STARING AT THE two black suitcases evoked no emotion in me whatsoever. A normal person would feel something watching their twelve—year relationship pack up and walk out the door. But not me. The last time I felt any sense of normalcy was that moment, two years ago, before I discovered the lump in my right breast.
It didn't matter how much distance I gained from that day, the memory was as vivid as if it had taken place yesterday. With each pass of my hand, I applied more pressure. My fingers dug into the area several times before I allowed my brain to register the sizable mass. Standing in the shower frozen, I let the hot water pelt my numb skin and tried to think of every logical reason why this couldn't be breast cancer. I was only thirty eight years old with no immediate family history of any type of cancers. I ate healthy, exercised, and got yearly checkups.
When the official diagnosis came down, the doctors put a plan quickly in motion. For the first four months, they pumped seven different highly toxic drugs every three weeks into my body for six cycles. The chemo wasted no time stripping away my femininity. Each morning more of my honey blonde hair clung to my pillow. My eyebrows, lashes, and nails vanished, leaving me looking and feeling like a grotesque alien creature. I avoided the mirror at all cost. But on those occasions, when I caught my reflection, my lungs gripped my breath, and I wondered where Cadence Fletcher was.
After chemo, a lumpectomy followed. The doctors kept saying how lucky I was that the tumor was contained and hadn't spread throughout my entire breast. My brain understood I was fortunate. But in my heart and soul, it was hard to count my blessings while bent over a toilet puking my guts out. I did my best to exude a positive attitude in public, waiting until I was tucked away safe and alone in my bathroom before letting the sobs take over my body, my heart, and my spirit.
One month of radiation was up next on the menu. The treatments were quick and painless. The worst part was the meltdown I had when my breast turned completely black. I expected the side effect but to see firsthand a part of my body change color right before my eyes was a total mind fuck. Fortunately, the darkness faded after a month, and my skin returned to its normal pale color.
The toll the disease had taken on my relationship with Michael was slow and steady. So much so, that once I noticed there was really no turning back. But like a champ, Michael was by my side every step of the way. During times of depression, he worked hard to lift my spirits. When I had little to no appetite, he'd go to the ends of the earth to find something that my stomach wouldn't reject. He was an attentive boyfriend. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way the boy disappeared and all that remained was a caring friend. He no longer saw me as the woman he'd been in love with. I'd become more of an obligation in his eyes. I didn't fault him in the least. I wasn't the woman he met and fell in love with anymore. And as much as I wanted her to return, I knew she wouldn't.
For the past year, we tried to repair and reconnect our relationship. Once I felt well enough, I went back to my job as a financial analyst at the bank and began the process of reentering the land of the living. Michael and I made a point to schedule date nights and even took a couple of weekend getaways in hopes of rekindling our hearts and bodies.
Like any long—term relationship, we'd had our peaks and valleys. Before my diagnosis, affection between us had waned. After all, we weren't kids anymore. Plus, we both had careers that we loved, me with the bank, and Michael with his architecture firm. But we still managed to have a good sex life. Then my diagnosis hit leaving me with no desire and a vagina that was drier than the Mojave Desert. Toss in my less than sexy appearance and you got yourself one limp sausage biscuit. We made attempts to make things work. We figured going through the motions would cause nature to kick in and take its course, eventually. At first, sex was just too painful for me physically and then became too painful emotionally.
Our last—ditch effort was on the advice of my doctor, who suggested lubing up with a coat of good old fashion Crisco. We were both willing to try anything at that point. But the faster Michael pushed into me, the more my mind drifted to visions of golden fried chicken. Then mashed potatoes and coleslaw. By the time Colonel Sanders popped in my head my stomach was growling and the mood was shot to hell. So last week after celebrating my one year anniversary of being cancer free, the man I thought I'd spend the rest of my life with and I agreed to cut the cord.
Heavy footsteps on the hardwood floor snapped me into the present. Looking up, I was met by sad green eyes. Even though the breakup was mutually agreed upon, saying goodbye to the person who'd been in your life for so many years was difficult. At least it should be if you had an ounce of emotional energy left, which I didn't. But I attempted to convey just as much heartache in my eyes as Michael. The last thing I wanted to do was humiliate him by showing how devoid of emotion I really was; he deserved better than that.
"I guess that's it," he said, giving me a faint smile.
Michael had rented an apartment closer to his firm and had been moving boxes over there all week.
"Just let me know if you think of anything else you want or need."
"Caddie, are you sure about this?"
"We're both sure about this."
His jaw clenched as he rubbed the back of his neck. "I know, but it feels weird walking away from you."
I stepped toward him and cupped the side of his face. "You're not walking away. We're letting each other go. You're a good man, Michael. You deserve to be happy."
"I care about what happens to you."
"Is it okay if I call sometime?"
"I'd hunt you down and kick your ass if you didn't."
He pressed his lips to my forehead. "Take care of yourself, Caddie."
I wrapped my arms around his waist, giving him a slight squeeze.
Picking up his suitcases, Michael and I exchanged one last smile before we finally said goodbye to us.