Gotcha: A Play by J. K. Winn

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Todays blog entry:

Since I was the primary caretaker for my husband, a cancer patient, the Big C was a Big Part of my life, personal and creative. So, I’d like to share a couple of projects I developed during this time of trauma, discouragement, hope and disappointment. It wasn’t an easy time and one way I coped with the ups and downs of the disease was to write. I only hope these entries effect and alter you in a way this disease has affected and altered me.

Gotcha!

by J.S. Winn

Scene One

Characters:
Mark, age 64, a struggling cancer patient.
Mr. C, a mucinex character look-alike, who’s decked out in a worn suit, puffs on a cigar and speaks like a character in a 40s gangster film.
Doc “O”, a 40 year old Oncologist, dressed in white jacket, who is trying to save Mark’s life.
Sharon, age 63, Mark’s wife and support-system.

At Rise: Spotlight on Sharon standing center stage.

Sharon
If I had known this was in the script, I never would have taken the part. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to go. After all those years of working and sweating and saving. Mark and I had planned on enjoying our lives. We had things we wanted to do. Travel. Play. Get to know one another anew. I’d do anything to change what has happened. Now what do we have…

(Lt down on Sharon, up on Mark to side of stage where there hangs a Men’s Room Sign by or on curtain, signifying there is a bathroom just off-stage. Mr. C. enters from opposite side of stage and takes a place besides Mark at end of line. Mark shifts from one foot to the other as though uncomfortable.)

Mr. C
Hey, Youz gotta go?

Mark
I’m not standing here for my health.

Mr. C
That’s for sure. Looks like youz gotta go bad.

Mark
If what you want is to go first, I’d let you, but I don’t think I can wait.

Mr. C
Yeah, I sees. Youz know, I got to go bad a lot too. Never had so many problems before with having to pee. I don’t know what’s going on.

Mark
(Shifting again) Yeah…I’m familiar with that one.

Mr. C
And it seems like sometimes I gotta go so bad, but when I get to the John nothin’ happens. Youz know.

Mark
Yeah, I know.

Mr. C
And sometimes I even have see blood spots after I go and I wonder what the hell is goin’ on heres.

Mark
(Looking uncomfortable) Look, I really don’t want to talk about this anymore.

Mr. C
Whys not? I mean, we have somethin’ in common…

(Sound of toilet flushing and then a door opens and closes. One of actors walks onto stage and crosses it.

Mr. C
Looks like your cue.

Mark
Look, if you’re still here when I’m through, do me a favor and keep your problems to yourself. I don’t need to hear about your troubles. I have enough of my own.

Mr. C
Hey, youz don’t have to get so mad. I was only tryin to help. How come everyone always picks on me? I don’t get it. Youz knows it really hurts me…

Mark
Yeah…well…do me a favor and mind your own business.

(Mark walks off-stage. We hear a door close and a short time later a toilet flush. Sound of door closing and Mark walks onto stage and past Mr. C.

Mr. C.
Any blood that time, buddy?

Mark
It’s really none of your business.

Mr C.
(Laughing) Youz wrong. It is my business.

Mark
(Turning toward him with an attitude) I don’t know who you are or what you want with me, but leave me alone.

Mr. C
Yeah, that’s what they all sez…

(Mark walks off stage shaking his head)

(Lights up on rear of stage where there is a living room with a sofa and coffee table. Sharon is sitting next to Mark on the sofa. Mr. C. stands stage front watching them)

Sharon
So here’s what I’ve been thinking. Since we’ve both been working hard lately and I for one really need a break (she pulls out a travel magazine and puts a picture under Mark’s nose) why not take a trip to the rainforest in Costa Rica for our anniversary.

Mark
(Mark takes the magazine and studies the picture) Wow, those photos sure looks great and I’d love to go, but under the circumstances how do you suggest we pull that one off?

Sharon
How about we just do it. If we keep putting everything ahead of ourselves, we won’t have ourselves to put anything ahead of. It’s been all work and no play lately. I need a vacation, no matter the cost. (She holds out 2 airline tickets)

Mark
(He laughs and takes the tickets from her) I don’t believe this…You’ve been holding out on me. What can I say.Your spontaneity is only part of the reason I love you so much. (He pokes her in the ribs playfully) Besides being fun.

