She's young. Way younger than me, like thirty.
And she's got two kids. One about to start preschool, one just born.
And the other day, her arm quit working. And it hurt a lot. Enough that she thought it would be a good idea to go to the ED.
Where they found a tumor.
On her spine. Actually, three.
And one on her pelvic crest, and then another, right next to it. So, two more. That makes five.
And then they did another scan and found that her belly is full of tumor.
After three biopsies, all of which have been sent to places like MD Anderson and Harvard and Brigham and Women's and Johns Hopkins, nobody knows what the fuck is going on. The tumor slices aren't staining right, or are staining funny, or something. All anybody knows is that they're not ovarian cancer, or breast cancer. They're probably some sort of sarcoma; whether it's osteosarcoma or one of the more obscure soft-tissue cancers is yet to be determined.
Any way you slice it, she's an outlier.
An outlier who became my buddy while I took care of her, running steroids through her brand-new central line, in an attempt to get the inflammation around her cervical spine to calm down enough that her arm worked again.
Her arm is working fine. She's actually doing, from the view of any medical person, really well. She does her incentive spirometry faithfully, she's not constipated from her hydromorphone drip, she walks four times a day in the halls. So far, so good.
Except that she's got a couple of cervical vertebrae that the neurosurgeons are planning on cementing this week, provided nothing more goes wrong, because the bone has been totally eaten up with tumor.
And, of course, she has a belly full of tumor.
And two kids. One about to start preschool, and one who just quit breastfeeding.
And she's fifteen years younger than me.
Ask any nurse: the benchmark for disturbing cases changes as you get older. At first, the disturbing people are fifty. Then they're forty. Then they're younger than you are.
This one is enough younger than me that I could've competently changed her diapers when she was a newborn.
I'm not judging the world by my age or experience. . .but this person is my peer, yet enough younger than me that I cannot, under any circumstances, feel peaceful about her diagnosis or disease process or outcome.
Because, again, no matter how you slice it, her projected course fucking sucks.
Sarcomas in adults have some of the toughest treatment regimens out there.
I refuse to lie about it to her. When her grandmother, who's my mother's age, shows up and says "You'll beat this!" I nod. When her mother, who's barely a decade older than me, says "You'll beat this!" I nod again. And then they leave and we look at each other across the length of the bed and I say, "Well, fuck." And she nods.
I do not know what to do.
The best I can do at this point is send her links to "Poldark" and "Being Human," because Aidan Turner is just that worth watching. I post links to Foamy The Squirrel and Cute Overload on her Facebook page. I bring croissants and nail polish to work.
That is the best I can do, to be the person for whom she does not have to be Cancery McCancersons. We do nails when I can take a break, or we talk about the kids, or I show her new videos of drag queens she may not ever have seen before. And I promise that when she gets out of the hospital, we can go do non-cancery stuff, because she lives ten minutes away from me.
I hope she gets out of the hospital. I kind of doubt she will.
This is a person who, in all likelihood, will die. She is my friend. She is young, and good, and has children she ought to be able to watch grow up. And all I can do is post videos of baby otters learning to swim, and it is not enough.
It is not enough.
It's the hope that someday it will be enough that keeps us going back to work.