Disclaimers: All characters referenced in this story are mine and mine alone. Any similarities between them and anyone else living, dead, or fictional, is purely accidental/coincidental. Basically, hands off without my permission-pretty please.
Warnings: No violence, sorry. This does involve a look at loving relationships between women. If this is not your style, you are under 18, or if this is not legal where you live: Either don’t read it, don’t get caught reading it, or forget you ever saw this stuff.
For those who think lesbianism is wrong -sorry, perhaps one day after we cure stuff like cancer and AIDS we’ll work on stupidity-until then, don’t read and don’t flame.
Sex: Of course-not in all sections but it does happen now and again.
Sue: Always for you!
Anything I missed? Fill in the blanks or email me.
All comments, questions, suggestions and nice stuff are LOVED!
Bailey collapsed on the sofa next to Riley, relieved that her personal stuff was moved in. She had left her furniture, not that there was much, as she had arranged to sell it to the next tenant. She hadn’t unpacked some of her boxes from her last move so this move wasn’t as bad as it could have been. She struggled to her feet and offered Riley a drink.
“I’d kill for an ice cold beer right now,” said Riley.
“Coming right up, I’ll fix a plate of munchies too.”
While Bailey was in the kitchen, Jay wandered out of the bedroom where she had been napping and sat in her leather chair.
“Hey, what’s up Rye? How did the moving go?”
Riley grinned and flexed her muscles, “Not a problem for a strong woman like me. Seriously, it was fine. Your woman is pretty organized.”
Jay chuckled, “You don’t know the half of it! She has her socks arranged like a color palette, going from white to black with the colors in the middle.”
Riley started laughing as Bailey came into the room with their beers and a platter of cheese, crackers, and pepperoni. She set it all down and gave Jay a quick kiss.
“Want anything to drink honey?” asked Bailey.
“I’ll get it myself, but thanks. Have a sip of that beer for me though, will you?” Jay wandered into the kitchen in search of a beverage and the two women got started on their snacks.
“So, how’s she really doing?” asked Riley.
Bailey took a swallow from her beer and replied, “Good and bad days. There hasn’t been a lot of time for it to sink in yet but we’re talking, and trying to deal with the feelings.”
Jay reentered the room and perched on the arm of the chair Bailey had chosen.
“You guys about done talking about me?” she asked.
Bailey stuck her tongue out at her, to which Jay replied, “Is that a promise honey? I can kick Rye out right now if it is.” Jay tried for a convincing leer.
Everyone laughed, glad to see some of Jay’s humor returning. “In answer to your questions about me, I’m really fine right now. I’m waiting until we hear exactly what we’re dealing with before I freak out anymore. Mostly I’m just tired and a little sore.”
Riley nodded, helping herself to more of the snacks before asking, “You know if you need anything, I’m only a phone call away, right? Either of you!” she looked pointedly at each of them.
“Yes Mom,” they chorused before laughing.
Jay grew serious and looked at Bailey before turning to Riley. “Thanks Rye that really means a lot. I don’t want it all to fall on Bailey, and I’m honest enough to admit that we’ll need some help with things.”
On Thursday, the week after her surgery Jay went in to have her stitches removed. Bailey left work early so she could drive her in. They would also hear the results of the study since the lab had finished their report the previous day. After being shown into the exam room, the resident came in, removed the stitches, and cleaned up her neck. Then she applied more of the salve and made sure that Jay still had enough at home. The resident went out to fetch Dr. Brown, leaving them alone in the room.
“Well, well, looks like I got your ear on straight after all Jay. You are healing very nicely. Any pain or problems with the surgical site?”
“Nope, some twinges of pain now and then, but mostly it feels fine now. So, how long are you going to make us wait for the results Doc? Just spit it out, the wait is driving me nuts.”
“Jay, Bailey, the lab report came back yesterday and to be honest I was totally surprised by the results.” He leaned back against the counter and opened a file he held. “The lab found that the tumor actually consisted of a different cancer than we thought. It’s called Merkel Cell Carcinoma.”
Jay looked at him, holding tightly to Bailey’s hand for comfort.
“What is it? I’ve never heard of it before,” asked Bailey.
