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You Loved Me Once
I’m losing myself trying to save everyone else…
As a doctor, I walk a dangerously delicate balance of being compassionate but not overly invested. The same is true in my personal life–love is a luxury I can’t afford.
It isn’t until Dr. Westin Grant breaks down all my walls and offers me a future, I find myself wondering if I’m brave enough to risk my heart.
When who I was and who I’ve tried to become collide during my clinical trial, the fate of one patient changes everything.
In a single moment, everything I’ve worked for is jeopardized. My integrity, my career, and even my relationship with Westin.
He loved me once, I just hope he can love me always…
Westin takes his time stuffing papers into a chart as Tracy walks out of the room. Once we’re alone, I decide it’s time Dr. Grant and I have a talk about what just happened.
“So . . .” I say, walking toward him.
His eyes lift and he grins. “Hey.”
Wes pushes his hair back and then rubs his chin. “For?”
“Being on my side.”
He releases a heavy sigh. “I told you I was.”
“You did, and then you seemed to turn for a minute there,” I laugh softly, standing in front of him and leaning on the table. “I wasn’t sure what you were doing trying to rake me over the coals. Especially since you never mentioned you’d be in the meeting.”
“What would’ve been the fun in that? It was much better looking like you were caught off guard and then having your side piece tear you to shreds in front of your mentor. I mean, at least now people will believe we’re nothing more than sex buddies.”
“You’re more than that, Wes.” The words fall out effortlessly and I wish I could pull them back.
He jerks back slightly, runs his fingers through his light brown hair, and smiles. “How about that?”
Westin gets to his feet with the folder in his hands and then taps me with it. “Growth.”
I’m not even sure what I meant. Of all the days for me to decide to change something between us, why today? For two years I’ve been totally content with keeping things simple, then Julie says some stupid shit and I’m adjusting my thinking?
“Whatever,” I blow off his comment as I push off of the table. “I was going to come looking for you anyway.”
He chuckles. “I figured.”
“Oh, did you?” I ask as we head out into the hallway.
“Well, that is kind of your thing. You often want to find me before a big surgery or something else where you need to work off some stress, don’t you?” Westin jokes.
I’m not sure why that bothers me at all. He’s right. But I realize it makes me sound like a crazy sex fiend. Which isn’t the case . . . for the most part. We’re friends, and I trust him in a way that I haven’t allowed myself to trust anyone else.
“Yes, but that isn’t why I was looking for you,” I try not to look affronted.
“Yes, really. I’d like to think our time together at work is about more than me finding you for sex, Wes.”
Westin jerks his head back slightly. “Okay, you’re right, sometimes you come talk to me about a patient.”
The small knot in my stomach constricts. He did something for me and I want to repay him. “Well, this time I was going to come find you to talk about us having dinner tonight.”
“Tonight?” he asks.
“Unless you’re taking back the offer . . .”
Westin shakes his head, leans against the wall, and smiles. “Nope.”
“I was hoping that maybe we could have dinner tonight. You know, celebratory or whatnot?”
I suddenly feel very shy, unsure of exactly what I should be saying or doing. I know I’m not usually the one to initiate anything even remotely relationship-like, and I know I have to make a choice. Maybe we won’t ever be madly in love with each other, vowing our lives to one another. However, I’m realizing we can be more than we are right now.
We can have dinner plans, movies, and friendship. I know that Westin gets my life. He understands the stresses of being a doctor. I don’t need wild, heart-stopping, soul-shattering love. I need steady. I need a rock that will anchor me when I feel like I’m floating away. Westin could be that. Maybe Westin is the guy who is supposed to hold me up when I’m falling down.
I’ve never had that before.
Westin looks at me with his head tilted to one side and he touches my cheek with his thumb. “Are you asking me on a date?”
I shrug, smile a little, and look at my feet. “I guess I am,” I look back up. “What would you say to that?”
Westin’s brow raises, his hand drops, and he leans in to give me a tender kiss. “I guess I would have to say yes.”
He smiles and wraps his arm around me. “Good.”
The two of us stand here, exhibiting a public display of affection at the hospital for the very first time. At work, we’ve always maintained a very professional relationship. I take a step back now, feeling a bit of unease about touching him in the open. I’m pretty sure every member of the hospital is aware of our relationship, but it doesn’t mean I’m ready for it to be gossip fodder.
“Hi, Dr. Grant,” a nurse waves with the tips of her fingers as she passes by the open door where we’re standing and I roll my eyes. “You look very handsome today,” she adds.
“Hi, Tammi,” he smiles.
Stop looking at him, you stupid hussy.
Wait. Is that . . . jealousy?
No. It couldn’t be. I’m not a jealous girl, especially when it comes to my non-relationship-relationship.
“I’ll see you tonight?” Westin grips my elbow.
I nod, snapping back to reality. “Yes.”
“I have two surgeries today. What time do you think you’ll be done?”
