Life in Appaloosa was easy. It had a small town feel to it that I was comfortable with. After we had settled in to our new home, and finally removed the last box, we started our journey looking into our careers. I had received a scholarship to Veterinary School due to the fact that I was Valedictorian. It was an online program, and I had to have so many hours of working credit to graduate. I made my way into town to meet with the only Veterinarian here, to see if she would let me shadow as an intern. I would only be allowed to do basic work but the experience was what I was after. Her name was Leslie Moore, and she was not much older than I was; maybe in her early thirties. She had a kind face, and what seemed like a very laid back personality. I explained to her that I needed an internship and that I one day hoped to run my own clinic.
She looked me up and down as if the answer was written on me somewhere and said, “So let me get this straight. You want to work here full time, do all the menial work I hate doing, and do it for free? I would be dumber than a sack of rocks if I said no to that sweet deal! Welcome to Appaloosa Animal Clinic Madison!” She laughed, and started showing me around.
I thought the clinic while small, was very homey and well kept. You could tell that Leslie took pride in her job, and that she loved animals as much as I did.
There were three exam rooms stocked with the finest supplies, one large area to perform surgery in, and also host the animals in case they needed to be kept here overnight, and in the very back there was an office. She led me back to the office and had me sign some new hire paperwork. If I did well during my internship, I had a paid spot waiting for me after graduation. I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Michael on the other hand didn’t have such good luck. With this town being as small as it was, there weren’t any open spots on the force. He did however get offered a part time job doing dispatch which would get him a foot in the door. It didn’t pay much, but in the mean time he was working out at the gym getting ready for the day they would take him in the academy.
I loved our new routine. He would wake up and run in the morning, while I would clean the house and cook breakfast for us. I had to be at the clinic at nine in the morning to help open and walk the dogs that were there. After that I would meet Michael for lunch down the street, and then we would finish our day at work. When I would get home he would have dinner going, and then I would shower and get online and do my school work.
It was nice feeling so grown up, and living with him was as easy as breathing. I talked to Gam often, relishing every moment we got to spend on the phone. She missed me of course but still loved her life back home. I regretted not being able to be there with her, but she informed me that she adopted a cat, and loved having a quiet companion. I was glad that she had someone there to keep her company even if he was only a cat. With me being gone she had no other family and most of her friends had passed away due to old age. This reminded me that Gam was not the young spring chicken she once was. Especially tonight, I could hear in her voice how tired she was. Something I wasn’t used to. She normally had more energy than I did! I asked her if she was feeling well, and she assured me that she was fine. She was going to the doctor tomorrow to make sure, but she was sure it was just her old bones. I felt nervous not being able to be there to take her myself and hear the doctor say she was fine, but she told me that she would call me as soon as she was done. After telling her I loved her we hung up.
I went to bed that night with worry in the pit of my stomach. The next morning proceeded in the same manor I had grown accustomed to. After telling Michael I loved him and heading off to work I couldn’t help but think that Gam would be on her way to the hospital right now. I really hoped that I was paranoid and nothing would be wrong, but after losing my parents I couldn’t bare the thought of losing her too. Work was rough today, and not because of the lack of sleep I had gotten. We had a cat that was being shaved today and she was not having it. I had to suit up in a rubber gloves and try to hold this poor kitty down while Leslie tried to sedate her. In the end, we won, but not without some new battle scars. Leslie assured me that Jane the cat only came in once a year to get shaved and this was not an everyday occurrence. I breathed a sigh of relief, glad that everyday vet life wouldn’t be so dramatic.
