In the local health centre there was a new, young, female doctor attached to the practice that Maura attended. Being young and new to the practice she, not surprisingly, wanted to make a good impression, and so conducted a thorough examination of Maura. Fortunately, on this occasion, Fiona decided to accompany her to the doctor’s surgery and she listened attentively to what the doctor had to say. After the examination was complete, the young doctor told Maura that she would make arrangements for her to attend the hospital for a series of tests. At the same time, the doctor also promised that she would do everything in her power to ensure that the tests would be carried out as soon as possible, and, in the meantime, she would take some blood samples. Maura was, of course, concerned and a little upset when she was told that hospital tests would be required and she asked, nervously, “Is it something very serious, doctor?”
“To be honest, Mrs. Magowan, I will not know anything until the test results are returned to me,” the doctor smiled reassuringly. “Once we know exactly what we are dealing with, then we shall be able to treat it rapidly and efficiently so we can get you back to full health.”
“She’s right, Mammy,” added Fiona comfortingly. “Let us get these tests over and done with so we can treat you before it becomes any worse. Sure, I’ll come with you to the hospital, for you know what Daddy’s like about those places.”
It came as a great surprise when, barely two weeks after seeing the doctor, Maura received a letter from the hospital offering her an appointment ten days time. Fiona was excited for her mother and she urged Maura to call the hospital on the phone and confirm the appointment by telling them that she would be attending. Encouraged by this piece of good news Maura and her two daughters went out shopping for some new clothes that she might need if she was going into the hospital. Then, later that same evening, Maura sat down with Johnny and told him that she would be going into hospital to undergo some tests.
“Sure, Maura, it might not be that bad of a thing,” Johnny tried to assure his wife. “It will, probably, only be that IBS thing that has got so popular, or just an ulcer of one kind or another.”
“I think it might just be a little more serious than that Johnny!” she said, but appreciated his efforts at trying to comfort her.
“You worry too much Maura, as you always do. I’ll bet you that when you get these tests they will say you’re as fit as a fiddle.”
Later that same evening, as was his usual custom, Johnny went to the club, where he met Luig in the snug. They talked in whispers to each other, and Johnny told her about Maura’s impending hospital appointment and how worried she was. But, as they talked quietly, unknown to them, a close work colleague of Maura, called Dympna Murphy, saw the couple getting rather cosy with each other, and she decided that this was more than just an innocent friendship. She had come to the club with one of her friends and asked her, “Who is that with Johnny Magowan?”
“Oh, you haven’t heard the gossip have you?” the friend replied quietly.
“Now, would I be asking you such a question if I knew who she was?”
“Hush, for Jesus’ sake! Not so loud,” Dympna’s friend urged. “That’s Johnny’s fancy piece.”
“His what?” exclaimed Dympna, in shock and disbelief at this sudden revelation. “She’s not that bloody fancy!”
“It’s that girl with the odd name, Luigseach. But, she just calls herself Luig. Luig McGirr and she’s Johnny Magowan’s bit on the side,” explained the friend. “It has been going on for quite a while now. I’m surprised you haven’t heard about it until now.”
“What, in the name God, does the like of Johnny Magowan see in that witch?” sighed Dympna despairingly.
“Typical man, he’s always looking for his comforts. I would say it’s not what he sees in her, but what she does for him,” laughed Dympna’s friend loudly and gathering attention from around the room.
“The dirty old bitch! How could he prefer the like of that instead of his wife, Maura?”
“I don’t believe that Maura knows anything about the affair, to be honest. I definitely would not like to be the one who tells the poor woman, if you know what I mean.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” sighed Dympna. She knew already that Maura was going to attend the hospital for tests. She was of the opinion that any such disclosure should be left until after the results of those tests were known. But, Dympna was equally determined that, as Maura’s friend since childhood, she should let her know the secret.
When the day for attending the hospital finally came, Fiona, as promised, accompanied her to the hospital and Johnny drove them to the appointment. As is usual in all hospitals, Maura was called and brought to an area where she and Fiona were told to await the doctor’s call before they could go into the consulting room. After another lengthy period of waiting both ladies were brought into the room by a nurse.