“Honestly, I’ve only heard of it recently myself. I’m sorry, this was a total surprise to the lab and to me. It’s a very rare cancer, also very aggressive. It’s not considered a true skin cancer but it is related. Typically, it affects Caucasian men sixty five to seventy five years of age, and there are less than a thousand cases in the entire U.S each year.”
Bailey gripped Jay’s hand tightly and tried to remember to breathe. Jay was looking very pale but her eyes showed her strength.
Jay asked, “How do we beat it? What do I do next?”
Dr. Brown looked on approvingly, “That’s the right attitude! Have you gotten the names of any oncologists yet?”
“Not yet, I was waiting to see what we were facing.”
“I can give you some names but also check with your primary doctor for a referral. I also printed out the data I have on it. I’m sorry to say, it isn’t much but it was everything I could find quickly in layman’s terms.”
Dr. Brown said, “Take care and keep in touch, I’ll be sure to follow your case.”
Jay sat on the couch searching the Internet from her wireless laptop, looking for information on Merkel Cell Carcinoma. She figured out quickly that it would be hard to find studies or definite information. The cancer was known as MCC, and there were only a few places on the East Coast with much experience treating it. The two top doctors were in Boston and Seattle, respectively, and were available for consultation. She decided to find someone local first and was waiting on a return call from her primary doctor’s office. Bailey was at work, and Riley was on her way over with take out and some information about a cancer center in North East Philadelphia, Fox Chase Cancer Center.
She sat for a moment contemplating the major changes in her life over the past year. A promotion, reuniting with Bailey, deciding to live together, and now the cancer. No wonder my head is spinning.
Jay decided to take a break from research and answer some work e-mails until Riley got there. The first e-mail she saw was from Sharon letting her know that Bailey had filled her in and that whatever she needed to do time wise was fine. She also offered to help if she could, even if it was just coming over to relieve boredom or help her run errands. Jay sighed, she knew people meant well, but she wasn’t an invalid yet and she didn’t want everyone acting like she was half-dead. She replied politely to Sharon, thanking her and letting her know things were fine for now. Just as she hit send, the doorbell rang and there was Riley with food, information, and laughter. Just what I need, thought Jay gratefully.
They set up in the living room and Riley grabbed paper plates and utensils from the kitchen. They dished up the food plates and settled in before they started talking things out.
“So girlie, what’s your thinking about things? How are you handling?”
Jay rolled her eyes and explained about the conflicting information out there. Some doctors suggested only radiation or only chemo, and some still relied on both treatments. There was nothing definitive and less information than she wanted, especially since the mortality rate was skewed in her mind. It was based on old men who were more likely to die anyway than she.
Jay addressed the question of her moods by saying, “I’m up and down, I do the why me thing for a while, I curse fate then I think of all the good in my life and figure at least I have a good support team. I guess I’m bouncing through all the stages of grief at once. I don’t know what normal is for this but I think I’m close to it.”
Riley looked her friend over before teasing, “Hey, at least you approached normal on something.”
Jay laughed and tossed her napkin at Riley, “I knew I could count on you for some laughs. I think Court Jester might become your job through this mess.”
“Anything you need my friend, I’ll lend you my library, I’ll get you more books, more music for your iPod, whatever I can to distract you. I have a decent DVD collection too if you get interested in it.”
Jay marveled at her fortune for having such a friend as Riley.
Bailey was working at her desk when her phone rang, it was Sharon.
“Bailey, when you have a few minutes will you please come to my office?”
“Sure, any files I should bring?”
“No, just you will be fine, thanks.” Sharon hung up and Bailey was a bit confused but grabbed her Blackberry just in case, and walked over to Sharon’s office. Giving a quick knock, she went in and sat down in one of the chairs in front of Sharon’s desk.
“What’s up? Do you need me to do something?” asked Bailey.
“No, actually, I want to be able to do something for you, well, you and Jay,” replied Sharon. “It’s hard for me since I’m not supposed to know about you two, but I do know and I realize that her illness affects you both. I’d like to help in some way. I’ve known Jay for a while now, I consider her something of a protégé and a braver version of myself. I know she’s stubborn and has her pride, but if there is ever anything I can do, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
Bailey, not being privy to the e-mail Sharon had sent Jay, was flabbergasted. She had expected Sharon to put as much distance between herself and them as possible. It was almost inevitable that during the course of Jay’s illness, their relationship would become common knowledge. Bailey figured Sharon would want to disavow any knowledge if she should be called in front of her superiors.
