Ann tried to continue to live her life as normally as possible. While she was teaching she could almost forget the death sentence that hung over her. When she made funny mistakes in class, usually spelling errors on the chalkboard, her students were quick to point them out and she made it a game, as if she were doing it on purpose to see if they were still awake. She’d smile and shout “Well caught!” and they would laugh together. She was careful to take each day as it came.

Ann spent the last few weeks before Winter Break dreading Christmas. She and Mark had agreed to tell the boys in person, rather than break the news over the phone. She’d had a small reprieve when neither of them had been able to come home for Thanksgiving. Ethan stayed at college to work on his thesis and Bruce went with Beth to his in-laws for dinner.

Ethan drove home on the 22nd. Being the eldest and more intuitive, he immediately sensed the tension and tried to work out what was wrong. But he trusted his parents and knew they’d share when the time was right. Bruce and Beth arrived on the 25th. After dinner and the opening of presents they settled themselves in the living room sipping strong hot coffee. Mark and Ann sat together on the couch and he took her hand in his as he started telling the children all that had happened in the last few months. As Mark spoke Ann felt as if she were reliving the entire nightmare.

There was silence when he finished. The three young people sat stunned with sad and worried expressions on their faces. Ethan was the first to respond. He got up, walked over to the couch, flopped his lanky frame down on the floor at Ann’s feet and put his head on her lap. Ann stroked his curly brown locks. “Are they 100% sure, Dad? I mean, could there be a mistake?” Bruce asked. He avoided looking at his mother.

“No, there’s no mistake. They’ve done all sorts of tests and they’re conclusive. We’ve got some literature the doctor gave us that is quite helpful. I think it would be a good idea if you all read it.”

“I’m so sorry, Ann,” whispered Beth, and her eyes confirmed the sorrow she expressed.

Ann smiled at them all. “It is something I am learning to live with,” she sighed. “I can’t change it and thinking about it makes it worse. I . . . I am just sorry for . . . to put you all through this.”

Well, thought Ann, that’s one hurdle down.