As Maura walked into the office, the doctor greeted her courteously, “Hello Mrs. Magowan. Sorry for keeping you waiting so long.”
“It’s fine,” she told him politely.
“Well, we have several tests to be done and we may have to keep you in overnight on the ward,” the doctor began. “First I have some questions to ask and then the nurse will take you to the ward and help prepare you for what lies ahead. Now, the first test will not be carried out until this afternoon, and there will be a short wait until the next test. We will make every effort to ensure that you know what we are doing it, and when.”
After thanking the young doctor, Maura and Fiona were shown up to the ward, where she undressed and put on a nightdress and a dressing gown. Almost immediately nurse followed nurse, as question followed question, and they checked this and they checked that. Temperature, blood pressure observations were taken, along with a heart trace carried out on a portable ECG machine. Finally, a nurse inserted a ‘butterfly’ connection to the vein in Maura’s left arm. This was to be used only if further medication had to be delivered intravenously. With such attention from the nursing staff the time appeared to fly past until lunch arrived in the ward. Maura, however, was not interested in eating food, being too nervous even to eat a morsel.
Almost immediately after lunch Maura’s first test was carried out, involving a body scan rather than an X-ray. Once the scan was complete, Maura was taken to another department in the hospital, where she was given an ultra-sound sweep of her abdomen. Because of the waiting times in between scans these procedures took up most of the afternoon. When Maura returned o the ward she was served a light tea, but she could only nibble at a slice of wheaten bread and drink the cup of tea provided. She was tired and bored. So far all that had been done was answer questions and have scans completed. There was not, much to her frustration, one word about what they were actually testing her for. Fiona, however, continued to support her mother and to keep her spirits up by ensuring that any dark thoughts of her mortality did not linger in Maura’s mind.
There were no more tests that evening and Maura suggested that Fiona go home and get some rest. Eight O’clock was the start of visiting time, but Fiona did not stay and an exhausted Maura prepared to get some sleep. For several weeks she had become very concerned about her health, and she had said prayers to every possible saint asking them to protect her from her worst fear, which was contracting cancer. Maura had seen people die as a result of this devastating disease, and she had no wish for her family to witness her waste away in a painful journey toward death. Despite the positive messages from others, the reality of becoming yet another statistic in the fight against cancer played heavily on Maura’s mind.
Maura did not sleep well that night in hospital. Her mind was filled with negative thoughts and she cried quietly to herself as she lay in the hospital bed. When the ward came back to life the next morning, Maura was still wide awake. Yawning widely with exhaustion she watched on as the nursing staff began preparing for the changeover of personnel. She got out of the bed and made her way to the nearby bathroom, where she showered and prepared herself for the day ahead. After breakfast, Maura sat in the bedside chair awaiting her next test, but no person came and the doctors began their patient rounds. Meanwhile, Fiona had been allowed into the ward just after breakfast and together they waited patiently for the doctors to come to them.
There were two doctors who eventually came to the bedside, accompanied by a senior nurse. The taller of the two doctors, also appeared to be the youngest, while the other doctor was a small man, wore glasses and looked to be much older than his colleague. The taller doctor pulled the curtains around the bed to give them a little privacy, while the smaller of the two sat on the bed to talk to Maura. “Is this your daughter. Mrs. Magowan?”
“Yes, Doctor,” replied Maura. “This my eldest girl.”
“Is it alright to discuss your case in her presence?”
“Yes, of course, she can stay,” Maura assured him,and the doctor began to explain to Maura that they had examined the results of the previous day’s tests. He told her that they had discovered an aberration of sorts in her pancreas that required further investigation. From what he had seen on those tests, he explained, he felt it was important that she should be made aware of it. He also wanted to mention the need for a swift, exploratory procedure to determine what type of growth it was. The plan was to bring her down to the theatre that very afternoon and, until that time, she would just have to fast.
