Pettigrew, Alysha | Surviving Mesothelioma

Pettigrew, Alysha

Reinventing My Circumstance

As I hear the news, my mind instantly goes blank and a wrenching pain forms in my stomach. Evolving from the empty darkness, my mind is overcome with images of my loving mother, fearless sister, and carefree niece. These images transform my shock and discourage into a bittersweet array of hope and opportunity. The doctor continues through his explanation regarding my prognosis and as a remorseful expression feels his face, I am satisfied that my occupation does not require me to deliver such horrible news to individuals. Looking through thick rimmed spectacles, he places his hand on my shoulder, reassuring me and, once again, apologizing. Shaking his hand, I leave the inexpressive office, carefully studying the faces of those I meet traveling to my vehicle.

Surrounded by beige interior, my mind is overcome with thoughts. Should I call someone and share the news I received, although I have not even fully digested its severity? Should I quit school and the part-time job I despise? Should I simply give up? At the instant the opportunity to give up arises in my mind, a young mother intertwines her hands with those of a young girl who has long braided hair and is missing a few teeth, and the pair strolls by the front of my dust covered automobile. As the girl’s bright eyes shine with optimism and happiness, I place my key into the ignition and vacate the parking area.

It is true, what they say, about how we take simple, everyday things for granted. Typically, behind the wheel of my car, I am a frantic driver, always in a mad dash to arrive at my destination as quickly as possible. However, this morning, I roll the windows down and begin to enjoy the surrounding pleasures I usually would have surpassed. Amidst the luscious green grass meeting the dreary asphalt are scattered flowers in full bloom. Shining bright overhead, the sun warms the skin on my left arm, dangling out the window.

Nearing home, I reach for my phone and dial for my sister. After the usual introductory conversation I inform her of my plans to stop by and visit with her. Aimlessly driving down a lonely interstate I have driven in excess, I begin to contemplate the remaining six months the doctor has sentenced me to. Six months? Just six months? I will never see Ashlynn, my curly-headed niece, ride a bike or start school. Why me? But, then again, why not me? I have always been stubborn, even since I was young, so I decide that somehow, I will live more than six months.

Walking up the wooden steps, Ashlynn pokes her head out the door, runs, and locks her arms around my neck as I bend down to meet her embrace. The familiarity of her touch eases my nerves and I squeeze her in my arms, knowing that I want to see this beautiful toddler grow into a young woman. She kisses my cheek and I am reluctant to release her small body. As Cari joins us, my sister and I embrace and she, as always, invites me inside their warm home. I have always admired Cari. As a single mother, she has more determination and strength than I can ever imagine processing. Looking into her eyes, tired, I can tell, I think of our days spent by the lake or pushing one another in tire swings. After a lunch consisting of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, Ashlynn’s request, I leave the home knowing that in just a few short minutes, Ashlynn will be sound asleep.

Arriving home, my mother steps out onto the front porch, her face filled with a combination of anxiety and concern. Recently, my mother has forgone attending doctor visits with me. As she chuckles, she jokingly states that it’s because I’m growing up; nevertheless, I am aware that the continuance of disappointing news is too much than she can endure. On appointment days my mother routinely greets me with the same expression: “So, how did it go?” As she mumbles the question, she averts her stare from my eyes. For an instance, I consider not telling her. With this consideration, I am overcome with the remembrance of how compassionate and accepting my mum has continually been, and with that realization, I tell her the truth. Her eyes fill with tears and I can tell she has imagined this announcement, but always pushed the thought away. As she places her head between her hands, it seems as if I can actually hear her own heart break.

Inside the house, my mother resorts to her bedroom, unable to grasp the situation. Realizing she needs her own time to cope, I am not angered by her unwillingness to converse. Walking into my bedroom, I sit down on my bed and simultaneously retrieve my laptop computer. Clicking onto the internet, I resist the routine urge of checking my email and begin to research information relevant to my situation. Thousands of blue links cover the screen and I choose the first one, determined to view them all.

The computer search is only the beginning. Supplied with the contact information I use to speak with several physicians, I will not let this prognosis, this cancer, control my life. Even though I might be making my exit, leaving behind my family and friends, I am determined to enjoy every second and extend my remaining time into years, not a minute six months.

Days have passed and I have already met with three doctors who specialize in prolonging the life span of terminal cancer patients. For some, meeting with these individuals may evoke of anger and contempt, but instead, I am overcome with hope. These doctors inform me of possible treatments, combining the information with the benefits and negatives of each. Sitting in the constantly uncomfortable chairs, a spiral bound notebook sits in my lap. Inside, the blue lined pages are covered with speculation, ideas, and various information. This notebook contains the requirements I necessitate. Pasted inside of the front cover is a well-worn newspaper clipping. When days seem tiresome, I begin to read the story of an inspirational man who was determined to reinvent his own circumstance. Diagnosed with mesothelioma, Rhio O’Connor began to adamantly research various methods of treatment. Whether the treatment was chemotherapy, clinical trials, or radiation, O’Connor tirelessly researched and deliberated the effects. By speaking with numerous doctors and patients, O’Connor surpassed the remaining year of his life the doctor had expected and lived more than six years. On days like these, I carefully read the article and study the attached picture. O’Connor’s eyes, hidden behind thick rimmed spectacles, are filled with delight and, I believe, satisfaction.

Treatment is a difficult event to endure and an event that I constantly consider. I aim to gain quality of life as compared with the quantity of life. I am overcome with a state of fear, for I am terrified of needles. This fear seems small compared with the overbearing cloud of the situation at hand. After the poking and prodding is finished, I return home, driven by my mum, and anticipate several days of wheezy stomachs and saltine crackers.

Arriving home, surrounded by comfort and familiarity, Ashlynn bounces into the room. As I lift her onto my lap she seems heavier than I remember. She kisses my lips, then lays her head onto my chest. Nuzzling my nose into her crisp curls, I breathe in her smell and sense her delicate physique, vowing to remember this perfect instant for eternity.

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