She is forty-two years old. She knows she will die soon. Even from the end of the hall, I can see how pale and frail she appears. As she draws closer, I notice the smell. It's the odor of death and decay. The chart indicates she was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer last year and it has metastasized to her bones. She understands there is no cure at this point. "I just want to be able to not stink so I can go out in public", she says. When I open her gown, the source of the stench is evident. Her right breast has been replaced by a tumor the size of a cantaloupe, and areas of the tumor are necrotic. She is literally rotting away.
We enter the operating room and she climbs onto the table. I hold her hand while the anesthetist puts her under. The surgical nurse cleanses her chest with Betadine. We are all near to gagging from the smell.
I remove the cancerous mass, but doing so has left a large open crater of a wound on her chest. It takes me nearly two hours to devise a way to close it by incising and rotating nearby tissue into place. At last, the bandage is applied, she awakens drowsily and is taken to the recovery room.
The stink is gone. It's all we can do, and it's enough.