The Substitute

By: Lindsay Delagair

Jen waited impatiently for Doctor Horner to bring her into the exam room. “Damn it’s cold in here,” she muttered, wringing her hands in an attempt to warm them as she paced the floor.

The nurse gave a sympathetic glance.

The door opened and Doctor Horner silently motioned her to follow him.

God, she’d never been so scared; this couldn’t really be happening to her 24 year old husband. She’d had really good intuition all her life; she never felt like she deserved Andy, but this wasn’t how she pictured losing him. He was one of those ‘too good to be true,’ kind of guys. When he’d asked her to marry him, she’d almost passed out.

Two years of wedded bliss and now this. Her stomach churned and she was afraid that she’d lose her tiny breakfast before she made it down the clinically scented hallway. Her stomach bottomed-out when she saw Andy’s ash white face as he perched on the edge of the exam table in the ill-fitting gown.

“Have a seat,” Doctor Horner told her.

She was so numb with fear that she just stood there staring at her husband. She felt the doctor’s hands guiding her to the chair and then giving her that slight downward pressure on her shoulders that caused her to obey.

“The test came back as testicular cancer. We’ve got to operate as soon as possible.”

The tears washed down her cheeks before the emotions could catch up to them. The doctor had prepared them beforehand that the test would most likely indicate cancer, but to hear it with such certainty was like a knife to her gut.

“Listen, I know you and Andy wanted children, and normally I’d say we’d do some semen storage so that when you two were ready, you could get pregnant, but I’m going to have to advise against it. Understand me now,” he tacked on. “This decision isn’t up to me. I’ll do whatever you two want. If this had been an isolated incident then I doubt there would be any genetic predisposition for cancer, but his dad died from testicular cancer and so did his grandfather. The chance of the two of you having a son that might develop this cancer is greatly increased.”

She nodded, but she didn’t know why the hell she did. She didn’t want to agree with any of this. They had planned for a family before they even got married. Andy talked about coaching little league, boy scouts and camp-outs; he wanted children as much as she did.

“But we might have a girl,” she said quietly. “Would she be okay?”

The doctor lowered himself to the chair beside her and took her hands in his. For a doctor he had a uniquely warm touch. “That’s right, but it’s a 50/50 shot unless you want to do in vitro and abort any male fetuses in the early stage.”

God that sounded so hideous: throw away any little boys so she could be a mother. “No,” she whispered as she looked up into Andy’s teary eyes. “We can’t afford in vitro, and I could never be okay with ending the life of our son. It’s okay—we’ll be okay as long as we have each other. When do you want to operate? I thought you said we’d have a little time.”

“This is a slow developing cancer, but it’s in both testicles. I don’t want to wait and have it spread to the prostate gland. I’d like to schedule him for a bi-lateral orchiectomy this week, tomorrow if we can manage it. Jen,” he stated getting her to look at him, “he’s got a great chance for survival if we don’t let it spread. If we wait….”

“No,” she said, reaching her hand out to her husband.

Andy slipped off the exam table and pulled her into his arms, kissing her temple.

She stared deeply into Andy’s beautiful azure eyes. “No,” she repeated. “If you’re ready, Babe, I don’t want to wait. I—I—can’t lose—you.” She barely finished the words before they were cut off by her emotions. This was final; they wouldn’t have any children.

That night they held each other close as a summer thunderstorm pelted their bedroom window. Rain drops, like tear drops, poured from heaven.

“Jen,” he whispered. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“Do you trust me?”