Maura signed all the necessary papers that she needed to allow the procedure to take place. As she was signing her name, Maura felt like she should ask what the doctor’s prognosis was. But, Maura was too nervous to speak and left it to Fiona, who asked, “Doctor, what do you think this growth is?”
“It is hard to give you an answer to such a question without first doing the investigation. There is, it must be said, as much chance of the growth being nothing serious, as there is that it might be cancerous,” the doctor told her.
“But, what are you investigating?”
“Your mother appears to have a mass of tissue in her pancreas. It is not a big lump but neither is it small. We need to go in and see if that lump is benign or not,” replied the doctor.
“Well, yes. But, we cannot be sure. If it is not benign, however, we will immediately arrange for its removal,” the doctor assured Fiona.
Maura’s heart pounded heavily in her chest when she heard that dreaded word, “Cancer.” The heartbeat increased its rate, as tears of fear filled her eyes, and Fiona threw her arms around her mother to comfort her at this moment of shock. “Don’t be crying, Mammy,” said Fiona softly. “We will get through this together as a family.” But, Maura said nothing in reply and quietly watched as the two doctors moved away from her bed. It was as if she was numb, because she could feel nothing anymore. She felt that every emotion she had was frozen, or replaced by a numbness of the body
Maura’s friend, Dympna Murphy, had called to the house earlier that morning, but it was Johnny who answered the door, much to her surprise. “Good morning, Dympna!” Johnny greeted her, “What’s happening?”
“Nothing much, Johnny, I just called up to see how Maura was, and when she might be back at work,” Dympna told him.
“Well, she went into hospital yesterday and was kept in overnight. It’s nothing serious, she is just getting some more tests done today.”
“Are you going over?” Dympna asked.
“No. You know I can’t stand hospitals, and Fiona is with her anyway. She’ll be home late I’m sure and I’ll get her to ring you,” Johnny replied.
“Thanks, Johnny,” she smiled at him and the, turning her head said, “There’s Frances. Sure, I’ll walk into work with her. See you later, Johnny.”
“Aye,” smiled Johnny as he watched Dympna move swiftly away, before closing the front door.
Dympna quickly caught up with Frances Conlon, another work colleague, and greeted her with a bright, “Good Morning!”
“I saw you up at Maura’s house, what’s happening there? Is she any better?” questioned Frances.
“Well, Johnny says she has been taken into the hospital and is being kept in for some sort of tests,” Dympna told her.
“That doesn’t sound too good, does it?” remarked Frances.
“No, Frances, it doesn’t sound good and that useless lump of flesh isn’t even going over to visit her,” said Dympna. “But, he says, she might get out tonight.”
“I bet you if that Jezebel, Luig, was in the hospital he would be over there in double quick time,” Frances sneered.
“Do you know about her?”
“Sure half the country knows about him and her, the dirty old sod. And his wife not well. But, sure there is no fool like an old fool and Johnny Magowan is proving the truth of that. The man must be stupid, as well as blind, if he can’t see that Luig is just after his money. Anyway, she’s not exactly Nicole Kidman, and the old boot is not fit to lick Maura’s shoelaces. Have you seen that neck of hers, and the wrinkles in it. She’ll definitely not tear in the plucking!”
“Now Frances, don’t hold back. Say what you mean woman, for there is nothing I dislike more than someone who sits on the fence,” laughed Dympna.
The two women began to walk a little faster so that they would not be late for work. “You know, I was going to tell Maura about this carry on,” Dympna declared.
“Rather you than me,” replied Frances. “But the woman should be told the truth.”
“I’ll tell her the first chance that I get,” Dympna promised.
It was lunch time when Fiona reached her parents’ house and entered through the front door. “Are you in, Daddy?” she called out.
“I’m in the bathroom,” came the reply, “I will be down in a minute.”
Fiona moved into the kitchen and switched the electric kettle on so that she could make a pot of tea for the two of them. When Johnny came down the stairs he walked into the kitchen and greeted his oldest daughter. “And how is your mother?” he asked.
“She has all her tests done, but we will not know until later about when she’ll get home, “Fiona told him. “Are you going over to see her this afternoon?” she asked him.
