On the afternoon Tom was diagnosed, we filled out forms as we sat side-by-side in a row of chairs in the waiting area of Mt. Sinai’s Ruttenberg Center. One question began, “Before you had cancer…” We looked to one another, surprised by the bluntness of the questionnaire. No one had said the “C” word to us yet. Our shared dark humor intact, I said, “Nice bedside manner.” Grim as it was, the news was not unexpected, and we had to laugh that we were notified by a standard form that was supposed to be asking us for information.
Once we’d completed the forms, Tom took the clipboard to a lady behind a desk. He said he hoped she was the correct person to hand it to, as this was his first time there. Like Selma Diamond, she deadpanned, “Welcome to a new world.” Was she ever right.
Once the oncologist told us the result of Tom’s needle biopsy and his proposed plan of action, he left us alone in the examination room, no hurry to leave. “I’m sorry I got cancer,” Tom said.
We looked at one another in silence. Then I said, “Let’s go to Le Cirque,” and Tom smiled. Le Cirque was our special occasion restaurant in the city, and this was a momentous occasion. We enjoyed a spectacular dinner. We were alive, and we were in this together.
Over the next three years, we spent long hours, days, and nights at Mt. Sinai, getting to know every curtained nook and cranny, every elevator bank in every wing, and the depths of endless color-coded corridors in the basement where radiation equipment is safely tucked away. We explored the excellent video catalog and watched inappropriate “House” marathons within earshot of other patients during weekly 5-hour infusions. We knew the menus at neighborhood restaurants where I could get take-out, and one night we shared a “step-down” room with patients who were in their final days.
“You have two weeks,” a doctor said point-blank to beautifully coiffed Marianne.
“No comment,” she replied, and she spent the rest of the afternoon making cheerful telephone calls. She was alone in the hospital, but large floral arrangements lined the windowsill beside her bed. Marianne made no mention of her latest prognosis as she chatted with friends on the phone. She did not say goodbye.
Tom had a vision of death when he was first wheeled into that room past another neighbor, Ben. Ben was gaunt and gray. Tom said he saw a gaping hole in his throat. I’m not certain that was real. Ben was also alone. After we’d been settled in Tom’s corner a short time, across from Marianne in a window spot that overlooked the bustling atrium of the Guggenheim Pavilion, a nurse delivered a note for Tom. It was from Ben. “I will never speak again, but I thank you for your humor.”
“A smoker,” Tom whispered to me. “I don’t think he has a tongue.” From beds separated by a curtain, Tom and Ben beeped back and forth to one another, each pressing his beeper rhythmically in jest as if that would bring more morphine than he was due.
That night, I slept off and on next to Tom’s bed in an extendable chair several nurses and I appropriated from another room. The next morning, Tom looked at me gravely and said, “Get me out of here or I’m going to die.” I found an expensive hotel wing they don’t mention that overlooks Central Park. I gave the hospital a credit card, and off we went, I running alongside Tom as he was whisked on a gurney away from that sad place. May God bless Marianne and may God bless Ben, but Tom wasn’t ready to be there.
Through those years, as soon as Tom’s treatments were completed, whenever we could, we bolted from Manhattan and barreled up the Taconic away from all that. We were determined not to stop living as long as we could, and we held up well. As long as he would.
Tom Davis and Lindsay Brice and cancer, 2009-2012
Photos: (c) Lindsay Brice 2009, 2010