“With the trial starting, I have no idea. I can’t screw this up, you know?”
I say this carefully, aware of his own trial experiences and afraid to poke a wound. I don’t know how he was able to pick himself up and continue on after losing six patients in his trial last year. I’m not sure I would survive that kind of blow.
“You’ll do great, Ren. You always do. There’s a reason you’re the most sought out oncologist.” He pushes my hair back and his voice is low. “People look at you and feel a sense of . . . serenity. You give them that because of what’s inside your heart. You let them see how much you care, you give them that comfort because they need it as much as you need to give it.”
My heart races and I realize Jules was right. Westin is a catch and I shouldn’t forget the line of women waiting for their chance at more with him. But can I give more when I feel like I’m already at my threshold? Am I capable of putting myself out there to love again?
I’ve been holding onto my past for far too long, and it’s time to move on. I haven’t wanted to ever hurt like that again. I’ve learned how to be alone. It’s been so many years since I’ve allowed anyone inside my heart.
It would be unfair to Wes if I were to offer more and then pull it back. Looking at him, though, I know that if anyone will be careful with me, it’s him. Westin has been there, and I trust him.
I rest my hand on his arm and smile. “You’re too good for me, but at least I know it. I’m . . . excited about our dinner. I’m excited about—”
My hospital phone goes off and I thank God for the interruption. I was about to say more, way more than I’m probably ready to say. We’ve taken things so slow, and I think that’s why we work. He’s patient with me, and I’m cautious about giving my heart away. Moving forward with him is exciting, but I want to make sure I don’t hurt him either.
“Dr. Adams,” I say into the phone.
“The trial patient that checked in early, she’s really uncomfortable, and we need you to decide what she’s allowed for pain management.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Westin puts his hand up before I can say a word. “Go. I’ll see you tonight.”
I start down the hall and call out to him as I continue moving. “Thank you . . . for everything.”
“Should we admit her as patient one?” Martina asks.
“Not yet,” I fight back a smile. “Let’s admit them the way we set it up. For now just put her as a trial patient without a number.” This is really happening. “But let’s get them set for their stay since tomorrow starts the next part.”
My trial is going to start today and my first patient with the dosage adjustment could be this one. I shouldn’t be happy, but there’s a hope inside me that I can’t contain when I think of the lives that don’t have to be destroyed because cancer seeps through every part of who these women are. Cancer is a growing thing, killing as it goes, and sometimes, it carries on after a person is gone, destroying the people they loved as they try to deal with the person’s death.
I look over the chart. Allison Brown is thirty-eight years old, married with no children and has stage II ovarian cancer. However, this is her second time fighting cancer. She’s the same age as me and the same age my mother was when she started her fight. Couldn’t I have had a case a little less close to home as my first?
Releasing a deep breath, I straighten my back, and head into her room.
A beautiful woman with long brown hair and soft green eyes looks at me with a tired smile.
“Hi, I’m Dr. Adams.” I move toward her bed and she shifts, trying to smother the pain in her face.
I take her ice-cold hand in mine and cover it with my other one. “I’m going to get you something for the pain, but first I need to evaluate you and get you checked in for the trial. Okay?”
She nods. “It’s really bad today. I had my last chemo treatment two weeks ago and it’s lingering.”
“I’m sorry. Let’s get through your history quickly and then we’ll go from there.” Her chart states that she lives in North Carolina, which is where I went to college before I left to come to Chicago for med school. Another thing that is a little too close for comfort. “Your trial questionnaire says you were a very successful lawyer and being considered for a judgeship?”
“Until cancer kicked me in the face,” Allison releases a sarcastic laugh. “My husband, Peyton, and I had a lot of plans until my diagnosis four years ago.”
“I see this is your second occurrence?”
“Yes, I beat breast cancer once only to have ovarian cancer. Lucky me, right? I get through it all, with the hopes of still having kids, and then this . . .”
“I see. Were you able to harvest your eggs before that treatment?”
She nods. “Yes.”
Good. That’s at least one hurdle down.
I take her hand in mine. “We’ll do everything we can to beat it again.”
We continue through the questionnaire and I realize this woman could be me in so many ways. We’re both very driven women who have flourishing careers. Allison married young, but they agreed to hold off on children until they were settled in their careers, and then cancer came back again, making that possibility even slimmer.
“Peyton drove me nuts, making me wait to have kids. I wanted a baby so bad.” A tear falls down her face. “Now, though, I wish we hadn’t waited. I could’ve had the baby and then . . . then I could just fight the cancer.”
I’ve learned there are no words to rebuke that. She has her reality, and my job requires I understand her needs.
She brushes the tears away and clears her throat.
I give her a second to collect herself as I get to my feet.
“I’m sorry,” she tries to smile. “Some days I’m really bad at keeping it together.”
“Don’t apologize,” I reassure her. “You don’t have to keep it together with me. I’ll handle that, okay?”
