Things are falling apart in the Richardson household. Angry arguments between Celine and her husband, Keith, have become routine. She resents that he’s working long hours and staying out all night, and he accuses her of not giving him the attention he deserves. Their marriage is at a cross-roads and Celine worries how her 10-year-old daughter, Kassie, will be affected.
But the situation turns devastating when Celine is diagnosed with breast cancer. As her relationship with Keith deteriorates, Celine worries that she’ll be left to navigate the difficult process of cancer treatment alone. But comfort and support come in the form of Celine’s best friend, Lauren. They’ve been attached at the hip since they were children and it is Lauren who’s there for Celine in her darkest moments.
Now, Celine will be forced to make tough decisions-about her marriage and otherwise-and for the first time in her life, she wants to give up. Lauren vows to help by any means necessary and makes the kind of sacrifice only a best friend can. But will it be too late?
“Keith, do you know what time it is?” Celine Richardson asked her husband as he walked into their bedroom. She’d just turned on her lamp and was sitting against two pillows.
“Five a.m.,” he said, clearly sounding as though this was no big deal.
“And you think you can just leave the house and waltz back in here whenever you feel like it? You must be out of your mind if you think I’m going to put up with this kind of crap. I almost called the police to report you missing.”
Keith pulled his short-sleeve knit shirt over his muscular shoulders and dropped it on the chair. “Time got away from me.”
Celine folded her arms. “Where were you, Keith?”
“At a friend’s. A bunch of us guys played cards and had a little too much to drink. And I fell asleep.”
Celine laughed out loud. “And you think I believe that? You think I’m that naïve?”
“Believe whatever you want. That’s on you.”
“You have a lot of nerve staying out till the wee hours of the morning and then acting like you’re the one who’s upset. How dare you.”
“I’m upset because anytime a wife decides that her work is more important than her husband, she shouldn’t worry one bit about where he’s going…or what he’s doing.”
“Excuse me? So you’re now staying out late and sleeping with only God knows who because you feel neglected? Please.”
“I’ve been telling you this for months. More like a whole year. But nothing’s changed. You spend all your time online doing work for your clients, and that’s basically where things end with you.”
“That’s not true, and you know it.”
“Well, actually, you’re right. You spend lots of time with Kassie, but with the exception of our daughter, everything else revolves around your business. Which means there’s no time for me.”
“Why is it that you can spend all the time you want focusing on your career, but I can’t? It took a lot of hard work for me to build up my client list, and it’s completely unfair for you to ask me to give that up. Especially since I’ve never asked you to give up anything.”
Keith was vice president of sales for a health care insurance company, and Celine had always supported him and encouraged him to excel every step of the way. So none of his complaints about her spending hours on her social media marketing business made sense. It was as if he now despised the fact that she was finally seeing some real success with her career. She’d started her business five years ago, and she’d worked her behind off, doing everything she could not only to get it off the ground, but also to gain as much exposure as possible with small companies and major corporations. It was the reason she now sometimes had to pass on projects or refer clients to some of her colleagues.
“Do whatever you want,” he said, pulling on his pajama bottoms. “Because that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
Celine pulled her flowing hair around to her shoulder. “And what is that supposed to mean?”
“It’s not like I stuttered. My words were very clear.”
“So who exactly are you sleeping with, Keith?” she asked, ignoring his last comment.
“Look, I’m tired, and I have to be at work in three hours. So can I at least get an hour of sleep in peace? Without all these ridiculous questions?”
“You’re the one who decided to stay out, so I’ll ask any questions I want.”
Keith sighed and got in bed, turning his back to her.
“I’m telling you now, I won’t put up with this,” Celine said.
Keith didn’t respond.
“Are you listening to me?”
He still didn’t say anything.
“Keith!” she yelled, becoming angrier.
He finally turned toward her in a huff and sat up. “What? And why are you screaming at me when you know Kassie is sleeping?”
“Because I want answers, and I want them now.”
“I told you months and months ago that I was tired of going to bed at night with no one lying next to me,” he said, pointing his finger at her. “I told you how tired I was of you staying in your office until well after midnight. Work, work, and more work. That’s all you’ve cared about for more than a year, and I finally got sick of it. I complained and tried to talk to you about it several different times, but you never took me seriously. You did what you wanted, and now I’m fine with it.”
“But you know how hard it is to start your own business. Before I even decided to go forward with it, you and I talked about what it would take. We discussed all the time I’d have to spend to make it work, and you were good with that.”
“Yeah, I supported you a hundred percent, but when I started to see how you had no problem talking on the phone to your friend Lauren for sometimes as much as two hours and how you never miss any of your favorite TV shows, that’s when I realized how unimportant I was to you. Your priorities are totally in place, but they certainly don’t include me. And don’t get me started on how little we make love. Sometimes only once a month. And in case you haven’t noticed, I stopped asking you to do that a long time ago.”
