"What did he say?" Mom asked, looking up from her Kindle after I pressed a button to end the call on my Blackberry.
"Hmmm?" I asked, still staring at the phone before I blinked up at her.
"Dad's doctor," she repeated as I glanced between my parents. "What did he say?"
He'd said there was no reason to rush to the oncologist when I'd pressed him for an earlier appointment than Thursday of this week. That he'd not spoken with adequate candor when we saw him earlier in the week. That the biopsy meant this was bad. Really bad. That there was nothing we could do to fix it and therefore waiting another few days for an appointment made no difference.
I understood that he was saying we were basically waiting for my father - who poured me cereal and hugged me when I cried and applauded at various graduations - to die from the cancer throughout his digestive system.
"He said next week was fine for the appointment," I finally said out loud, hating myself for being less than honest.
"I told her to stop being so pushy," Dad complained and I clenched my teeth as his criticism of the morning continued.
"Katie," Mom demanded, "he talked for a long time. What did he say?"
So I made something up.
And, later that afternoon, I prayed as we waited in the GI specialist's office. Let him be kind, I repeated. Please let him say something good. And please let me be right about there being nothing grossly abnormal about Mom's MRI.
As I stared at the floor, talking silently to God, I remembered my glasses being tugged by the magnetic field as I leaned into the bore to hold Mom's hand. I pushed the frames up in memory and glanced across the gleaming expanse of floor to my parents as they held hands.
GI Guy was perfection (thanks be to God) - he explained the seriousness of the condition, answered questions and offered hope. Said there would be times of anger and depression and denial, but that - at the end of the day - one must fight. Consider quality of life versus quantity. Find an oncologist we like and trust. Get a second opinion on treatment options.
"But there's something we can do?" Dad asked after he advised against surgery. (He said there were drugs. That help with some people.)
"What is it?" Mom asked, her voice breaking. "We know the golf ball one on the pancreas, but is it one big mass on the liver?" (The pancreas is the most obvious lesion, though the liver has several spots as well. It's stage IV, obviously.)
"Is stage IV the worst?" Dad asked on the drive home. I nodded in response and explained that once it left the stomach, it had spread and was considered stage IV. That it was hard to detect these types early.
"So Mom has stage I?" he asked and I nodded in response.
"When they called about the MRI results, they didn't see any results of it spreading. Just that 5mm lesion they biopsied."
"Good," he replied, glancing at her in the rearview mirror. "That's really good."
That was Thursday. And, having considered them stable, I came home.
I return tomorrow and the thought - God forgive me - has me nearly panicked with dread and denial. It's normal here. And it's not normal there. I don't know the right answers or next steps or when to accept and when to argue.
I remind them to drink water and sigh when Mom weeps after hanging up the phone - canceling playground duty for the rest of the year, calling clubs to let them know she'll no longer attend. I remind Dad he can take a pain pill when he winces and shifts or rubs at his belly. I say I'm hungry at meal times and watch bad television.
"I miss you," Mom said when I called today to check in and let them know I'd return in about 24 hours.
And I know she does. And that's why I'm making the trip south, cat and dog in tow this time, with dress clothes that will encourage people to take me more seriously than when I show up in capri jeans and borrowed t-shirts from airport gift shops.
Tomorrow. I'll go tomorrow. And until then, hope I stop feeling sick and shaky.