I like Allison and pray that this drug does what I want it to for her. I can’t explain it, but I feel an instant bond with her.
“You’re not what I pictured.”
“Yeah? What did you expect?”
The more she talks, the less her discomfort shows. “I don’t know, but your profile on the website doesn’t have any photos or even much about you at all, just your accomplishments.”
I smile at that. “It’s by design. As a woman, I often find that it’s difficult for those in the medical field to look at my resume instead of judging me by my photo.”
“I get that.”
“I thought you might,” I reply. “Okay, everything looks good and I’ll order something for the pain.”
“Thanks, Dr. Adams.”
“Don’t mention it. I would like to go over the trial information if that’s okay?”
She nods. “Please.”
I give her the details, and then I get to the part I hate but can’t leave out. “This trial is still in the early phases, and there is a great chance that you will still end up needing to have a hysterectomy. The chemotherapy mix may not shrink the tumor, and the other possible side effects may restrict your treatment options. You may also end up receiving the placebo, which then would guarantee that we would proceed with a hysterectomy. Do you understand?”
Allison squares her shoulders and then grimaces in a bit of pain. “I need to say this, and since you’re my doctor, it cannot be repeated, right?”
“Of course, anything we say is between us.”
“Not even to my husband?”
This gives me a slight pause. “Correct.”
“Good. Then, I hand you this letter as my legal right to state what my wishes are.”
I take the envelope she hands me and open it, expecting a DNR, only that’s not what this is. It’s a refusal of a hysterectomy signed and notarized.
“Allison . . .”
“No, I want to make this clear, Dr. Adams. I know what I want. I’m of sound mind, and understand that if I refuse the hysterectomy, I will die. I will not allow you to take it all from me. I would rather die of cancer than know I can never bear a child. While this may seem stupid to you or any other person, this is my wish.”
I look at the paper, not understanding how she could choose this. “There are other options, surrogacy, adoption . . .” I trail off when her hand lifts to stop me.
“I was adopted, and while I had great parents, there was a part of me that wondered if . . . well . . . I know it is the only thing I want in this world, to carry a baby. I’ve dreamed of carrying a child, one that was really connected to me. I found a man who loves me and that dream was within reach. And then I found out cancer was going to take that from me. I harvested my eggs, hoping that once I got through the first hurdle, I could try then, only to go into the fertility clinic and learn there was a mass on my ovary.”
I sit, feeling the pain in her voice. She doesn’t cry, but it’s clear that this is something she’s not only thought about, but has planned for as well.
“I really have to advise you against this.”
“I’m sure you do, and I appreciate it. But here’s the thing, if I can’t have my own baby, I don’t have a life worth fighting for. I have tried, talked to counselors, my husband, parents, and everyone else, and I know in my heart that this is my last option. I would rather spend the rest of my life knowing I had the choice stolen from me not by surgery, but by cancer.”
That’s what this trial should give people, another option. The idea that women have to take all or nothing has plagued me. I wanted children once, but I got to choose not to have them. This trial is about giving people something instead of taking it away. While I may not necessarily agree with her decision, I have to respect it.
“And you understand that you’re signing your death warrant by saying this? If the treatment doesn’t work, or if you receive the placebo?”
“I do, and when I wrote that, I was in the office with a notary and my lawyer. Everything is clearly laid out. My only request is that my husband never knows of this. I don’t want him to have to be in pain because of my choice. I can’t listen to him plead and beg when I know that if I were to have the hysterectomy, it would kill me in another way.”
I feel sick over this, but I can’t deny her. As her doctor, I can’t disclose this information to him and I will be the one to have to find another way to help him through it if the trial doesn’t work.
“I hope that we find our way through this without either of these being the outcome. But if the medication does not work the way we want it to, there won’t be another way to treat the cancer.”
Allison wipes away a tear and attempts to smile. “I understand that. I hope and pray that this treatment works. When I saw this trial, I swear, it was like God answered my prayers. I believe in you and this trial. I really do.”
I go to speak but the door opens. Both our heads turn and my heart stops as my eyes lock on the blue eyes I’ve tried to erase for the last fourteen years. Everything around me fades and all I can do is focus on one thing—him.
Bryce Peyton stands in front of me. His gaze is full of shock and confusion and I can’t breathe. My chest is tight and I feel the blood drain from my face. Years have passed, but he’s exactly as I remember. His dark brown hair is shorter, but his eyes are the same.
His lips part as he steps forward, but I take two steps back.
“Is that really you?” I ask as I shake my head in disbelief.
This can’t be real. He doesn’t live here and there is no reason he’s in my hospital.
“Peyton?” the strained voice in the bed breaks the spell. Oh, God. Allison Brown called her husband Peyton, and it clicks.
Bryce is her husband.
His eyes glass over and I see the wall erect, shutting me out. He looks at his wife and smiles. “I couldn’t find the doctor,” he explains and walks over to her bedside.
“This is the doctor . . .”