mirror. She squeezed to death any pimples or blackheads that dared to mar her peaches and cream complexion. One would have thought she wanted to be a model or actress, but no, she just wanted to be perfect.

Being flat-chested never bothered her, but she wanted the rest of her five foot six body to flesh out a little.  A peanut butter and jelly sandwich every night before bed did the trick. Four months of this "diet" moved the scale from ninety pounds to one hundred and two. She was satisfied with that. 

My sister looked good at Thanksgiving three months ago, except I thought she was too thin. I marveled she had the stamina to make this trip. Expecting to see her frail and bent over, I was shocked when I walked through Bobby’s screen door. Barbara still had perfect posture and looked like a model  ready for the runway. Her silver hair, cut pixie style, had its usual sheen. Her make-up had the natural look she worked hard to cultivate. A silk turquoise blouse and tailored black slacks completed the impression of a confident and beautiful woman.

"Hi, Barb," I greeted her as if it were an ordinary visit. "Hi, Bobby." I turned to her son. "Wait until you both taste the cake I ordered."

Frank said his hellos while I set the unopened dessert box on the dining table. Hubby set the bag full of presents and party trimmings on the floor.  Typical male maneuver.

Now free to embrace Barb, I held my arms open and headed toward her. She backed up. "Be careful, I still hurt from the effort to get here."

"Oh." I backed off too. Confusion or hurt must have shown in my face.

"No, no," she hurried to say. "I didn’t mean I don’t want a hug, but be tender. She moved toward me, placed her thin hands on my shoulders and leaned in for a cheek kiss. "Bobby told me you planned a birthday party," she said as we separated.

"Yes, and you’re queen for the day." I brought out the paper crown. After putting the end tabs together, I placed it on her head.

"I love it," she gasped after moving to a mirror to investigate the results.

"That suits you," her son said.

I gave hubby an "I told you so" look.

"You look like a queen," I went on. "But then you always did."

Barbara preened.

Would my sister want to share the details of what happened?  I had to find out. 

"It seems as if this diagnosis came out of the blue," I said after sitting down. "I mean you spoke about falling on your way to work one day. That worried me. Then the weight loss you mentioned in your Christmas card."

Barb gently lowered herself into a dining room chair across from me. "They were symptoms, but I didn't realize it. This past year, I’ve been tired a lot, but I figured it must be my work load. I had a bad case of itching for a week. That was another warning sign, I found out."

"So what made you finally go to the doctor?"  Frank asked. 

Barb turned to him. "I woke up one morning in mid-January. My face, neck and shoulders looked yellow. Norm took me to Urgent Care. The doctor made arrangements to check my liver. He found a blockage preventing bile from draining into my digestive tract and arranged to have a stent implanted right away. I had to go in for surgery on my birthday."

"Not a good way to celebrate turning sixty-five." I sighed.

"I didn’t even think about that, especially after the doctor said it was a serious procedure, risky sometimes, but more often successful than not.That's when I called Bobby and told him not to worry."

"I'm glad he told me, but I felt positive about it.  When he called again and told what had happened. I was stunned."

"We both were," Frank chimed in.

Barb's face remained stoic and her voice matter-of-fact as she related the details.

"I went into the hospital. The anesthesiologist set an IV. I don't know how much time went by, but when I opened my eyes, I took one look at the doctor's face and asked, 'You didn’t do the surgery, did you?'  He shook his head and swallowed hard. Seeing a tear on his cheek, I said,  'I’m going to die, aren’t I.' "

Her voice caught a little, but she regained her composure. "He told me I had stage four cancer. The cells had been growing in my bile duct system for at least twelve years. My weight loss, fatigue, weakness and itching were all signs."

"Twelve years!" I gasped. "And no early warnings?"

"He told me certain kinds of cancer don’t show any signs until it’s too late."

"Did he talk about chemo treatments?"

"It was an option, but at stage four, success would be doubtful. Anyway, I didn't want to lose my hair. My co-workers call me 'the silver fox', you know."  She giggled. 

"It fits." I grinned. I thought it good that she kept her ego right now. "So what is the long-range prognosis?" I leaned toward her.

"Two good months, two not-so -good, and then I can either go into Hospice or stay at home for palliative care which is what I plan to do.  My goal is to see the two doctoral students I’ve been mentoring the last two years graduate in May."

"And you will," I reassured her. "Mom once told me you were so smart, you could succeed at anything you tried."

"Really?" Barb sat up straighter and brightened. "Our mother said that about me?"

Her reaction surprised me. How could she doubt that Mom would not be proud of her?

To be continued.

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Palliative care focuses on both emotional and physical needs,
makes relief of pain and suffering a top priority, provides active support to loved ones and caregivers, and provides information about how to take care of someone at home.

Since a single doctor or nurse usually can't handle all of these issues, palliative care generally involves a team approach.
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