“Sharon, thank you, that’s very kind of you. Right now, we’re still finding an oncologist and doing research. I promise to keep you in the loop and get you involved if I can.”
“Thanks Bailey, I’d really like to help. How’s Jay really handling things? This happened so fast, but I’ve been wondering if I should have made her go to a doctor sooner. She looked worn out so often over the past several months.” Bailey nodded, having wondered the same thing herself at times.
“I don’t think they would have found it any sooner, not really. It wasn’t visible until that small lump formed and she went in quickly after we found it. We think it was caught early enough for her to have the upper hand.” Bailey refused to think of it any other way. She refused to lose Jay after having just found her again.
“Well, please tell her I’m thinking of her often and you’re both in my prayers. I’ll let you get back to work, but if you need help with your caseload, just let me know. I know Jay’s helping from home, but if you need field coverage, I can help out.”
“Thanks Sharon, for everything, I’ll pass it along to Jay tonight.” With that, she stood and left to head back to her own office for another futile attempt to drown her worries in work.
The choice was made. Fox Chase was the only cancer center with a good amount of experience treating MCC within a two-hour drive, and Jay wanted to stay local if possible. She had a meeting scheduled with what would become her team of doctors. There would be a surgeon, a radiology oncologist, and an oncologist for chemotherapy. In addition, they were sending her for a test called a PET scan, something that involved radioactive die and some more time lying still in a big tube. Supposedly, that would show if there was more cancer lurking anywhere but it was dependant upon the cancer being sensitive to the die. The only definite thing in cancer treatment, so it seemed, was that nothing was an exact science. Jay was growing frustrated, in her world, both your credit score and debt to income ratio were good, or they weren’t good. It was all based on solid numbers. All of this gray area was making her nervous.
The day for Jay’s first visit arrived. Sharon was covering a branch event for Bailey in the afternoon, which freed her schedule up enough to take a half-day. Jay was nervous but felt prepared. She had spent time on the LiveStrong website printing out lists of questions that other cancer patients had learned it was important to ask. Survivor, that was the word the website used, and both she and Bailey were trying to remember to use it as well. She was a cancer survivor. Hell, she was willing to call herself anything if she could beat this thing. Jay chose to drive them to the appointment. It was her first time driving since her surgery. Even though her neck was still stiff, it was better and she wanted to get used to driving with the feeling.
Bailey was nervous also, but she was trying to hide it and be strong for Jay. She knew that Jay was scared out of her mind. She tossed and turned at night, grinding her teeth, until Bailey could soothe her back into more peaceful slumber. She had spent hours doing research on the internet also and found that there were very few resources to help them with things like transportation to the treatments and doctor visits.
Jay absolutely refused to go by paratransit or ambulance, unless there was no other option. She had even suggested paying a limo service to take her up and back rather than submitting to a paratransit service. Bailey was already gathering support from her family, Jay’s family, Riley, and a few people from work. She knew Jay wouldn’t want the people from work to see her when she was really sick and weak, but Bailey figured that they could at least help for the early portion if needed. Besides, people felt better if they offer to do something other than offer sympathy. Bailey understood that, she wanted to beat the hell out of the disease, if she could only grab hold of it.
Bailey reached out for Jay’s hand as they drove down interstate 95N, and asked, “How you holding up sweetie? Do you want to go over anything or talk about anything before we get there?”
Jay let out a sigh of frustration, “No, I have the list of questions so I guess I’m okay for now. I just wish … Fuck it, it doesn’t matter what I wish, does it?” she finished, her voice full of bitterness.
“Oh baby, I’m so sorry. I know this sucks, I hate that it happened but we will get through it.”
“We will? I think I’m going to be the one losing my hair, puking my guts out, getting radiation burns, and feeling like shit. Oh, and the best part? There’s absolutely no guarantee that any of it will work! Sounds like a barrel of laughs to me!” Jay spat out.
