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Friday, 6 April 2012

The Oncologist

            She sat on the other side of the doctor’s desk, hands clasped in her lap, palms damp with nerves. 
Unlike regular doctors’ offices, where everything was the same sterile white, including sinks and cupboards, Dr. Johnson’s office was warm, his desk filled with pictures of family and cluttered with books, papers and a few toddlers’ drawings.  It was tastefully furnished in deep cherry and plush carpets.  The chair she was seated in, like its partner, was comfortable and deep.  She knew this office by heart, she could draw it in her sleep but today it was veiled in a grey mist.  Even the enormous painting of the endless path into the woods was out of focus.
How naive she had been when she brought first her aunt then her mother here.  She would point out the décor, the brightness, the photos.  She would ignore their mechanical “Mmm” responses.  Chattering on she would do anything to attempt to distract them from their awful plight. 
Now she was in the hot seat nothing else mattered.  If something had changed Sophie didn’t notice nor did she care.
He was due to walk in any moment, but the anguish was just too great.  She was sure it was cancer.  After all, so many members of her family had had it before her, she’d seen the signs, she knew the signs and she’d nursed her own mother right to the end.  She swallowed deep, the knot tightening her throat.
It had all started with a simple infection.  Not quite the way it had happened with her mother, but everything she’d read on the Internet, told her the symptoms were the same.  Ticked all the boxes.
The door opened announcing the doctor’s arrival.  She looked up at him, bracing herself for what she knew was coming.
“Hello, Sophie,” he said walking towards her with a small smile.
“Hello, Dr. Johnson,” she greeted her mother’s oncologist.  Her oncologist now.
“It’s so wonderful to see you after all this time, how have you been?” he said letting his 6 foot 5 frame sink into the chair.  Not his great grey chair behind the desk, but in the seat beside Sophie.  Only one reason why he would do that.
“It’s good to see you too, although I’d rather not be here,” she squeezed her eyes shut with her thumb and forefinger, “if you know what I mean.”
“I know – I’m not a very popular person.” He said with a hangdog expression.
“Oh, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to hurt you,” Sophie touched his forearm, “it’s just that … well, it’s tough coming back here.”
“I know, Sophie.  Everyone who walks into this room is afraid.  I can smell it, feel it. Do you know I have to take special classes and counseling on how to talk to people?  Every year I attend different sessions just to make sure I’m staying sensitive – because my news is almost always pretty awful.”
“I didn’t know that, no.  I never thought of it that way.   It must be really hard for you.”
“Hmmm, it is, yes.  But I live in hope that one day, one day, Sophie, we’re going to crack this one and find a cure.  That always makes me think positive.  I just wish we could have found it already.  So many wonderful people, your Mom, your aunt Lucy … Lucy ...” he sighed.
Sophie’s throat tightened again, “…and now me …”
“And you … and you?” he looked up, the glazed expression cleared as he focused on Sophie  “No! Not you.” He said, clasping both her hands in his.  “Not you, Sophie! You’re fine.  You have nothing wrong except a little stubborn fungal infection which you can get rid of with this,” he said pulling a packet from the pocket of his white lab coat.
“Not? I’m not … I’m OK?” said Sophie blinking back the tears,  “are you telling me it’s not ca …”
“It’s NOT cancer,” smiled Dr. Johnson, “You’re absolutely fine.”
“Oh my God, I can’t believe it.  Thank you!” she said hugging him so spontaneously that her thumb knocked his glasses off, “Ooops, I’m so sorry,” she said bending over to pick them up and in the effort, she knocked over a picture. “Thank you!  Oh dear ", sorry again!” she said she teared up with joy.
“Who’s this?” she asked noticing the picture of a new baby in the photo she'd returned to his desk.
“My granddaughter, Lucy.”
“She’s gorgeous, Dr., Johnson, how old is she?”
“Lucy … she was five months in that picture.  Named after your aunt Lucy.  She died three weeks ago.  Brain cancer,” he whispered, turning away towards the never ending path in the painting as he often did.
“Oh.  Oh, no.” Sophie watched this gentle giant slump as his shoulders shook in silent sobs.  Again she touched his arm.
“One day,” he said, lost somewhere in the woods, “One day...”

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Unless otherwise noted, all articles are written by Cath Rathbone. (Copyright Catherine (Cath) Rathbone and Noony Brown)