Sharon
I figured we needed to give ourselves a holiday gift. You’ve been so serious lately, I wanted to put a big grin back on that mug of yours.

Mark
(Smiling) See (Points at his face) It’s already working. (Hesitates) Okay, I was going to wait until our anniversary to give you this, but since you showed me yours, I’m going to show you mine. (He pulls a box out of a bag by the sofa and hands it to her) Here. Open it.

Sharon
(She opens box and removes a necklace.) Oh my god, It’s beautiful Mark. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Mark
That’s because it’s like you…a rare find…one of a kind. Here, let me put it on you. (He clasps necklace onto her.)

Sharon
(She reaches up and touches it) This is so thoughtful of you. (She turns toward him and a tender moment of smiling at him, she reaches over and tickles him to lighten the mood) You’re still my favorite playmate.

Max
You’re mine, too. (They embrace.)

Mr. C.
Ain’t that sweet. (Makes a gagging sound and shoves finger into mouth)

(Lights down on back of stage, up on front center stage where Mark enters and slips into hospital gown. Sharon moves up alongside him and ties the strings on back. Doc enters stage left. Mr C is still watching from front side, but now dons white jacket, pretending to be a nurse)

Doc O
The results have come back from your Colonoscopy and I’m afraid we’ve found evidence of a mass.

Mark
A mass? What kind of mass? What does that mean?

Doc O
It’s too early to say definitely before the biopsy comes back, but from my experience, I believe you have cancer.

(Sharon gasps…covers her mouth.)

Mr. C
(Mr. C. beams at audience and struts his stuff) You rang?

Mark
(Stares at Mr. C. opened mouth) Cancer? You think I have cancer? I don’t believe it. What can I do?

Doc O
As soon as we know for a fact, I’m sending you to a surgeon to discuss your options. Since the mass is low-lying in your rectum, it may mean you’ll have to have your sphincter muscle removed and they’ll be giving you a colostomy, but let’s wait for the final word before we speculate.

Mr. C
Sounds good to me Doc!

Doc O
Find him the surgeon’s number in case he needs to make an appointment, Nurse.

Mr. C
(Salutes Doc) Will doz.

Mark
Lose my rectum? You mean they’ll be giving me a bag? But that will change everything, won’t it doc?

Mr. C
(Snickering) Sure wills.

Doc O
Don’t worry, Mark, even if you require a colostomy, plenty of people live long, productive lives with a bag. Why I saw a woman just today who had a colostomy 10 years ago and she seems to be functioning all right.

Mark
All right. What’s all right about having a sack of shit on your gut? What will it mean for my life. I’m not an old man, doc. I want to live life. This will change everything.

Sharon
Not everything. I’ll still be there.

Mark
(He pats her hand) I’m glad, honey, but I can’t believe this is happening to me. What did I do to deserve it?
Sharon
You don’t need to blame yourself. These things happen.

Mark
But why is it happening to me?

Mr. C
(Laughing) It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Mark
Are there any alternatives?

Doc O
There’s transanal resection if you qualify.

Sharon
What’s that?

Mr. C
Let’s see if Iz can explain, Doc. See it’s kinda a new thing where they shrink down youz tumor using chemotherapy and radiation before going in through the ass, (clears his throat) I mean the anus to remove the mass. That way youz don’t need to lose your ass, so to speak.

Dr. O
Thank you nurse, that’s it in a nutshell. But I have to warn you the procedure isn’t always successful. If it’s offered to you, you’ll have to decide whether to take the risk.

Mark
(Laughs a dry laugh) Decide? I’ve already decided. I’d do just about anything to avoid a colostomy. Listen Doc, all I want is to live a normal, active life. Once they start removing organs and rerouting my intestines, my life will be anything but normal. I can see into the future and it isn’t a pretty picture. I’m a contractor, doc. I need to stay in shape to do my job. Let’s just say I like having an ass hole and I’m willing to do whatever I can to keep it.