Bailey took a deep breath. She had been waiting for this, but it still hurt to hear Jay assume this was all her problem. She fought to remain calm and steady as she addressed her lover.
“Jay, I understand that the physical part is happening to you. I get that, I really do. But first, we don’t even know what your treatment will be so we can’t assume what the side effects will be. Plus, I’m the one who will be holding your head while you puke, cleaning up, buying you hats, scarves or whatever, and rubbing cream on the burns. I will be here, hurting for you and wanting to help you get through this, as painlessly as possible. Don’t tell me this disease is only affecting you because isn’t. We, as a couple, have cancer and we will beat it together. Got it?”
Jay looked a little stunned and a little hurt. Then her face changed and a look of understanding and embarrassment came over her features.
“I guess I’m being an ass about it, aren’t I? Logically I know it’s affecting us both but I’ve been having a bit of a pity party for myself. You’re right though, we both have to fight it as a team, I’m sorry, forgive me?”
“There’s nothing to forgive, this is all part of dealing with it, just remember I’m here to lean on sweetie.” Bailey gave her hand a squeeze and Jay squeezed back letting Bailey know the point was made.
They signed in at the main desk feeling a little overwhelmed by the number of people walking around them. After filling out some forms and signing some paperwork, the two women were directed to go up the ramp and into area A, to another registration desk. Jay looked at Bailey, took a deep breath, and squeezed her hand.
“We can do this, right?” she asked with a slight quiver in her voice.
“You bet, baby!” answered Bailey. They headed up the ramp and found the registration desk they were looking for right away. After signing in again, they handed Jay brand new, blue plastic, patient card and she received a wristband made of paper. They were asked to wait in a room that looked like an attempt at creating a pleasant atmosphere. Jay felt her chest tighten with anxiety and tried to focus on her surroundings, rather than the reason she was there.
The room they were in was rather large with a bookcase full of books to borrow. There were arrangements of armchairs and small sofas with tables and lamps. A frosted glass panel protecting the patients from the noise and bustle of the corridor and the staff walking around briskly in their white coats nodded and smiled as they went past.
Nervously, Jay opened her book to read, but realized quickly that she was reading the same paragraph over and over again. Bailey didn’t even pretend to read. She wandered over to an area labeled information and took a free magazine featuring a picture of Lance Armstrong on the cover. Jay gave up any pretense of reading and just sat very still. She focused on her breathing, afraid that she would hyperventilate from her nerves. All she could thing was, Why me? Why now? Please let me live, now that I finally seem to be on track.
Eventually, a nurse in scrubs and a white lab coat came out and called Jay’s name. The two women linked hands and followed her to the exam room. Jay was brought into the hallway to be weighed and then brought back into the room for vital signs. The nurse took an extensive history regarding everything leading up to the discovery and diagnosis of her cancer.
“Today is about getting acquainted with your team, answering your questions, and figuring out the next phase of your treatment. You will meet with all three of your doctors today, one at a time in this room. I’ll go out and get the first one if you’re ready.” They nodded and she left the room to let the doctors know it was their turn to meet their new patient.
Jay sat on the exam table nervously swinging her legs, while Bailey sat in one of the chairs nearby. They didn’t speak, both lost in their own thoughts. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door and it opened. In walked a man with an entourage, looking very confident. He was dressed in what looked to be a custom tailored suit, he was obviously foreign born, and he introduced himself as Dr. Zacharias.
“Everyone calls me Dr. Zach,” he smiled. He introduced his staff of interns and residents and his primary nurse, Pat. After reviewing the area of her neck where the surgery was done he commented, “Beautiful job, it is healing nicely.” He explained the possible course of radiation he was contemplating, “We will do five weeks, five days a week for about fifteen minutes each day. The initial set up takes about an hour and a half, but that’s the week before we actually start. The radiation will focus on the area of the tumor as tightly as possible.”
“When would I be starting this treatment and what are the side effects,” asked Jay. She was starting to sound a little more in control, handling this as if she were interviewing a prospective client.
“When we start depends upon whether or not the team thinks you need additional surgery. Once you meet with the other doctors, we’ll have a team meeting and discuss your combined treatment plan. We need to give you about three weeks to heal after any surgery before we can start the radiation treatment.” Jay nodded and Bailey was taking notes. “As to side effects, we actually have a handout for you about that and I want to review it with you.” Pat handed each woman a copy of the handout and then handed Dr. Zach the final copy.