“Ah now, Fiona, you know that I can’t stand hospitals. Sure I will wait here until she comes home,” he told her.
“This is your wife dad! You should go over and see her. She needs you,” Fiona pleaded with a tear in her eye.
“Is there something wrong?” he asked.
“Well, they’re going to check her out this afternoon, but she might just have some form of cancer.”
“Cancer?” he gasped and felt the blood drain from his face. “Oh, my God!”
“Aye, and she will need you by her side if they give her confirmation of that,” Fiona told him sternly.
“I’m no good with sick people, Fiona, and I cannot stand being in hospitals. It would be much better for her if you go, and you can keep in touch with me,” Johnny replied.
“And just what are you going to do? Will you just sit here moping around all day, or maybe it will be over a couple of pints in the club?” she sneered at him.
“Don’t be like that, Fiona, try to understand what I’m going through, especially now that I have heard this terrible news. But she will be alright. She has always had a fear of cancer since her brother died, so she’ll be terrified. Bring her a wee box of chocolates from me and tell her I said everything will be okay,” Johnny told her.
“That will be a great comfort to her,” snapped Fiona. “Just you enjoy your afternoon, for I am away to the hospital to see Mammy!” She jumped up from the seat and moved toward the back door. Taking her car keys, she went around the side of the house, where she had parked her car.
Almost as soon as Fiona had gone out of the back door, Johnny went to the hall where he lifted the telephone off its receiver and began to dial a number. The call was picked up at the other end of the line and Johnny asked, “Luig, is that you?”
“I am just ringing to tell you that I can’t make it this afternoon. Maura is in hospital still, and it could be very serious.”
He listened for a few moments to what Luig said, and then told her, “Well, she might not get out tonight at all. Okay, I will try to be there about five o’clock -.”
“Where at five?” asked Fiona and caused Johnny to jump with surprise. “Who are you talking to?”
“No one!” he replied quickly. Then speaking into the phone he told Luig, ”Thanks for calling. Sure we’ll talk later.”
When he had hung up the phone Johnny found that Fiona was still waiting for an answer. “It was Seamus. He was looking to know if I was up for a drink. I told him no, of course, but you know how persistent he can be. I told him I would maybe there about five o’clock.”
“That’s right Dad, make sure you get your two pints and forget about everything else!”
“But, Fiona -,” he began, but Fiona wasn’t listening anymore and just lifted her purse that she had left behind her before storming out again.
When Fiona got back to the ward she discovered that her mother had already been moved down to theatre. The ward manager invited her to wait in the “Relative’s Room”, where she brought a cup of tea for the anxious girl to drink. It was the first time, since the doctor had spoken to her mother, that Fiona had time to consider what had been said. Before this moment she had never considered the possibility that the family might lose their mother, and she might lose the woman who was also her best friend.
Maura was a woman who had never experienced serious illness in her life, but had always taken great care of her family when illness would strike. Fiona could not visualise a time without her mother, and she sat in that waiting room praying in a manner that she had not prayed in many years. Fiona was a mother herself now, and it began to dawn on her the great difficulties that her mother would have when confronted with the possibility of leaving her children motherless. Bitter tears came into Fiona’s eyes and, as was normal with her on such occasions, she had no tissues in her bag.
The door of the room opened slowly, and the head of a young man peeped in. “It’s only me sis,” said the young man, who was actually Fiona’s younger brother, John.
“John!” gasped Fiona, “How did you know where I was?”
John moved into the room and sat down beside his sister. “I rang the house and Dad answered. I was ringing up to find out how Mam’s tests had gone, and he told me that you were both still here. He also told me that it could be more serious than first thought, so I came straight out of work.”
“Thank God you did,” she sighed and gave her brother a comforting hug. They could now wait together for Maura to return to the ward.
Meanwhile, in Luig’s house, the telephone rang again and she lifted the receiver to her ear. “I’m glad you rang again Johnny. What is Happening? You sounded so strange the last time you rang.”
