Six Months

October 18, 2007
By Catherine O'Doherty, Herndon, VA



“Run the tests again.”

“Sir, the results won’t change. You-”

“I don’t care, just run the stupid tests again! They’re wrong!” Nick felt a sob rising in the back of his throat. “They’re wrong,” he repeated.

The doctor looked at Nick sympathetically. “I’m sorry, Mr. McKinley, but I’ve run the tests twice. I got the same results each time. You have colon cancer, stage four. It’s spread to your liver, as well as your left lung by this point.”

Nick McKinley shook his head. “No, you’re wrong, I know you’re wrong. I-I’m not sick.”

“We may be able to extend your time with treatment, either surgery or chemotherapy. It’s unlikely, however-”

“Wait,” Nick’s voice went cold, almost emotionless. “What do you mean ‘extend’?”

The doctor sighed. “The cancer has spread to several vital organs right now, as well as many that aren’t quite that important. Whatever we do it is doubtful we’ll get all of it. You have six months to live. Maximum.”

The words fell like an executioner’s sword; Nick collapsed into a nearby white chair, his head in his hands. “Six months…” he breathed.

“As I said before, we may be able to extend this with treatment- at least there’s a slight chance…” The doctor trailed off.

Nick looked up sharply. “Can’t you cure it?”

“Not at this stage, sir, I’m sorry. If you’d come in a while ago-”

“So it’s my fault that you can’t cure me! It’s my fault you’re so incompetent you can’t cure one healthy man?”

The doctor bit back his retort of ‘I could have cured you if you’d come in four years ago when you first fell ill.’ After all, this man had just received horrible news… The doctor settled on a sympathetic silence.

Nick glared at the doctor. “What do I pay the big bucks for then, huh? So you can tell me you can’t do anything! I- I’m 29… I can’t die. I just- run the tests again.”


“Run them again you idiot!” The words rang in the room for a moment.

The doctor sighed. He was tired, it had been a very long and trying day and this was the last thing he wanted right now. And, to be honest, he hadn’t gone to medical school to play the part of executioner. “Mr. McKinley,” he began in a tone that held no room for interruptions, “you are going through what we call the grieving process. First comes denial, your continued requests for me to redo the tests. Then comes anger-”

“Are you a doctor or a shrink? I don’t pay you to psychoanalyze me; I pay you to cure me! Or are you too stupid to know that?”


“I have six months left ‘till I die thanks to you and your complete and utter incompetence.”

“You mustn’t think about it as six months ‘till death but rather six months to live, to enjoy-”

“Oh and that’s sooo much better,” Nick sneered with biting sarcasm. He stormed out of the room, slamming the door furiously behind him.

6 months…what was that? Nick asked himself as he walked across the parking lot to his car, kicking up leaves in his wake. A bitter November wind- with just a hint of winter- pushed the uneven edges of his scarf into his face. Vanessa had knitted it for his birthday- 2 months ago. It had wavy edges, no design, and it itched like nothing else but Vanessa always wore such a hurt look when he didn’t show it off. Of course now that he had 6 months left to live he supposed he could afford to disappoint his girlfriend a bit by not wearing her god-awful scarf.

6 months…Vanessa had been pressing him to see a doctor for a while now. When he told her of the report she’d look at him smugly and say “I told you so, didn’t I? I told you you should see a doctor and now look.” Not that the goddamn doctor had been able to do anything, but she wouldn’t care about that, now would she? It’d be just the usual “she was right he was wrong…”

6 months…A light rain began to fall so Nick hurried to his Toyota, his crappy, old, beat-up, second-hand, bright red Toyota. The color was the only thing he even liked about that stupid car but Vanessa had wanted him to get something practical, a family vehicle. She had stared at him meaningfully when she said that. Yes, he knew she wanted to settle down, get married and have twins, after all they had been going out for 3 years now…Didn’t he love her? Yes, of course, but maybe, Vanessa, he didn’t want to settle down quite yet, had she ever thought of that? Maybe he wasn’t quite through with living his life yet…

6 months… Nick made a sound somewhere between a sob and a laugh. He had six months to fit the rest of his life into, just six short months. He’d be dead before June. Nick started the engine, revved it up a bit, before putting on his devil-may-care look and pulling out onto the route home, zooming along the back country road… A little voice said maybe they shouldn’t be driving so fast- 65 mph was rather unsafe for these conditions- but what the hell? He was dead in six months anyway; he might as well do a bit of living first. Only six months left to do it in.

6 months… The car skidded on a patch of wet leaves, which were as slick as ice. Nick yelped and desperately tried to stop it, to regain control; the driver’s side crashed into a tree and Nick’s world became nothing but pain.

A passerby saw the accident and called 911. Less then 15 minutes later a rescue team was at the scene, trying to get Nick out of his car which was wrapped into a tight embrace around the tree.

Beep…Beep…Beep…a machine in the ambulance measured Nick’s heart rate with a little beep…beep…beep…

“Don’t let him fall asleep or he’ll never wake up!” came the harsh order; simultaneous with an irresistible wave of drowsiness. Nick fought it; he couldn’t die yet, he had six months left. Six whole months… Another, stronger wave of pure exhaustion washed over him and Nick sank into oblivion as a frantic EMT tried to keep him up.

Nick’s thoughts drifted, an out-of-body experience. Most people saw their life flash before their eyes as they died. Nick saw six months- the six months that might have been. He could have told Vanessa he loved her. He could have proposed to her, had the perfect wedding together in six months. God, what he wouldn’t give for just one more day. He could go back and tell Vanessa she was right about everything and he loved her. Just one more hour, please… six months would have been paradise…

Beep….Beep…. - the lines flattened. Doctors and EMTs began frantic movements, then-


“Try it again!”



Nick really wished he could have those six months back…

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