He is ready for our questions now. The first one comes from me.
“Dr. Miller, if this chemotherapy doesn’t lower Bob’s white count, what’s next?” I want to be ready to research it on the Internet.
The doctor listens to me, then switches his gaze to my husband, one set of blue eyes fixed on the other.
“Well, Bob,” he pauses for second or two. “If this chemo doesn’t work, it means the cancer cells have become immune to the chemo.”
His comment startles me. Cancer cells can outsmart chemo? I imagine the cancer cells simply ignoring the harsh chemicals being pumped into Bob’s veins. Then I realize the same is true with bacteria and antibiotics. Many chemos will knock out existing cancer cells, but some cancer cells are tough, and they mutate in ways that protect them from the chemo. So these mutated cells grow, reproduce, and spread, but because they are immune, they do not die. Cancer cells are so smart they can live on until the host gives out.
I shudder realizing my husband is the host.
The doctor continued. “That’s why the first chemo didn’t slow the leukemic blasts. The cancer cells became immune.” The doctor focuses on Bob’s face, and selects his next words carefully as though laying a wreath upon a grave. “Our next step would be to make you comfortable.”
Make Bob comfortable? Comfortable? My heart rate quickens inside my chest, my brain is on fire, but my face holds steady. I want to be angry with the doctor, but I can’t. I want to be so angry I could shove his honest words right back in his mouth, but I can’t. I know Bob has an expiration date. I know I will lose him at some point, but today I wanted to hear a list of follow-up chemos waiting in line capable of killing a million leukemia cells a minute forcing a fast and furious check-mate to buy my husband more time. That is what we expected with the first chemo. How can cancer cells be so fucking smart?