He thanked her and continued, “At first you might not notice anything at all, but we will give you a lotion to use several times a day. It is very important that you use it to prevent as much skin breakdown as possible. After the first week or so, you might start feeling fatigue and only be able to do things for short periods of time before needing a rest. It is important to rest as much as possible to allow your body to heal. Eventually, week three or four, your skin will be reddened, it may crack, and it may even bleed some. The inside of your mouth will also be affected due to the location of your original tumor. You will need to see your dentist for fluoride treatment trays and a thorough cleaning and exam before we start. There is a chance that the radiation may damage the jawbone or your teeth, so it is important to make sure that we try to prevent that from happening.” He paused, watching both women for reactions.
Bailey was making hasty notes on her handout. Jay seemed to stare at it, reading it and thinking.
“I might lose my teeth?” she asked. “That doesn’t seem fair after spending so much time in braces.” She chuckled, “My folk will have a fit!”
Bailey gave her a look, wondering if her partner was breaking under the strain already.
“Got it,” said Jay, seemingly done with her jokes, “See a dentist, get fluoride, and lotion my neck and face. I’m ready when you are.”
“Excellent!” said Dr. Zach, “That is exactly the attitude we need for you to have. Maintaining a sense of humor and a positive attitude has been shown to help patients recover faster and stronger.” He shook hands with both of them, wished them well, and let them know that Pat would be in touch shortly about scheduling. With that, he swept from the room, entourage in tow.
Bailey and Jay looked at each other laughed.
“Wow! What a ball of energy he is, huh?” asked Bailey. She walked over to Jay and gave her a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. “How are you holding up sweetie? Did you like him?”
Jay leaned against Bailey, their foreheads touching. “He seems great. I guess I’m doing fine, it’s just nerve-wracking, I hadn’t thought about more surgery until he mentioned it. That kind of bothers me I think.”
Bailey rubbed her back slowly in small soothing circles. “I hear ya babe, but we’ll do whatever we have to do to get you healthy again.”
Jay nodded slowly and just let herself lean into Bailey’s warmth.
There was a quick knock and the door opened again, letting in a tall, thin woman with long dark hair, and a smaller woman with a large clipboard. Bailey remained standing next to Jay with one arm around her waist while Jay sat on the edge of the exam table. The taller woman introduced herself as Dr. Langston and her lead nurse, Emily.
“I’m the surgeon assigned to your team,” she said. “Let me take a look at what’s been done already and then we’ll talk about how to proceed, okay?” Jay agreed and presented her neck for more examination. Again, Dr. Brown’s work was praised for the way he blended the scar in with the natural skin folds of her neck.
“He did a great job on this, there will be very little visible eventually.” With that, she sat on the stool and started her part of the team meeting.
“I’ve looked over your CAT and PET Scans, read your surgeon’s notes, and read the most recent research on Merkel Cell. Based on all of that, I’m suggesting that we do a left neck dissection.”
Jay looked a little pale and Bailey had pulled out her notebook and started taking notes again.
“It sounds bad, but it’s not really. I would follow the same track your previous surgeon took, but extend it down to here,” she motioned on her own neck following a line that ran from the top of her left ear down around part of her neck and ending at the area of her neck directly under her chin. “I’ll do my best to minimize scarring of course. The purpose of the surgery is to remove as many lymph nodes as possible to prevent any spread of the cancer through the lymphatic system. With me so far?” They both nodded mutely, trying to absorb everything.
“The PET scan lit up only in the area of the original tumor. We can’t tell if that means there is more cancer or if it was reacting to the recent trauma in the area. Just to be safe, I would prefer to be cautious. I’ll take out the nodes and if needed, the remaining salivary gland on that side. There will be some nerve damage and maybe some muscle loss around your neck. I’ll do my best to minimize nerve damage, especially to your face. You’ll spend anywhere from three to five nights in our hospital and most likely another two or three weeks healing before we can start you on your radiation set-up. Still with me?”
Jay was really starting to feel shell-shocked but she hung in. “When would we do this? I don’t want to wait since this is such an aggressive cancer,” said Jay.
