By Tim Hayes

The woman stepped cautiously into the oncologist’s office, accompanied by her daughter.

The elderly patient, lightweight and frail, knew this was going to be an important discussion.  She also knew she might not remember all of the details accurately later, so thank God her daughter – her advocate and protector – would be there to take notes, ask questions, and explain things to her over the next few days.

= = = = =

Across town, the homeowner stood beside the massive tree in his backyard, waiting for the tree-service guy to arrive.

The towering maple, dubbed “Zeus” by the homeowner’s kids many years before, looked bad.  Some strange black coloring had seeped into the tree, all but covering the full circumference of the trunk.

Countless Frisbees, Nerf footballs, and even a kite or two had been swallowed by Zeus’ upper branches in the nearly two decades the family had lived there.  Each time, though, one of the kids climbed up into the spreading limbs and got the plaything back down safely.

But now all the kids were grown, well past their tree-climbing days, and Zeus somehow had become sick.  And the father feared the solution, to be reckoned that day.

= = = = =

“The results of the CAT scan show that the tumors not only have not been reduced, but that a few more small ones have appeared,” said the oncologist, in her direct-but-caring manner.  “But after consulting with my colleagues and doing some additional outreach, we have a few options to consider.”

The patient heard the words and felt a chill.  What “options” can possibly help now?

Her daughter immediately began formulating questions and eagerly awaited the oncologist’s next statement.  To her mind, “options” meant hope.

= = = = =

“My God, did this tree get hit by lightning?”

“Nope.  I don’t know why it’s black around the trunk like that.”

The tree expert walked over, flicked off a piece of bark, and said, “This is a fungal infection.”  He stepped back a few paces, pointed up from the trunk, and said, “Look, that black coloring goes the whole way up through the branches.  This tree is very sick.”

“But it still blooms every year.  Look, you can still see leaves from last fall on the ground!”

“It’s not dead yet, but it’s dying.  And there’s really no way to reverse this decay.”

The man stared at poor Zeus then closed his eyes and shook his head.  The verdict seemed pretty clear.

= = = = =

The woman took a deep breath and waited to hear the options for her treatment moving forward.

“We have sent your blood sample to be tested, and if your profile fits the parameters, we would recommend starting a new regimen of immunotherapy, which has shown an ability to stop the growth of certain tumors,” explained the oncologist.

“If you don’t qualify for that, we would want to resume the at-home chemotherapy every two weeks, as we have been doing,” the doctor said.  “Think of it like a dam.  It’s better to have some small leaks than to have the dam burst altogether.”

The patient thought she grasped the metaphor.  Her daughter understood it perfectly and felt a weight start to lessen, if only a bit.

= = = = =

“Let me show you something else,” said the tree guy.  The homeowner followed him to the rear of the trunk, the part you didn’t see from inside the house, and gasped.  Zeus was rotting from within.

“And see these little holes?” the arborist asked, pointing out rows of small holes, almost as though the trunk had been perforated.  “Birds like to peck at this material, and they end up carrying it to other trees, infecting them.  If anything, the township would be happy to see us take this tree down, to stop that from happening.”

Resigned at last to the fact that Zeus’ long fight had ended, the homeowner whispered, “Could you please send me an estimate to remove the tree?”

= = = = =

Over the next week or so, when they had their nightly phone calls, the daughter explained again what the doctor had told them.  How it was encouraging news.  Not a cure, but a way to deal with a difficult reality.

A path of hope.  Of extending life.  The daughter knew that the chance to prolong her mother’s time – as long as she continued to bear the treatment well and not be subjected to pain – offered the best option of all.

And for now, that felt like a victory.

= = = = =

The homeowner texted his wife and kids, letting them know that their beloved Zeus would soon be gone.  That tree felt like a part of the family, even if he had become just a part of the landscaping in recent years.

Warmed by stories and shared memories, the loss of Zeus still stung.  But his suffering was at last over.

And plans were set in motion to plant a new tree in his place.  Another Zeus, for another family to climb, chasing after kites and Frisbees, someday far into the future.

There’s always hope.

Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes