TAMPA — Eden Banks woke up to a dark, silent hospital room.
She rolled over, grabbed her brown wig from the table and pulled it onto her bald head.
"I have to figure out where my husband went," she said.
I had come to interview her for a wedding feature. Eden wanted to talk about their love story, their five-year-marriage, the vows they had renewed this week at age 31.
Her white blood cell count was down to 60. She needed him there, to say smart things that make Stage Four seem less impossible. But he'd wandered off while she slept, somewhere into Tampa General Hospital.
A nurse walked through the door, past the signs that said "Families are Forever" and "High Risk Precaution." She put on a mask and took blood from Eden's arm.
Eden plunked her husband's number into a phone.
• • •
Flash back 10 years. Cory Banks had just celebrated his 21st birthday. He didn't even shower that day. He threw on a rumpled yellow shirt and a blue tie and trudged to work at the Indiana bank where he was a teller.
Figures his dream girl would walk in.
Cory had seen her before, had heard stories from his manager about Eden. Her parents had died when she was young, and she always came into the bank with her grandmother. Eden was a pragmatic, type-A girl who had made lists of life goals starting in grade school. Be a lawyer. Be a doctor. Move to Florida.
She needed $17 that day, and the ATM dispensed only $20 bills.
She strode to the counter in a fitted brown suit. She looked so smart, so mature, different from Cory's other girlfriends. He made small talk about his favorite Michigan vacation spot, a place Eden also went as a kid. She remembered a little blond boy who had chased away seagulls for her once.
That was me, he said.
They traveled to see each other while she got her law degree from Harvard University. Eden once took her laptop into a hotel bathroom at 2 a.m. to study while Cory slept.
They moved to St. Petersburg and later, Parrish. He proposed at the Don CeSar resort on their second anniversary, dozens of roses leading up to a ring. She held white calla lilies at her wedding, her naturally coarse hair blown straight. They got three golden retrievers and a cat.
The stomach pains came in December 2009.
She had no family history of cancer, had felt nothing peculiar happening inside her. The doctor found multiple masses on her liver and traced them to two quarter-sized tumors in her breast. After the panic and hysteria came resolve.
She lifted weights and worked at a Tampa law firm for more than a year. She tried lemongrass and ginger and turmeric and other alternative therapies, plus chemotherapy and radiation. She hung Bible verses and inspirational signs all over her house, such as "Every day holds the possibility of a miracle."
The cancer got to her brain.
They wanted to renew their wedding vows. Eden Googled until she found Wish Upon a Wedding, which gives ceremonies to terminal patients. She and Cory had theirs at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota on Sunday. She wore a pink dress. She held pink and green stargazer lilies, her wig drawn into delicate jeweled clips. She didn't think about the cancer.
The next day, she went to the doctor for a scan. Her fever was 103.5.
A tumor in her liver had grown.
Cory is not usually well-spoken, but in the hospital he spent hours spilling perfect words, sentences he'd never put together before. He reminded her that she didn't want to stop fighting, that she has done better than most with this kind of cancer.
He envisioned taking her to Chicago, where there's an extensive cancer program. He read statistics about people who lived five years when they should have lived five weeks. If he could, he said, he would go to Mars to help her.
He pictured her home, walking with their dogs.
He'll let her go peacefully, too, without treatment. If that's what she wants.
• • •
She dialed three times. Finally, an answer.
"It's Eden. Where are you?"
Cory walked into the room, a gauze bandage wrapped around his elbow.
He'd gone to lunch in the cafeteria and seen a sign for a blood drive. He couldn't magically transport his sick wife to another state, couldn't make tumors shrink with words. But for a moment, he wasn't entirely helpless.
While his wife slept, he stuck out his arm. He has the universal blood type, so he asked that his blood be used for Eden first, if possible.
Eden smiled at Cory.
"Is it sunny out there? I can't tell."
He opened her drapes and let in the light.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8857.