“No problem, I’ve already looked my schedule over and I can fit you in a week from tomorrow.”
Jay blew out a breath, looked at Bailey who nodded in encouragement.
“If you were me, would you have the surgery? I mean we don’t know that there is anything left, right?”
“Honestly, considering the type of cancer, I’d have it done in a heart beat. If it has made it into the lymph system we need to cut it out before it can spread through your body.”
“Let’s do it then.” Jay made the decision, and prayed it was the right one.
“Emily will get you set up with pre-surgical instructions and blood work. I’ll let the rest of the team know that we’re moving ahead with the surgery and we’ll adjust your start date for everything else. I believe you still have to meet with Dr. Goldman, correct?”
“That’s the chemo guy right? We’re meeting him next I guess.” Jay was less than enthused at this point but at least it was almost over.
“Right, I’ll see you next week then, in the mean time try to get some rest, stay away from anything that thins your blood, and do what you can to relax. If you have any questions please call us at any time.” She gave a quick wave and left the room. Emily remained to go over the pre-operative instructions including a list of things Jay should avoid during the next week, and what to do the night before and the morning of surgery. After answering any questions they had about the timing of things, she left them alone again.
“Baby, I’m so sorry you have to go through more surgery but I think it’s the right thing to do.” Bailey leaned into Jay again, wrapping her in a tight embrace.
Jay sat there silently; confused and scared, feeling like her whole world was spinning out of control. Bailey was worried about her but just held her, waiting silently for the next doctor to come in. She started making lists in her head of all the things they needed to handle before Jay’s surgery.
The hemo-oncologist, the chemotherapy doctor, came in quietly and introduced himself as Dr. Goldman, and his nurse as Michelle. He had a resident with him as well, but he stood quietly near the door and didn’t speak. Dr. Goldman also took a quick look at the site of the surgery and then went over a few details of Jay’s history with her.
“I’m going to be honest Jay, right now I can’t determine what treatment I’ll want to use. I need to wait and see the results of the surgery before I commit to a specific course.”
That made sense to everyone so they all nodded, even the resident.
“I will tell you that although this is an aggressive cancer, we will be aggressive right back because of your age and general state of health. I’m going to want to use a strong mix of therapies to do a sort of micro cleansing of your blood. That way if there are any cancerous cells floating around, we have a good chance of getting them.” He paused and looked at her as if waiting for questions.
“I’ll have to do chemo, no doubts?”
He nodded his head, “Just based on your age and the type of tumor you had, I’d really suggest it. I would hate to think we missed something that we could have gotten should you have a reoccurrence.”
“Assuming I do the chemo, you don’t yet know how long it will take?”
“Not really, I can tell you there is a likelihood of three days in a row, with approximately three weeks between sessions. I’m not positive yet of course and I’m leaning towards certain therapies, but I really want to wait to see if it has made its way into the lymph system before choosing anything.”
“Thank you, I guess everything waits for the surgery first.”
Dr. Goldman shook their hands, wished them well and said his nurse would be in touch after the surgery for a follow up to discuss the options at that time.
With that, they were free to go. Jay walked slowly, almost trudging across the floor to the lobby and into the parking garage. Bailey walked beside her, unsure of what to do. She ran a hand through her thick dark hair and sighed inwardly. She hated seeing her lover so defeated like this but she didn’t know what she could do to help. When they got to the truck, Jay asked Bailey to drive back to their condo, so she could think and close her eyes.
“Sure honey, I’ll take care of it. Did you want to stop anyplace on the way?”
“No thanks, I’m just too tired.” Jay answered. With that, she closed her eyes and turned her head towards the window, not even bothering to turn her cell phone on.
Bailey flipped on a calm radio station with the volume low, just for background noise and they drove home in relative silence. She thought about everything that had been discussed with the doctors, and found her head swimming. She was thankful she had taken notes. Her heart hurt for all that Jay would have to go through in the months to come. If she could find a way to ease Jay’s pain and discomfort then she would. Bailey resolved to search the Internet for things to help out, thinking she could get nicer bed sheets, nutritional information, things to distract her from her environment and help her that way.
Continued in Part 12
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