Healing through story

Tag: cancer

shortfiction24 – rare and aggressive

In story #7 of the Jack and Diane series, they face an unwanted diagnosis.

Another test of their relationship.

Enjoy the story. Previous six stories are here.

Rare and Aggressive

Bob Gillen

Jack Marin pulled his Ford F-150 into Diane Somers’s driveway, behind her Toyota Prius. He turned off the engine, sat in silence. How do I talk about this?

The clock on his dash read 6:30 p.m. An hour since he got his diagnosis. Since he lost something. Something as yet undefined.

Diane came to the door, her face grim. She stood, waiting, giving him space.

Jack slid out of his truck, walked toward her.

“It’s bad?” she said.

He nodded. “Yeah. Bad.”

“Come in.” She held the door for him.

Jack walked to her kitchen table, sat in his usual place, back to the living room. Diane came up next to him, stood there, her arm gently around his shoulder. “Want to talk about it?”

“Do you have coffee?”

Diane poured a cup from the French press. “Just made some.”

He sipped the coffee. “Better than the ‘Bucks, any day,” he said.

Diane sat opposite him.

“I had to wait for a bit. The patient ahead of me was late. Then his assistant ushered me to the doctor’s office. I was never there before. Usually an exam room. I knew…”

She reached across the table and touched his hand.

“He said the biopsy revealed carcinoma on my prostate. The spot he was concerned about after the MRI. He said it’s a rare and aggressive carcinoma.”

Jack sipped his coffee.

“Shit,” Diane said. “What now?”

Jack shrugged. “He wants to remove the whole prostate as soon as possible.”

“Will that get the carcinoma?”

“If I’m lucky.”

Diane frowned.

“If it doesn’t spread…”

“So…we hope for the best.”

“I guess.”

“Any after effects?”

“I’ll be incontinent…at least six to twelve months, maybe longer. I have to wear a paper diaper.”


“And I will have ED.”

Diane’s eyes widened. “Really?”


Jack raised his coffee mug to his lips. 

Diane said, “I ordered pizza. Should be here soon. Are you hungry?”

Jack shook his head. “Don’t think so. Maybe.”

He shrugged. “I knew right away it was bad.”

“We’ll get through it,” she said.

“Your boyfriend, the one with big boy pants and a non-working dick.”

“My boyfriend…stop there. The rest is not important.”

Jack looked up from his coffee mug. “I won’t have much to offer.”

“You’ll be here. That’s what counts.”

The doorbell rang. “Pizza’s here.” She got up to answer the bell.

“Will you feel bad if I eat?” she asked. “I skipped lunch today.”

“Sure, go ahead.”

Diane pulled a slice out of the box and grabbed a napkin.

“I feel so bitter,” Jack said.

Diane peered at him over her slice.

“Bitter. My first reaction. Not fear or even anger. Bitter.”

Jack grabbed a napkin and a slice. “Maybe I am hungry.”

“Why bitter?”

“Did I ever tell you this? I pray every night for health. Years ago I listened to the audio tapes of a couple of Pema Chödrön books. You know her? The Buddhist nun?”

“I’ve heard of her. Don’t know her work.”

“She teaches you how to pray, in an expanding kind of way. Pray for yourself first. Then open your prayer to those close to you. If you are comfortable, move your prayer out further to those you may not know. And if you are able to, if you feel the generosity, even pray for your enemies, for those who do you and the world harm.”

Diane nodded.

“It helped me when I lost my wife…Anyway, especially the last few months I have prayed for health. For freedom from illness and malignancy. I have prayed to the spirits of love, to the healing power of the universe. I believe in that. And here I am…a rare and aggressive carcinoma. Not just a malignant cell. Rare.”

Jack set his slice down on the napkin. He lowered his head in his hands. Shook his head. “I’m not ready. I have too much to do yet. It’s not my time.”

Diane said, “Okay then, it’s not your time. Believe that. Hold on to that thought as you go forward.”

Jack looked up, nodded. “Can I stay here tonight? Nothing intimate. Just be with you. I need you.”

Diane’s eyes filled with tears. She got up and came to Jack’s side. “Stay here, of course.”

In the morning Jack woke to the smell of coffee. He rolled out of bed right away, got dressed, headed for the kitchen.

“Good morning.” A cheery greeting from Diane.


Jack hugged Diane. Hard. Close. “Thank you.”