Doc O
We’ll do everything in our power to help you do that. I promise.

Mr. C.
(To audience) Youz will need all the help you can get. (Mumbling) 1 to 5 You’ll be alive. (Takes another puff) You’ve got 1 to 5. (coughs) You knowz I really shouldn’t be smoking this stuff. I might just get cancer.

(Doc O and Mr. C exit stage leaving Mark and Sharon center stage)

Mark
(Plugging in an IV) And that was only the beginning.

Sharon
Mark had radiation and chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, followed by the Transanal surgery to remove it…and it worked…for 3 months. At his first follow-up biopsy, they found more cancer. Not only more cancer, but a more virulent form than the original cancer. It had come back with a vengeance. The surgeon told me she had never preformed a successful second transanal. That the sucker always returned. It was hidden, in waiting. Ready to pounce. She recommended a total colostomy. A month later Mark went into surgery. And, as he predicted, his whole life changed…and mine went along for the ride.

(Mark slips out of gown and walks back towards living room. Takes a seat on the sofa. Sharon standing nearby with a ladle in her hand.)

Sharon
So after your wheatgrass, we’ll be having veggie stew.

Mark
(Groans) Where’s the beef?

Sharon
(Raises the ladle and points it at him) You know better than that. No alcohol. No meat. No sugar.

Mark
I don’t want to eat that crap.

Sharon
I know, but it’s recommended to prevent a recurrence.

Mark
But it’s boring…and inedible.

Sharon
(Exasperated) I’m only trying to follow the doctor’s advice and help you out. If you refuse to work with me, I don’t know what I can do…You know Mark, I’m only doing this for your own good.

Mark
Good? It’s pure torture. What’s there left to live for?

Sharon
Do you mean to tell me the only thing you’re living for is fat and sweets?

Mark
A little sex might be nice too, that is if it works. Lately, it’s hit or miss with an emphasis on miss. (He goes over to Sharon and gives her a squeeze) Okay, I know when I’m licked. Bring on the veggies.

Sharon
I’m not fighting you…I’m joining you. It isn’t you against me. It’s us against this disease. Together we can do our best to keep up the spirit even though everything feels like it’s pulling us down.

(Lights down on living room) Mark and Sharon move to front of stage where Mark dons hospital gown and cap. Sharon stands by him. Lt up on Mark and and Sharon with Doc O)

Doc O
We followed the protocols. Chemotherapy with Folfox and 5 FU. Radiation. Surgery. Everything’s going as planned. It’s going so well that we can’t find any evidence of the original cancer.

Mark
That’s a huge relief.

Doc O
But you still need to follow through. Don’t forget to return for checkups every 3 months for the first year, every 6 months thereafter. You’re not considered cured until you’re cancer free for 5 years.

Sharon
(Speaking to audience) Well, I guess that’s that. End of story, right? Mark did as he was told and even though he had periodic “attacks” from a partial intestinal obstruction due to surgery combined with radiation, things started to look a little brighter. He adjusted as well as he could to his colostomy bag. His CEA, you know Carcinoma-Embryonic Antigen, or as it’s called around the hospital, cancer factors tests, came back within normal range. His CT scans showed no evidence of a tumor. He began to relax. The nightmare had ended. It was time to make big plans again. A trip to the Middle East. Visits with his kids in Florida.

Mark
A new house to build.

Sharon
And we even got to go on that trip to Costa Rica for our anniversary.

Mark
Thanks Doc. We’re so grateful. We’re ready to move on and put the experience behind us as much as we can.

(Spotlight up on Mr. C, without the white jacket, smoking and laughing)

Mr. C
So they think they’ve gotten rid of me that easily. (Takes puff of cigar) Well, don’t look now, but I’m Baaaack!

(Mark, Sharon and Doc O turn to look at him with shocked and horrified expressions)

Blackout

(Lights up on Living room at rear of stage. Mr. C is sprawled out on sofa. Sharon and Mark stand nearby watching him.