While eating lunch with Michael and retelling the cat tale, and finally laughing for once today, my cell phone rang. I picked up and heard Gam on the other end of the line. “Hi Madds my dear, did I catch you at a bad time?” She seemed stressed and not her usual happy go lucky self. I tried to stay calm and answered, “No Gam, I am on lunch with Michael. We just sat down actually. What did the doctor say?” I held my breath as I waited for her reply. She explained that the doctor noticed a lump on her hip and he took a sample to be sent off to the lab. He also ran some blood tests. There were many possibilities as to what it could be, but he was sending her samples to an oncologist because he felt that with her symptoms it might be Chondrosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that affects adults over the age of 40. It is more common in males but does affect some woman. My heart dropped. Cancer? Gam? I asked her in the strongest voice I could muster, “What would be the treatment if it was cancer?” She replied, “Most likely it would have to be radiation. Surgery is an option if it hasn’t spread, but they are unsure what it even is at the moment. For all we know it could be benign.” I asked Gam if she wanted to come stay with us out here while we waited for an answer or if she wanted Michael and I to come there but she said not to worry. She would be fine, and she didn’t want to disrupt our lives when it could be nothing. I told her to get some rest, and have the doctor call me when the test came back. We hung up, our hearts heavy. I couldn’t even finish my lunch. She seemed so healthy when we left a couple months ago, I couldn’t imagine anything that would bring her down this fast that wasn’t cancer. It made since, her fatigue, her “old bones” hurting, and even the headaches. I was just praying that I was wrong. She was supposed to be here when I got married, and help me with my kids. She was supposed to always be here with me. I looked at Michael across the table from me and told him the possible news. I asked him, if it came down to it, could Gam move in with is here? He just stared at me and nodded. “Anything for that woman, Madds. She took me in like one of her own, and I want to do anything to help her.” That made me feel a little better, that if push come to shove she would have someone to care for her. The problem would be getting her to leave her home in Twinbrook and move here. But we would cross that bridge when we came to it. I not so patiently waited to hear the news from the doctors.
I talked to Gam daily making sure she was alright, and probably bothered her more than helped her. I couldn’t help it. After hearing the news I was afraid that I would wake up the next day and she would be gone.
I had nightmares where I attended her funeral, and was constantly dreaming of graveyards. Kind of morbid I know, but the constant worry and not sleeping was taking its toll on me. I tried to work as though nothing was bothering me, but it just wasn’t possible. Leslie pulled me to the side one afternoon and told me that she too lost a grandmother to cancer; took him in two weeks. She knows how earthshattering the news could be, but at the moment we weren’t sure what Gam had, if anything. She told me to buck up, and cherish the time I had left with her, and stop worrying myself into a frenzy. She was right. Gam wasn’t gone yet and I hadn’t lost anything. She let me work with the horses the rest of the week to help calm myself down.
I had grown quite attached to one in particular. Her name was Lady and her coat was a golden honey. The owner of Lady had told Leslie that she wasn’t sure what she was going to do with her once she got better, because she just couldn’t afford taking care of the horse anymore. My heart saddened with this news because Lady was special and deserved a home where she was treated, well, like a lady. Without me knowing, Leslie had been watching me work with all the horses, and came to a decision. She walked out to where I was brushing her and asked me, “Do you love this horse? She is quite special.” I nodded very fast and said, “This old gal is perfect, aren’t ya Lady?” Without missing a beat Lady nuzzled my face and I laughed. “Didn’t you say that you always wanted a horse Madison? Why don’t you take Lady here? That’ll mean the world to Mrs. Hart. I knows she feel terrible not being able to keep her anymore.” I knew that I wanted her to be mine, but I needed to talk to Michael about it first. Taking care of a horse required full time care and a full wallet. I had my parent’s money, but we were living on that and paying for school, and I didn’t want to get the horse and then be in same boat as Mrs. Hart. She deserved a longtime home, not to be bounced around. I told Leslie as much, and that I would need to think about it.
Lady wasn’t being cleared to go home for another couple of weeks anyway. When I got home, I had a surprise waiting for me. Gam was sitting on the couch waiting for me. Michael was there too. I looked at Gam a little closer and saw that she had lost some weight in the short time that we had been gone.
“Why don’t you quit staring and come and give your Gam some sugar?!” I jumped a little when I heard her voice. I hadn’t realized that I was staring but it was hard not to. I ran over and hugged her and then sat down. She cleared her throat and looked me in the eyes. “Now Madison, you know I went to the doctor, and it’s not looking good kid. Apparently I have bone cancer, and it’s not in the early stages neither. It is too late to try the surgery, and I just want to live my life, so radiation is not an option…” She was still talking but I zoned out.
I felt like my lungs had just filled up with water. I couldn’t breath. Somewhere while she was talking Michael grabbed my hand but I didn’t notice. The only things that were running through my mind were how this could be true. It was Gam, my hero. Gam, the brave. The one who held me together while I was so fragile. Who was going to put her back together when she broke? I just didn’t know.