Diane smiled. “We got this. Don’t know how yet, but we got this.”

Jack sat and sipped his coffee. “Any leftover pizza?”

“In the fridge,” she said.

He got up, put two slices on a paper plate in the microwave.

“I don’t know yet when surgery will be. The doc said within six weeks.”

“Okay.” Diane stirred oatmeal on a small pot, added raisins.

“How long have we known each other?” he asked. “Three months or so?”

“Three months, two weeks, four days.”


The microwave beeped.

“And we have both been playing this very cautiously. Friendship, with a touch of affection. An occasional PDA.”

Diane nodded. “It’s what we both needed to do.”

“Right. So…six weeks or so and I will never be able to be intimate with you…no matter how slow we want to go.”


“I don’t know if I want to be intimate now…before the surgery.”

Diane poured the hot oatmeal into a bowl. “We don’t need to decide that today.”

“No. I mean, if we were intimate now, it would be wonderful, but then we would never be able to do that again.”

“What exactly are we talking about here? You will not be able to have an erection? No orgasm?”

“I think so. The doc was not too specific.”

“But my parts would still work.”

He smiled. “A one way street.”

“One orgasm, two intimate partners.”

Jack waved his hand. “Enough on this. How about we hit the beach later today?”

“I could do that, if you go home to shower and change first. You may be sick, but you’re not throwing in the towel.”

He smiled. “Any more pizza in the fridge?”

Later, on the beach at Point Dume, they walked back and forth along the water’s edge. 

“I like you, Jack Marin.”

“Back atcha, Diane Somers.”

She reached out to hold his hand. “I feel like I might be moving towards loving you. Not sure yet.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

They stood still and listened to the surf crash on the sand.


shortfiction24 – the power of the universe

While Riley MacLean waits for her biopsy results, she muses on how the universe has impacted her life.

Enjoy the story. And check out my blog site for the signup for my Wednesday newsletter. Be the first to read my stories each week.

The Power of the Universe

Bob Gillen

Riley MacLean sat on a rigid plastic chair in an exam room waiting for her doctor. Apprehensive about biopsy results. “Do you want a magazine?” the medical assistant had asked her. “He’s running behind. We’ve been swamped today.”

Riley chose to sit quietly, composing herself. Five long, deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Relax.

Riley believed in the power of the universe.

Two weeks prior Riley had sat here as her doctor explained they had found a possible carcinoma on her uterus during an MRI scan. He scheduled a biopsy to check. Riley felt confident. But doubt tingled inside her gut. Like the tiny sensation when an ant crawled up your arm. Barely there. But clearly present.

Riley practiced meditation daily. She was aware there are not simply the collected memories of her life, of the years behind her. More than memories. Physical bits residing in her body. In her sessions she often called upon the healing power of the universe. She will gaze up at the stars, marvel at the photos sent back by the latest telescopes and satellites.

Riley believed in the power of the universe. 

Now, in the exam room, she closed her eyes, seeking peace. Inhale. Exhale. Her mind wandered. Her childhood home on the upper west side of Manhattan came to mind. She often played in Central Park, climbing the rocks, watching horses go by on the bridal path, chasing squirrels that scrambled for scraps of popcorn.

In her body, Riley believed, she carried microscopic molecules of her life. A speck of rock from Central Park. An atom from the park grass. 

When she swam in the ocean, when she swallowed a taste of sea water, in that swallow a bit from an old sea turtle far out at sea entered her body. Now a part of her.

These bits, she believed, now worked to counter the cells her body did not want.

Riley had done a drive across country years back. Breathing in the air of dozens of states. Hills, mountains, lakes, plains. Grasses and trees. Maybe breathing in a speck of a firefly from Kansas, a bison’s atom from the west, a trace of water from Lake Tahoe, a molecule from the sand in Malibu. All of these, again, she called on to prevent the unwanted cells.

Riley believed in the power of the universe.

She had worked on Wall Street, first for summer jobs, then later in fulltime work. She ate her lunch in Trinity churchyard in the summer. A speck of residue from the grave of Alexander Hamilton resided in her. As did an atom from the guitar of a busker band in the nearby city park.

All of these microscopic bits nourished her body. Fed her. The molecules from non-living things were immortal, and resided inside her.

Riley believed in the power of the universe. 