Mr. C.
(Patting sofa) One heck of a cushy place youz got here. I’m so glad I gots to move in. It’s sweet. (He smiles at them) Hey, youz want to join me on the couch? How ‘bout you cutie. There’s always room for more.

(Sharon and Mark stare of one another aghast)

Sharon
It’s our place. We want you to move out immediately.

Mr. C
Listen Sister…Don’t give me lip. You don’t know what I’m capable of.

Mark
Don’t talk to my wife that way.

Sharon
(Pulling Mark aside) I wouldn’t take him too seriously. He might not have the hold on us he thinks he does.

Mr. C.
Yeah…right!

Sharon
(Ignoring him) I’ve been researching your options. There has to be someway to beat this thing.

Mark
I sure hope you’re right…

Mr. C.
Man, are youz dreamin’…

Sharon
I found this alternative treatment.

Mark
What would Doc O say about that?

Sharon
That I’m nuts, but it shouldn’t stop us.

Mark
I don’t know…

Sharon
Please Mark. I’m not saying you should stop the aliopathic intervention. I’m only suggesting you add this alternative treatment to your protecal.

Mark
Okay…why not. I guess I have nothing to loss.

Sharon
I just want this nightmare to be over…

Mr. C
(Laughs) No, sweetheart, it’s far from over. It’s only the beginning for youz guys.

Sharon
I figured you’d say that, but what more damage can you do? Since you moved in, our lives have been spiraling downward at an accelerating rate.

Mr. C
What’s your gripe. It ain’t that terrible. Youz should see the pancreatic cancer I just left. And youz are complaining. Relax. We’re goin’ be spending a whole hell of a lot more time together.

Mark falters and Sharon places a hand under his arm to hold him up. Their eyes meet. (Lights down)

(Lights up on front of stage where Mark, in hospital gown, is on his side on a gurney. Behind him a large machine with Radiation painted on it, (possibly a painted box with a cone), is pressed into his back giving him a dose of radiation. Next to him two jars hang from a pole, if possible with colored, even roiling, liquid and tubes running to his arms. Both jars say Chemotherapy. Sharon stands next to him holding his hand. Dr. O. stands by to one side. Mr. C again puts on a white jacket, pretending to be a nurse, and takes his place at the opposite side of stage)

Dr. O.
Well, it’s been 4 months and this is the last of your chemo treatments. After this you get a 6 week break before the surgery to remove your tumor. I want you to prepare yourself for a tough surgery. It’s the largest we do at the cancer center.

Mark
(Groaning) I’m not sure how much more this body can take.

Mr. C
Youz is gonna have to prepare youzself for a little more than we originally planned. The tests still show a 9 cm tumor and the cancer may have invaded your bladder. We think we’re going to hafta remove your bladder and prostate, youz know, as a precautionary measure.

(Mark and Sharon again gape at one another)

Dr. O
Nurse, Could you turn up the IV?

Mr. C.
With pleasure (He turns a nob and stands back puffing his cigar and admiring his work) This is the good part.

Mark
Does that mean I’ll have to have another bag?

Dr. O
I’m afraid so, but don’t fret about it. Plenty of people live with 2 bags. Why just the other day I saw I man I operated on a couple of years ago and he’s doing fine.

Mark
What kind of fine is that? My life’s already been diminished by this disease. Now I’ll be guaranteed to be tied to the toilet for the remainder of my days.

Mr. C.
Hey, bitch and moan will youz. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if this thing has invaded your spine, you won’t have many days left anyways.

Sharon
Do you really think it might be in his spine?

Dr. O.
We won’t know for sure until we open him up.

Sharon
And if that’s the case?

Doc O
Then it’s too late to do anything more.

Mark
And what will that be like?

Dr. O
I’m afraid…

Mark
No, I’m afraid…

Mr. C
Whadda youz yella?

Dr. O.
You have every right to be in fear. If it’s in your spine, there’s no narcotic or other painkiller that will touch it. I’m afraid it will be a painful progression. Nurse, give him a shot.

Mr. C
Okay Doc. (He plunges a syringe into Mark’s arm and Mark jerks at the pain) What fun!