Celine thought about everything Keith was saying, and she couldn’t deny that some of his statements were true. She hadn’t paid much attention to the time she spent doing other things, but now she had no choice but to acknowledge it. Nonetheless, this still didn’t give him the right to break his vows to her. He wouldn’t admit that he was having an affair, but no man stayed out as late as Keith had unless there was another woman involved.
“I’m sorry,” she finally said. “I had no idea things were this bad between us. That you felt so neglected.”
“Well, I did. But when you ignored me, I finally stopped talking about it. You acted as though I should just grow up and get over it, and I have.”
“Baby, I’m sorry. I never meant to make you feel that way. But for the last five years, I’ve had to put my all into my business. If I hadn’t, it would’ve failed very quickly.”
“And I get that. I always did. But it’s like I just told you, instead of spending some of your free time with me, you did other things. Stuff that obviously gave you a lot more satisfaction than I could.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“Not only do I believe it, I’m sure of it.”
“Why? Because I talked on the phone to Lauren sometimes? And I watched a few TV programs? I did those things to unwind, but never because I didn’t want to be with you. And it’s not like you and I haven’t done things together. We’ve taken I don’t know how many weekend trips, and we also have date nights.”
“No, we used to take weekend trips and have date nights, but we haven’t done either in over a year.”
“So because you had a few unhappy months out of twelve years of marriage, you decided to find someone else?”
Keith sighed again. “This isn’t about someone else. It’s about you and me.”
“But just tell me flat out. Are you having an affair or not?”
Keith turned his back to her again and laid his head on his pillow.
Celine wanted to ask him once more Make him tell her what she already knew. But a part of her honestly didn’t want to hear her own husband admit he was sleeping with another woman. Not when she was worried to death about something else—the lump she’d discovered in her left breast yesterday morning. She’d noticed it while in the shower, doing her monthly self-exam, but she hadn’t told Keith anything about it. She hadn’t told her best friend, Lauren, either, although Celine knew her silence mostly had to do with her believing it couldn’t be anything serious. She also couldn’t bear the thought of how their ten-year-old daughter would be affected. Along with God and Keith, Kassie was everything to Celine, and the idea of not being there for her brought Celine to tears.
But regardless of how much Celine wanted to pretend she hadn’t felt anything in her breast, she knew she couldn’t ignore it. Whether she wanted to or not, she had to call and make an appointment with her gynecologist. Not tomorrow or next week, but today. She needed to see Dr. McKinley as soon as possible.
Celine’s fears had haunted her all morning. When she’d called Dr. McKinley’s office, she’d learned that another patient had just canceled and Celine was given that appointment. Now she was en route and trying her best to stay positive and calm. But the idea of having cancer truly terrified her. Of course, if she did have it, it wasn’t like she could do anything except deal with it, but she hoped this wasn’t the case.
Celine drove along in her silver Mercedes S550, praying silently. But then something dawned on her. None of this, not the luxury vehicles she and Keith both drove around in or the massive house they’d purchased a few years back, would mean anything if she didn’t have her health. Not to mention, what good was any of it if she and Keith ended up in divorce court? With the way things were going, her entire life was falling apart, and it was happening pretty abruptly. Thinking negatively wasn’t good, but it was hard not to. Especially when there was in fact a lump in her breast.
After another ten minutes passed, she turned into the parking lot of the medical building. It was nearly full, but after coasting through three different aisles, she finally found a spot and took it. She turned off her ignition, grabbed her shoulder bag, and got out of her vehicle. She walked a good ways, entered through the sliding glass doors, and proceeded toward a set of elevators. She pushed the button and when the elevator arrived, she stepped onto it, taking it to the fifth floor.
When the doors opened, she strolled down the carpeted hallway and went inside Dr. McKinley’s office.
The twentysomething receptionist smiled. “Hi, can I help you?”
“I have a two o’clock appointment with Dr. McKinley. I’m Celine Richardson.”
The receptionist checked her computer. “Are you still on Palladia Drive?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Is Blue Cross Blue Shield still your insurance carrier?”
“Yes, it’s through my husband’s employer.”
“Do you have a copay?”
“No, I don’t.”
The receptionist scrolled through a few more items. “It doesn’t look like we had you sign our privacy statement last time. So, if you would, could you please sign it now?” she said, passing Celine a clipboard with a document and a pen attached to it.
Celine signed it and passed it back to her.
“Okay, I think that’s it. You can have a seat, and someone should be coming to get you soon.”
“Thanks so much.”
“You’re very welcome.”
Celine walked toward the waiting area, where two other women were sitting, and sat down. Family Feud was on, and while Celine stared at the flat-screen television on the wall, trying to pay attention to it, she couldn’t focus. Normally she loved watching Steve Harvey hosting her favorite game show, but right now her mind pondered three questions: Why was this happening, what had she done to deserve it, and how long did she have to live?
She knew it was crazy to be thinking so morbidly, what with the fact that she hadn’t even been diagnosed with anything, but the whole idea of what might be had taken total control of her psyche. For some reason, she had a bad feeling about all of this, and it wouldn’t go away.