She knew that the human body regenerates many of its cells periodically. Parts of us are brand new as we age. But she also knew that some of these cells, like the life rings on a tree trunk, remained inside her for her lifetime. And in these prevailing cells resided bits of her entire life, bits of her life experiences, bits of the universe. She was, at once, continually refreshing herself and also preserving herself.

Riley once heard Ray Bradbury speak at a book signing. She had been browsing when she spied the sign announcing the signing would start in half an hour. She had found a seat at the rear of the store, waited for Bradbury to appear. His adult daughter pushed his wheelchair in, Bradbury’s shock of white hair capping the image. At the Q&A a woman had asked Bradbury, What advice do you have for young people today? Bradbury had raised his shoulders, a gleam of passion sparking in his eyes. “We must go back to the moon,” he told the group. “Establish a base, go on to Mars and then to Alpha Centauri.”

And she felt, in her heart, that there was a sun far distant in our galaxy, far behind earth’s sun. That sun had, a long time ago, released a bit of ash into the universe. And Riley believed that that bit of ash drifted across the galaxy and settled in her lung one night when she took in a deep breath of cool night air. That speck unites her with the far-flung regions of the universe. Connects her to a power that is so far beyond her understanding. So far beyond her capacity to see. And yet she knows she herself is a speck in that universe. She too emits parts of herself when she exhales. She shares those life specks with those around her, with those perhaps miles away, generations away.

The power of the universe. 

A gentle knock and the door opened. “Ms. MacLean,” the doctor said, “thank you for your patience. A medical emergency this morning set us behind.”

Riley nodded.

The doctor sat, opened his laptop. He glanced at the screen. Smiled. Looked her in the eye. 

“No cancer.”

Riley believed in the healing power of the universe.


shortfiction24 – the handoff

Tracy Anders adopts a black lab from a cancer patient who can no longer care for him. The handoff is swift, tearful.

Enjoy the short story. This is the 100th free short story I have posted to my blog. More to come! Comments are always welcome.

The Handoff

Bob Gillen

Tracy Anders brought her SUV to a stop curbside behind a silver Honda sedan. She slid out and approached a park bench, where a man and his black lab sat. 


The man tried to turn, made it halfway. The lab turned, eyes glowing, tail wagging.

“Tracy? Come sit with us.”

Tracy shook hands with Edward, held her fist out for the lab to sniff.

“Tracy, this is Ollie. Ollie, meet Tracy.”

The lab wagged his tail vigourusly. Tracy rubbed Ollie’s back. 

She looked at Edward. A man rail-thin, tee shirt hanging loosely on his frame. Under a flawlessly blue sky, his pallor was the color of melted candle wax.

Tracy sat.

“Thanks for doing this,” Edward said. “Ollie is a big dog, almost 80 pounds now. I can’t keep up with him. He needs better.”

“He’ll have a good home with me. How are you feeling?”

“The big C is beating me. I’m sliding down.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It is what it is.”

Edward took a yellow tennis ball from his pocket. Ollie jumped off the bench. Edward threw the ball out into a grassy field. Ollie chased it.

Edward pushed himself up from the bench, stepped to his car. “Pop the lid on your SUV.”

Edward took a box from his trunk and slipped it into Tracy’s SUV. He sat again.

“The box has his food and water bowls, his toys, a few days worth of dog food. And the name and number for his vet. He’s up to date on all his shots.”

Tracy nodded as Ollie returned with the ball.

A tear oozed from Edward’s eye. “I need to do this fast.”

He rubbed Ollie’s back, grabbed the tennis ball, tossed it far down the field. Edward walked to his car and drove off.

Ollie came back with the ball. He looked puzzled. He sniffed the space where Edward had sat. Dropped the ball, sniffed where the car had been.

Tracy patted the seat for Ollie to join her. He jumped up on the bench.

“It’s you and me now, buddy. Edward is too sick to keep you.”

Ollie placed his head in Tracy’s lap. She scratched his ear.

The two sat on the bench for a while. A few dog walkers appeared out on the field. Tracy clipped the leash on Ollie.

She set her palms down on the bench. The paint was cracked, broken. Brittle. She shuddered. Broken. 

“I’m broken too,” she said to Ollie. “I’ve got cancer, just like Edward. Mine is not curable, just like his, but mine is treatable. Manageable. You and I, we got some good years together.”

Ollie reached his head up, licked Tracy’s cheek.

She stood. “Let’s go home, buddy.”


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