Prayers Were No Help

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I am retired and live in Richardson, Texas with my wife of forty-five years, two disobedient dogs; chick magnet Bentley and neurotic bone burier Jack, and lots of books.


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Chapter One – The Crisis

Cindy is dead. And God is dead to me.

Who am I you ask? My name is Jack Bannon. I’m a successful business process consultant. After graduating from college, I married my college sweetheart, Cindy Milton, and we made our home in Chicago, Illinois. Those are facts, but facts do not tell my story.

Cindy and I met at State College during our undergraduate years. I was attracted to her the first time I saw her. Her auburn hair fell in elliptical curves to her rounded shoulders and framed her freckled face—and her body, well, I will only say I could never get enough of gazing at her. She was full of life; she laughed at every joke I told and made me feel like a million dollars.

After I had earned my undergraduate degree in business management, with honors, we married. Dad paid for my undergraduate degree, but when we announced our engagement, he told me we were on our own. So, Cindy worked at the Silver Dollar Steak House (enormous tips), and I took teaching assistant assignments to help pay for my MBA at Northwestern. We delighted in filling her tip jar every night and dreaming about the day we could travel the world together.

Married life was a scramble for us during graduate school. We lived in an 800-square-foot walk-up apartment close to campus and ate beans and rice a lot. We loved it, though, because we did not know any better. We were in love, and school and sex were all that mattered at the time.

We had one hundred fifty dollars in savings, an excess of ambition, and unlimited funds in our dreams account. So, with all the folly and blind enthusiasm of youth and the ink still wet on my diploma, I started my consulting firm and started banging on doors and leaving my business card everywhere. And I do mean everywhere: every coffee shop, every skyscraper lobby desk, every large business office, every hotel and motel, every bank lobby, every high-class restaurant, and every car and boat dealership in Chicago. I even placed some discreetly at different locations at Midway, O’Hare, and Gary regional airports.

It did not take long to land my first consulting job, but I had to turn down the first two because I did not want to travel. I decided early on that I was not going to fly all over the world and be away from Cindy for long periods. I liked being around her too much to be away, and there was an ample amount of business to engage in right here in Chicago. I could have gone anywhere I chose. I elected to stay home—with Cindy.

She kept in touch with her Pi Beta Phi sorority sisters and regularly volunteered to organize and host new events, recruit freshman students, and promote the Pi Beta Phi charitable activities. Her work got the attention of the national executive board, and they considered her for a leadership position. True to her nature, she declined the honor and chose instead to continue working with the local chapters.

Our first ten years were a whirlwind. It was like being in a giant, 360-degree helical roller coaster.  You enjoy the ride immensely, and it ends way too quickly, surprising you.

That is when we took our first vacation—to Maui. We had always dreamed of returning to the place where we had honeymooned: surfing—if we could learn how, going to a luau, snorkeling, taking a helicopter tour of the volcanoes, all the things that neophyte tourists think they have to do there and honeymooners never do.

It was the first of many vacations. My business prospered, and we traveled together all over the world: Paris, where we walked along the Seine in the moonlight; Rome and Naples, where we toured the Coliseum and took a romantic gondola ride complete with candlelight and wine; London; Stockholm; Zurich; Amsterdam, where I finally got her a decent wedding ring; Cairo, Egypt, with its pyramids and exotic foods; and Istanbul, where we marveled at the ruins of Ephesus and rode an immaculate antique cedar motor launch on the Bosporus. We thought we had the universe at our command and an endless pleasure ride ahead of us. Nothing could stop us.

We talked about children sometimes, but neither of us was the domestic type. We did not want to be tied down or give up the exciting life of traveling the world. Looking back, perhaps we were too selfish to realize what they would have meant to us, especially to me.

One day, Cindy met me at the door with tears in her eyes, unable to speak. I held her in my arms, neither of us saying anything for what seemed an eternity. When she stopped sobbing, we walked to the couch and sat down, still holding each other.

I knew it had to be something serious, but I had no idea what. I held her hand and took a deep breath. “What’s wrong?” I whispered.

She started to speak, but the words would not come out.

“Take your time,” I said. “I am here, and I am not going anywhere, no matter how long this takes.”

She made another attempt and finally got the words out. “I went to the doctor today for the follow-up from my annual physical.”

“And?”

“I have pancreatic cancer.” The tears began again.

“Wh-what did you say?”

“Oh, Jack,” she said between sobs, “I’m—I’m dying.”

I could not swallow. My head started spinning. The world closed in around me and got strangely dark. “No. No!” I whispered hoarsely. “Do not say that. Never say that. It has to be a mistake.”