Celine tried watching the game show again, but then she looked toward the table at her right and noticed a popular women’s magazine. She shook her head when she saw that one of the featured articles was about breast cancer. What were the chances of her seeing this now? Was it a sign of things to come? Dear God, please don’t let this be happening to me.
Lisa, Dr. McKinley’s medical assistant, opened the door. “Celine?”
Celine smiled and stood up.
“So how are you today?” Lisa asked.
“Okay, I guess. How about you?”
“I’m good. Before we head into the examination room, I’ll have you stop here so we can get your weight.”
Celine stepped onto the scale, Lisa jotted down the numbers 1-6-0 on a small notepad, and they walked down the corridor.
“You can hang your purse right here,” Lisa said, pointing toward a metal hook, “and have a seat next to the desk.”
Celine sat down, and Lisa took her vitals.
“Your blood pressure is one-eighteen over seventy-eight, and your pulse is seventy-two.”
“That’s good to hear.”
Lisa asked Celine the usual questions: Was she taking any medications, and had she had any surgeries since her last visit? Celine told her no on both counts.
“So you’re here today because of a lump you found?”
“Yes. I felt it while doing a self-exam yesterday morning.”
As Celine talked, Lisa typed the information into Celine’s electronic chart.
“Are you having any pain?”
“Any changes in appetite?”
Lisa entered additional information and then rolled back from the desk. She stood up and pulled a pink paper gown and a white paper drape from the cupboard. “I’ll leave these here, and you can undress from the waist up.”
“It was good to see you again, and Dr. McKinley should be in shortly.”
“It was good seeing you also, Lisa.”
Once Celine removed her bra and sleeveless shirt, she slipped on the gown, got onto the table, and covered her knees and legs with the white paper. She sat there for thirty seconds, trying not to think about anything, but it wasn’t long before she thought about Keith and everything he’d said to her this morning. Had things actually been that bad for more than a year? Had he tried talking to her on multiple occasions, but she hadn’t stopped long enough to fully hear him? Had she maybe thought that just because she was happy, he must have been happy, too? She wasn’t sure where or how they’d gone wrong, and now she wondered if they could fix their problems In the past, she’d always made it very clear to Keith that if he ever had an affair, their marriage would be over. She’d told him that there wouldn’t be any questions or discussions…only divorce proceedings. And she’d meant what she’d said with every part of her being. But now, as she sat there waiting for Dr. McKinley to come in, she found herself wishing that Keith was there with her, supporting her and telling her that if she did have cancer, they would get through this whole thing together. She was embarrassed to admit—even to herself—that she might be willing to forgive him if he ended his affair for good. It was amazing how a person’s standards could change when they thought they might die.
“Good afternoon,” the beautiful Dr. McKinley said, walking in and shutting the door behind her. Her smile and bedside manner were as kind as always.
“Good afternoon, Doctor.”
“So, I hear you felt a lump yesterday?”
“Yeah, unfortunately, I did.”
Dr. McKinley sat down and clicked through a few pages on the computer. “It looks like you just had your first mammogram six months ago, and it was normal.”
“I did. Right when I turned forty.”
“Well, let’s take a look,” Dr. McKinley said, standing up and lowering the examination table. “It’s your left one, right?”
Celine lay on her back. “Yes.”
“Go ahead and raise your left arm over your head.”
Celine did what she was asked, and Dr. McKinley kneaded her breast with the tips of her fingers around the entire circumference. “Right here?” she said when she felt something.
“Yes, that’s it.”
Dr. McKinley pressed the area a few times, and then she checked the center portion of Celine’s breast. When she found nothing there, she pressed the area where the lump was again.
“There’s definitely a lump of some kind,” she said.
“Do you think it’s serious?”
“It doesn’t have to be, but I really think you should have another mammogram. I’ll ask Lisa to get one scheduled for you. Then once you get dressed, she’ll come in to give you an appointment time.”
Celine didn’t say anything.
“It looks like you went to our women’s center last November, so is that where you’d like to go again?”
“Yes, that’s fine.”
Dr. McKinley looked at Celine with a somewhat reserved smile. “I know you’re worried, but let’s just hope for the best. Not all lumps are malignant.”
“I know, and I’ll try to remember that. It’s very hard, though.”
“Hopefully Lisa can get you scheduled pretty quickly, so we can find out what’s going on. In the meantime, you take care, okay?”
“I will, and thank you, Doctor.”
“You’re quite welcome.
When Dr. McKinley left, Celine got dressed and waited for Lisa to come in with her appointment time. Surely a malignant tumor hadn’t begun growing within the past six months; unless they’d somehow missed it when she’d had her mammogram in November. Maybe it had been too small of a growth to detect back then. She knew that was certainly possible, but deep down, she was counting on how low the odds were that she now all of a sudden had cancer.
She wondered if maybe it was time to tell Keith what was going on. But she decided it was better to wait. It was best not to tell him anything until she received her test results—and learned her fate, one way or the other.
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