Mark
(He holds his arm and turns to Sharon) So what do you think of your alternative treatment now?

(Sharon stares at him in shock)

(Light down on stage front. Light up on living room. Sharon pacing the floor. Mr. C. sprawled on the sofa puffing on his cigar.)

Sharon
I wonder how much longer this surgery’s going to take. It’s been 8 hours already.

Mr. C.
(Pats sofa) Take a load off and come here, sweetheart. Nothing youz can do now. Come and join me. (Laughs in lascivious way)

(Light up on Dr. O. center stage)

Dr. O
I just left Mark and he’s doing as well as can be expected after 9 hours of surgery.

Sharon
What did you find, Doc?

Doc O
Much to our surprise, we didn’t find any cancer anywhere. There was no tumor and all our biopsies came back negative. I’m not saying there’s not some microscopic cells lurking somewhere, but we couldn’t find them.

Sharon
Oh my god, I don’t believe this. (She slides into a nearby chair)

Mr. C.
(Obviously unhappy) I don’t either, sweetheart…what do those damn doctors know…

Sharon
So what were you seeing on all of those tests?

Doc O
Most likely inflammation. Believe me there are still plenty of problems.

Mr. C.
(Looking excited) Go on…

Doc O
Mark’s intestines were literally tied up in knots from scar tissue caused by his original radiation treatments. They were so twisted and even strangulated that we had to remove a section of his small intestine. And his bowel had descended into his vacant cavity left by the colostomy. We had our work cut out for us. But there was no evidence of cancer. I feel cautiously optimistic Mark might be able to beat this thing.

Mr. C
Damn, Doc. Youz could have given us better news.

Sharon
Oh Doc, I don’t know what to say except Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. How soon do you think can I see Mark?

Doc O
Check with the recovery room in 30 minutes. He should be coming out of the anesthesia by then. (Lt down on Doc O)

Sharon
(Staring into space) My head is spinning. I can’t believe this is happening to me. Maybe the alternative treatment actually helped. Oh my god, this is unbelievable.

Mr. C.
Yeah…it sure is. I don’t understands. What the hell is that doctor talking about? I’m still here, ain’t I?

Sharon
(Looking at him) I know this is rare for you, but it looks like you didn’t get your way this time. This is such a relief. It’s almost beyond comprehension.

Mr. C
Yeah…I can barely believe it either…What a shame…It’s really too bad…

Sharon
(Springing to her feet and facing him) We’ve had enough of you. I know you’re used to winning this battle, but we’ve defeated you this time. So, get the hell out of here!

Mr. C
(Rising to face her) Don’t you think you’re being a little too hasty…

Sharon
I want you out now! We’ve had more than our share of you for one lifetime.

Mr. C
Don’t get any ideas, Sweetheart, the doctors were wrong once. Theys can be wrong another time. I ain’t going nowheres.

Sharon of
(Poking C in chest with her finger) Don’t you ever call me Sweetheart again. I’m no longer afraid of you. You can’t intimidate us. Not one of the biopsies came back positive for cancer. You’re finished here, We’re through with you—forever!

Mr. C
Don’t be so sure of that, sweet…I mean Sharon…I came back before…I can return again. Youz be sorry then.

Sharon
(She pushes him toward the side of stage.) Not this time. You’re done here, cancer. Through! Kaput! I’ve got a life to live without you. Get out of my house. (Gives him a shove)

Mr. C
(Brushing himself off) All right! All right. If that’s how youz gonna disrespect me…I don’t want to hang around anyway. (Faces audience) Youz hurt my feelings. I don’t like rejection anymore than the next guy.

Sharon
I’ve got no sympathy for you, C. Now Go!

Mr. C
Yeah, well don’t think youz the only one who will have me. Why there’s no limit to the number of people out there (Points around) on my list of potential hosts. There are millions of them who would welcome me in at any time. If youz and Mark won’t have me right now, somebody else wills… (He walks off stage disgruntled. Sharon watches him go, a smile plastered to her face)

The End Act One

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