She tutted and shook her head as she listened to Johnny explain the likelihood of his wife having cancer. It was not an appropriate topic to be talking to his ‘lover’ about, Luig thought. He, however, was so wrapped in this woman that he was not thinking about propriety. “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” Luig told him in a false maternal tone, “if she is that ill there is nothing you can do for her. It’s sad, of course, but it is all too common these days, you know. I’m sure it will be a difficult time for you Johnny, but I will always be there to help you through it. Now, I’ve bought two lovely steaks for our tea tonight and maybe you could get down here for five. Well, if they do ring, you can say that you had to go out for a walk to clear your mind. I’ll see you later then, love you!” She hung up the phone with a large, contented smile upon her face, and with a new and lively skip in her step, Luig moved into the kitchen to prepare the steaks she had bought an intimate meal with Johnny.
In the hospital the minutes passed slowly into an hour, then two hours. Finally, however, the ward manager came into the waiting room to tell them that their mother was back on the ward, and that she was awake. She also told the two young people that the doctor was on his way up to the ward to speak to their mother. “Can we see her?” John asked.
“Of course you can,” said the ward manager. “She is moved into a side-ward for a bit of privacy.”
When she heard the news Fiona glanced at her brother and she could see that he, too, was concerned at this news.
Holding hands, Fiona and John walked slowly toward the side-ward, where their mother had been placed. They were both eager to see Maura, but neither of them was in a hurry to find out the results of the investigation. Their steps were slow, but they eventually came to the door of the private ward and opened it. Before them, Maura lay on the bed, awake, but obviously exhausted by her experience. Her face was very pale, and her lips a purplish-blue colour. Fiona was frightened and gripped John’s hand. “Well mother, decided to give us all a bit of a fright are you?” smiled John in a jocular way.
Weakly, Maura moved her head to look at her son. “John, what took you here?”
“I came to keep Fiona company, and to see you. So, tell me, what’s happening with you?”
“I don’t know son. I have had some kind of an investigation done, and I’ve been told the doctor is on his way to see me,” Maura told him in a low, weak voice. But, before anything more could be said the ward door opened and the doctor entered.
He was still dressed in his blue theatre clothing as he addressed Maura, “Mrs. Magowan, how are you now?”
“Just a little weak, doctor,” replied Maura, “but anxious to find out what you discovered.”
“That is what I wish to discuss with you now,” the doctor explained. “Maybe in private if you prefer?”
“It’s perfectly alright,” she told him, ”this is my son, John, and that’s my eldest daughter, Fiona. I would prefer it if they stayed.”
“That, of course, is your decision, Mrs. Magowan,” replied the doctor, as he pulled up another chair to the bedside. “Now, there is no easy way to speak about these things, so I will keep simply to facts. You, Mrs. Magowan, have an inoperable growth in your pancreas, which appears to be very aggressive. I’m sorry that I have to be the one to tell you –.“
Maura had stopped listening. Her thoughts were already numbed by those terrible words, “inoperable, malignant growth.”
“Unfortunately the cancerous cells are not confined to one organ, but they have spread,“ the doctor continued to explain. “This is terminal, Mrs. Magowan.”
After those words were spoken, you could have heard a pin drop. The silence in that room was so intense. Fiona was already wailing, and had her arms clasped around her mother in the bed. John was frozen to his seat with shock, but he managed to mumble, “What can we expect?”
The doctor shook his head sadly and took a moment or two before he felt able to answer the question that John had posed him. “I know Mrs. Magowan that you are already feeling quite weak and are suffering some pain with your illness. These symptoms will not lessen, but will increase. We will, nonetheless, make every effort to relieve your pain …”
“How long?” asked Maura, almost in a whisper.
“That, I am afraid, is a question that I can’t answer. The growth is quite large and aggressive. All that I can tell you is that it could be months, or weeks, instead of years. We just don’t know, but it might be an idea if you began to settle your affairs.”
There was no reply from Maura, or any of her children. “I have asked for a MacMillan nurse to come and discuss things with you,” the doctor added.
“Thank you, doctor,” Maura spoke with a half-hearted smile. “You have been very good to me.” The doctor nodded his head toward his patient and silently left the room.