When we pull up to the entrance of Franz Cancer treatment center, an annex to Providence Hospital, I take a breath before asking, “So, when we pick you up, how do you want us to be? I mean, how will you feel?” Michele assures us, my husband and me, that she’ll feel just fine, maybe hungry. (It’s two days later that the fatigue and general rottenness will become overwhelming. Later when leaving the sofa will be too much to bear. There have been many treatments, and the trajectory is the same.) “So we can talk and everything?” She just smiles, opens the door, and steps out with resolve.
This is the first time we have had the privilege of helping our good friend in this way. Usually her husband takes her in for the treatment every three weeks. But he’s a fisherman and is waiting for word that the price for commercial crab has been settled. The moment that happens, he and the members of his crew will muster and head out to battle for Dungeness. Like minutemen, they wait…
The entire ride into Portland from the coast, we have chatted—masked but fully engaged— as the rain drove against the car. It has been far too long since we’ve had the opportunity to spend time together—like before, pre-Covid. The occasion may not be joyful, but it is not devoid of joy either.
When she texts us that she is ready for pick-up, almost five hours have passed. Our trip home begins and the talk, too, as she explains how the protocol goes, who does what when. I register names of nurses and technicians and then they vanish. The comfort of a normal car ride eclipses the subject matter; it could almost be a story someone I don’t love is telling…almost.
Yesterday Michele sent a quick email—subject line: These Precious Days, reading, “Trish, Joann Ya gotta read this.” And so I do—of course I do. And when my husband returns home from the grocery, I am in tears, staring at the computer screen. Ann Patchett is always brilliant. This time, however, the subject in its life-winding way, carries me on a river of words to the inevitable. I am swept away in that river.
It is reductive to say that “These Precious Days” is a story about someone living with cancer. It is more the story of anyone loving someone who’s living with cancer. That someone is Ann Patchett, and Michele’s husband, and Michele’s son, and countless others I have never met, and …me.