Jack's wife, Esther, a petite woman with thin glasses and a heart-shaped face, scoots her chair to the kitchen table on the tile floor and flips through a handbook on the cancer treatment that she's currently undergoing. Every few seconds she glances at the digital clock above the kitchen table.
It's 9:55 a.m. The lights flicker momentarily when Jack turns on the juicer. He slowly pushes the first carrot into the grinder with his left hand. He holds a wooden knob in his right hand behind the carrot to make sure the shavings don't add to the splatters already on the ceiling. When the four carrots are pureed, he lowers the apple wedges into the grinder.
"Ess is a pain in my ass, but I love her," Jack says in a thick New York accent, over the grinder's hum.
It's 9:57 a.m. The carrot and apple pulp collect in a coarsely woven cloth bag below the grinder. Jack turns off the grinder and unhooks the bag filled with pulp. He folds the bag, starting at the corners like he's wrapping a gift. He slides the folded bag onto the juicer's stainless steel tray, places a University of Georgia Bulldog glass beneath the tray and turns on the juicer's press.
"This press could break your hand," he says.
The tray slowly rises to a stainless steel square. When the bag hits the square, it's flattened and bright orange juice flows into the glass.
It's 9:59 a.m. Jack turns off the juicer. He adds three drops of Lugol, an inorganic iodine, and two teaspoons of a potassium-compound solution. Both are believed to increase oxygen in the body's cells.
He hands the six-ounce glass of juice to Esther. It smells fresh and tastes sweet, like a liquid version of carrot cake mixed with apple crumble.
"Perfect timing," Esther says and smiles at her husband. "Thank you, honey."
She takes a large gulp.
Jack turns back to the juicer and begins scrubbing the cloth bag, making sure to remove the leftover juice and carrot shavings. Esther finishes the drink. It's her fourth of 13 drinks for the day.
She'll repeat this exact routine, day in and day out, for up to two years. She doesn't know - and won't know - for at least another month if the meticulous routine she's followed since January is working.
Esther was sleeping when the phone rang at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 26. Her physician, Taylor Graves, of Emory's Wesley Woods Center, said, "Hello." His voice was subdued. Five days earlier she had undergone a lung biopsy."He said, 'I know you don't want to wait the whole weekend,'" Esther recalls. "'I'm afraid [the biopsy] shows cancer.'"
The news got worse from there. It was stage IV metastasized breast cancer.
The 72-year-old sank into her pillow. In the 1980s, Esther had undergone a modified radical mastectomy and reconstructive surgery to rid herself of breast cancer. Although her doctor at the time deemed the operation successful, Graves told Esther over the phone that a cancerous cell must have lain dormant until now. Then, it multiplied and spread to her lungs.
She didn't expect the diagnosis to be so severe. In previous checkups, Graves had said her breathing through the stethoscope sounded normal. He didn't detect wheezing or heaving. Only when she repeatedly complained about shortness of breath did Graves recommend a chest X-ray. It turned out to be inconclusive. The biopsy had been the next step. And now, the phone call.
"I was angry," Esther says. "I thought, 'How could this happen to me?' I feel good, I'm energetic."
But Esther says she came back down to earth quickly and prepared herself for another battle with cancer. That Tuesday, she visited Dr. Padma Nadella at Emory's Winship Cancer Institute.
Nadella, an oncologist, drew a diagram to show Esther how the cancer had developed. The diagram depicted little nodules covering Esther's lungs. Nadella told Esther that the number of nodules made the cancer inoperable. Nadella, Esther recalls, said chemotherapy was her only option. With it, she told Esther she could live up to five years. Without it, she estimated Esther would live for two.
The news was moving so quickly from bad to worse that Esther found it difficult to comprehend. She's couldn't digest her options.
Chemotherapy was a path Esther didn't want to take. The treatment can be quite effective when the disease is caught in its early stages. Lance Armstrong's battle with testicular cancer is an example of that. But Esther's cancer, already stage IV, the most severe stage, was a different matter.
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