Were they living amidst a cancer cluster?

More chapters from ToxiCity

A VG Serial: ToxiCity

Episode 48

It turned out that Greg was the one who couldn’t handle it. In the five years he and Maggie had been married, this was the most time they’d ever spent together, and Maggie learned a lot about him. His first reaction was denial. The doctors were wrong. His son wasn’t sick; it was bullshit. Denial eventually turned into anger, and soon he was railing against everyone in the medical profession. The doctors were incompetent. The nurses too. His son wasn’t getting the right treatment. When Maggie begged him to stop, he turned against her. What had she done to his son in the first place? It was all her fault. She was an unfit mother.

Maggie couldn’t blame Greg. In the rare moments of clarity that broke through the numbness, she shared his rage: a visceral, pulsating fury that seeped into her soul like a parasite, coloring every conscious thought. But she couldn’t give in to it. Her obligation was to TJ, to help him recover. She forced herself to pray.

Then, after three months, the miracle happened. TJ began to improve. He sat up, watched TV, even managed to keep Jell-O down. The doctors grew more optimistic; he had weathered the worst. He would always have to be monitored, and the cancer could recur at any time, but Maggie could take him home. Studying his innocent face, all eyes now that he was so pitifully thin, Maggie was grateful.

By then it was February. Life slowly returned to a semblance of normality. Greg went back on the road, working overtime to pay for what the insurance didn’t pick up. Every day TJ seemed a little better, a little stronger. They had missed Christmas so on Valentines Day, Maggie and Dusty decorated a Christmas tree and exchanged presents with TJ. Maggie, who had ignored her appearance, even went to the beauty parlor and dyed her hair blonde. When Greg got home, he grinned, and that night they made love. Things were on the mend.


Maggie was shopping in the Jewel early that summer when she ran into Alice Havlacek, a Meadow City neighbor. During the worst of TJ’s illness, Alice had brought Greg and Dusty dinner several times. She commented on how well Maggie looked, and then said,

“You know I didn’t want to mention it before—I know how crazy it’s been for you— but did you ever follow up on what I told Greg?”

“What was that?” Maggie replied.

“He never told you?”

“No.” A pang twisted her stomach. “What?”

“You’re not the only family who’s had a kid with cancer here.”

Within the past year, Alice said, two other children in the area had become sick. One was diagnosed with leukemia; she wasn’t sure about the other. A chill crept up Maggie’s back.

“You might want to talk to the Stewarts and the Yablonskis.”

“I will.” Maggie wondered why Greg had never mentioned it. Of course, during the worst of TJ’s illness, they were barely speaking.

She called the other families. The Stewarts lived at Meadow City, a few streets from Maggie. Theirs was the child with leukemia. The Yablonskis, whose child had a mysterious brain tumor, lived half a mile away, but were members of the church. Maggie wondered if there might be a connection. She’d heard about this type of thing before. Cancer clusters, they called them, where several people in the same area got sick around the same time. There was even some movie about it.

Episodes in the novel will be published on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the following title,ToxiCity, to read more about Libby Fischer Hellman’s books on Amazon.

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