For the next three days, we were both in a trance. I called the doctor and told him we wanted a second opinion. I found the best oncologist in Chicago and made an appointment. He confirmed the cancer. Both the CT scan and the MRI revealed tumors that were well advanced. Cindy had Stage 3 exocrine pancreatic cancer. The five-year survival rate was three percent.

I felt like a telephone pole had smashed me in the chest. I got angry. I wanted to lash out—to hit something—anything to make the cancer go away. She curled up in a corner and cried. I had to find a way to keep her alive. I had to.

The standard course of treatment for her cancer was chemotherapy and radiation, which was palliative care. It was not meant to cure the cancer, only to delay the inevitable. After stressful, disturbing meetings with the oncologists, we realized there were no good treatment options. We did not know which was worse, the disease or the treatment. Either way, hell lay ahead for her, and for me as well, if we acceded to the doctors’ demands. We both knew it. And almost in the same moment, we both agreed there had to be another way.

We looked at natural treatments and tried many of them: exotic juicers that produced things that tasted like mud mixed with plant stems (yes, I actually tried them before giving them to her); coffee enemas (the quintessential definition of disgusting); and more vitamin therapies than you could count in a day

Then, we flew to Mexico for alternative care. We tried injections of laetrile, but she got very dizzy and had migraine headaches that she described as heavy metal music blasting at an excruciating volume just inches from her ears. We tried something called metabolic treatment as well as the Issels treatment, both of which were supposed to help her immune system fight the cancer. Nothing worked.

We became desperate. We flew to Madrid and Amsterdam and Sydney, visiting the best cancer treatment centers in the world looking for answers. We wore our passports out. Everywhere we went, the doctors were polite and professional but told us there was nothing they could do.

We were finally forced to stop traveling. Cindy could not take it any more. She was exhausted, tired of fighting a losing battle. And the disease was twisting its evil fingers around her body like the wringing out of a wet towel, notching up the pain. I could see that she was giving up, that her faith and strength had been sapped.

We finally relented and started chemotherapy treatments. I could not imagine how poisoning her would be beneficial, but I would have poured arsenic down her throat with a funnel if I had thought it would help somehow.

I will never forget when her hair started falling out; that beautiful, wavy auburn hair that I had held in my hands. It came out in large clumps. When I saw the first one, I quickly retrieved it and hid it from her. But she knew. I could see it in her eyes. It was the final indignity, stripping away her beauty and painting her with a giant, ugly sign: Look at me! I have cancer! I am dying!

I could not take it anymore. I had to get out, get away. I went for a walk. I broke down. I ended up sitting on somebody’s steps, two blocks from our house, bawling my eyes out. When I finally came back home, we both cried while I shaved her head. After I had finished, she wanted to see herself in the mirror. She said she looked like a giant ostrich egg, and we both laughed. That was the last time either of us laughed.

That was when, having run out of options, we turned to God. I had not prayed since I was a kid, and she was not raised that way, but we held hands, and we prayed. We prayed until the sweat ran from our foreheads. We prayed every day and every night for a miracle. It didn’t work. She kept getting worse.

The second year of the cancer—the twentieth year of our marriage—a time when we should have been celebrating with champagne in Paris, was the worst. The pain in her back and belly became so intense that she had to switch from Demerol to Dilaudid tablets every four hours. She had not had much appetite for months, but then she started suffering from nausea and vomiting. I had to keep a stainless bowl beside her bed for her to vomit in and an oversize pitcher of water to stave off the dehydration caused by the vomiting. I thought about how ironic it was that I was trying to keep her alive by hydrating her so she could die from cancer.

To keep my business afloat, I took short consulting engagements to pay the bills and keep Cheryl, my assistant, employed. I wanted to avoid being forced to sell any of my investments. That is always a losing proposition.

I refused to commit to more than three days per week. Cindy needed me, and I wanted to be there. I hired a nurse to come in and see to her needs while I was working. He had fifteen years of experience in hospice care and knew exactly how to make her life more comfortable as she rotted away from the inside.

Through it all, we kept praying, asking God for the miracle that never came. I did not understand why God was ignoring me. My anger at his inaction began to consume me. I watched Cindy suffer, and he did nothing. I saw her slowly waste away until her bones protruded from her carcass—a vulture’s feast. She was dead long before she died.

The last three months were the worst. She slept much of the time, or she was unconscious. I am not sure which. By that time, she was on morphine drip, so she was not feeling pain anymore, or so the nurse told me. It was like purgatory. She was not dead, but she was not alive, either. I sat by her bedside, held her hand, and talked to her about all the good times we had shared. The trips we had taken all over the world. How we laughed when she burned the beans and we had to order a pizza on our first night in our first apartment. The thrill we felt when we bought our first home.

And I cried—a lot.

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Paul Lawrence

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