The restaurant manager handed out pink ribbons as September wound to a close. Cindy’s cousin Lolene had breast cancer and Cindy was on a crusade to find a cure now, she said. Donna privately wondered to Alfred how her wearing a pink ribbon in a casino in Battle Mountain, Nevada would help but she didn’t say that to anyone else. She’d play along.
What she didn’t admit, to even Alfred, was that Donna had felt a lump on her own breast. Wearing the pink ribbon pinned to her shirt seemed to add a weight to her chest. She knew she needed to get it checked.
On Alfred’s birthday they were planning a trip to Winnemucca to the Winner’s Casino buffet. She’d try to get in with Doc Smith while she was there.
Donna left Alfred at Wal-mart while she went to her appointment. He told her what she hadn’t wanted to hear and what she decided not to tell Alfred until later. She needed to have the lump checked, by a specialist, in Reno.
The next months were a confusing round of doctor appointments and procedures. The chemotherapy caused Donna to shave her head before more of her hair fell out. She got a gray haired wig the nice lady at St. Mary’s in Reno had helped her pick out. It was itchy and hot and she only wore it to work. Donna insisted she could still work. The other waitresses gave her fewer tables and helped her with the orders on bad days.
Sometimes Alfred noticed the waitresses leaving dollars on the tables in addition to what Donna’s customers had left behind.
Alfred went through his days like he was in a dream. He lay awake so many nights worrying that he was in a constant state of exhaustion. He’d drink so much coffee during his shifts at the Owl Club that he was jittery all the time and he’d lost about 15 pounds because he had no appetite.
Donna would lecture him. “You look worse’n me!” she’d say. “You gotta eat somethin’.”
Alfred would look at the bald head, the hollowness of his wife’s cheeks, see her struggle through her chemo treatments. He would never ever tell her this, but he hoped he didn’t look worse than she did.
The days when Donna was in the hospital, recovering from her lumpectomy, Alfred slept fitfully in a chair in her room, drove the three hours to Battle Mountain for his shifts at the Owl Club, then drove the three hours back to be with her. Perhaps he should have taken the days off. Larry, the casino manager, would have understood. They needed the money though. Alfred was part of a union so he had insurance but it didn’t come close to covering everything. He had met with a financial adviser at St. Mary’s and she assured him that the hospital would erase part of the debt because of their low income level. Even without considering all the medical bills though, they were losing some of Donna’s wages and all the trips and meals on the road were adding up.
It didn’t matter the cost though. Alfred fought his way through the long days and nights. Hearing Donna’s voice and seeing her warm smile and the firm way she lifted her chin when she was in pain carried him through the hard times.
That winter was one Alfred would always remember even though most of it passed by without his notice. He saw Christmas decorations come and go. He bought a box of chocolates for Donna on Valentine’s Day even though she didn’t feel like eating them and gave them to Amy instead. Otherwise, he had no idea what day it was or what was happening in the world besides Donna’s treatments. At work he would take bets and engage in idle chatter with people but he wasn’t really paying attention.
Check back tomorrow to see how Donna reacts to her treatment!