A Note from Fatty: I’m working on filling in the gaps of Susan’s and my story, to eventually be collected in my next book, Fight Like Susan. Yesterday’s installment can be found here.
On the drive to the hospital — the same hospital where three of our four children had been born — I told Susan the same thing I had told her countless times in the past couple weeks.
“Everything will be fine.”
I said it with an intentional sort of conviction. Sure, I understood the possibility that things wouldn’t be OK, but what value is there in dwelling on that kind of future? Just assume everything’s going to be good, all the time. Then, whenever something isn’t good, you fix that thing. And meanwhile, at least you haven’t been fretting over something you couldn’t have fixed anyway.
I wasn’t new to that kind of thinking. I had evolved this philosophy during Susan’s pregnancy with the twins. See, I had made the mistake of ordering all kinds of books about twin pregnancy and infant years. Then I had made the further mistake of reading all those books.
I’m pretty sure that the authors of all thsoe “twin pregnancy” books had gotten together to try to convince parents of twins that there is a 0% chance that the babies will be born healthy and normal.
The more I knew, the more my anxiety grew, until I finally made a decision: since I couldn’t affect the outcome, I would rather assume a good — no, great — outcome than know all the possible bad outcomes.
So, for the first time in my life, I threw away some books. I didn’t even give them away or donate them or anything; I didn’t want to be party to someone else freaking out the way I had.
And the twins had been fine. Happy. Healthy. Perfect. All the worrying had been useless.
So I said it again: “Everything will be fine.”
I sat with Susan while the surgeon talked with us about what he was going to do. None of it registered. I just kept thinking CANCER SURGERY JOB CANCER JOB BILLS SURGERY.
Everything’s going to be fine. Everything will be fine.
I asked Susan how she felt, and whether she was scared. “No, I just want this over with,” she said. “I want this out of me.”
They let me stay with Susan until she was asleep.
I went out to the waiting room and sat, but I couldn’t stand it, so I went back to my car, with the plan to drive around. As I got out to the parking lot I turned my phone back on (remember how you used to have to turn your phone off when in the hospital?).
There was a voicemail waiting.
I sat down in my car and called my voicemail number; it was the recruiter from Microsoft, asking me to call back. Knowing it could be either really good or really bad news, I called.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m hanging in there,” I replied — my stock response for the next several years (it’s not as dishonest as “fine,” but doesn’t force the person I’m talking with to listen to a long story.
“I have good news,” she said. “I’m calling to make you a verbal job offer.”
I’m probably not the world’s best negotiator; I immediately replied, “Awesome! I accept.” She laughed and then told me about the terms of the offer, which were so amazingly generous I wouldn’t have been able to find much to negotiate over anyway. They would pay to move us out, with professional packers and everything. They’d pay for a couple of househunting expeditions. They’d pay for three months of a house rental, and would even find a three bedroom house since we had four kids.
And they would be fine with my start date being six weeks down the road, to give Susan time to recover from her surgery.
Having just accepted a job, I now needed to make a second call: one to notify my employer that I’d be leaving the company.
I was nervous about this call; I felt like I was critical to the magazine and that it would be a hard blow to them to have me leave. I expected Mitch Koulouris, my boss, to take it hard. I resolved to get straight to the point, though.
“I’ve been offered a position at Microsoft, I’m going to have to leave the magazine.”
“That’s wonderful, Elden. Congratulations.”
“It’s a tough time here; you don’t need that while you take care of your wife.”
“What about the magazine?” I asked, now — strangely — making the arguments I had worried he would be making.
“I’ll find another editor. Now tell me how Susan’s doing.”
“She’s in surgery right now. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, OK?”
Third Call (and Fourth, and Fifth…)
I went back into the hospital and found someone to tell me how Susan was doing. “She’s still in surgery; she will be for a while,” I was told.
So I went back out to my car and made a third phone call. This time, to a neighbor who is also a real estate agent.
“I’ve got to sell my house,” I told him.
Then I called my parents and Susan’s mom, letting them know that Susan was still in surgery, and that our lives were going to get even more hectic during the next few weeks.
I went back into the waiting room to wait for the surgeon. He came in and told me everything had gone reasonably well. I went in to the recovery room and sat with Susan, waiting for her to wake up, so I could tell her everything.
She had one less breast. She still had cancer. She’d have to start chemo with a different doctor, in a different state, far from everyone we knew. I had a new job. We’d be moving while she recovered from surgery and we took care of four little kids, two of which were two years old.
I had done what I needed to do, but I still felt incredibly guilty. The truth is, even now, I still feel guilty about what I made Susan go through. At a time she should have been able to rest and recover, I made her go through three of the most stressful things a person can do, all at once: new job, big move, and cancer.
If I had known how bad things would be for her, maybe I would have turned down the job at Microsoft. Maybe I would have tried harder to find something local.
But I didn’t.
I took the job, thinking it was the right thing to do; the best way I could give her good treatment options. And, I told myself, everything will be fine.
So, once she was awake, I told her.
“Well, guess what I’ve been up to while you just laid around and slept all morning.”