Ten Tumors

by Gregg Winkler


The woman was there to have a grapefruit size tumor removed from her abdomen. They were hoping to go in, remove the tissue, and begin post-operative treatment as soon as possible to prevent more tumors from developing.

But once the doctor had made the incision into her abdominal cavity and pulled back the skin, the light above the operating table fell upon the gray mass of cells, and it flinched. As the surgeon leaned in to begin severing the arteries that were feeding it, the tumor opened its gray eyes, looked up at the doctor, and began to mewl like a cat.

A nurse fainted. The doctor backed away from the patient, the scalpel trembling in his hand.

The nurse brought the woman back from her anesthetized slumber, her body still splayed open. She carefully explained what they had found growing inside her. As the nurse spoke, the thing attached to her intestine spewed something that looked like pus and slobber from its mouth.

Even without the drugs that they were pumping into her at the time, the woman later thought that she would have still made the same choice. After laying eyes on the life that was growing inside her, the woman didn’t feel it was right to kill it.

“Leave it,” the woman said.

tumor:  an abnormal mass of tissue that is not inflammatory and arises from preexistent tissue.
-Webster’s Dictionary


In another hospital, a different woman was scheduled to have a tumor removed from the back of her neck, where it had begun to affect her pituitary gland and lymph system.

The girl was twenty-two years-old and only a year away from completing a bachelor’s degree in theater. She was hoping to move to Chicago and join the Second City troupe before moving to New York to try out for Saturday Night Live. Then the blackouts began, and the tumor was detected. It was basically agreed that she should have it removed, despite the risk involved. The girl figured her chances of making it on SNL were slim in perfect health, and nil with a tumor. She agreed to the surgery.

Amidst the pre-surgery paperwork, the girl signed a form specifying that she did not want to be revived in the event that the tumor was sentient. In later years, she felt tinges of remorse, but for the rest of her life, she believed that she had made the right decision.

living organism:  a thing that possesses the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body or inanimate matter — characterized by the capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.
-Webster’s Dictionary


Donald Hemple dreamt that he was in charge of a large catering service, and that he and his crew were about to serve scores of hungry dignitaries. The staff was separated from the guests by three twelve-foot doors. They stood at the ready. When the doors were thrown open, the entire team would spill out and begin dropping appetizers in front of the masses. In the back of the line were several stout men and women, each with a pitcher of tea in one hand and a pitcher of water in the other.   

“Okay,” Donald said peeking out of the door. “On three!  One!  Two!  Three!” 

The doors flew open and the wait staff marched out and began pouring drinks. Donald watched from the doorway, smiling as each patron was served a glass of water, a glass of tea, and presented with a beautiful garden salad. He watched as another waiter carrying one serving bowl of ranch dressing and one of Italian asked each person which they preferred. It was going perfectly.

And then the crying began. He wasn’t sure where it was coming from. Who in the hell brings an infant to an event like this?  Frowning, his eyebrows coming together above his nose, he looked up the rows of tables for the screaming kid.

Then the dream began to break up. The sounds of silverware clinking on plates and the chatter of happy, hungry guests faded away, and the walls began to melt into the blackness, and only the crying remained.

Donald opened his eyes in his bed, the crying still very much with him. He sat up and looked around his empty bedroom. “Hello?” he said. The crying intensified.

Donald climbed out of bed and wandered through his empty house. He stumbled into the bathroom, and looked at himself in the mirror. He glanced at the knot beside his ear. The crying was all in his head.

citizen:  an inhabitant of a city; a person who owes allegiance to a government and is entitled to its protection.
-Webster’s Dictionary


“Mom?”  Alisia stared at the back of her mother’s head as she stood at the kitchen sink, washing dishes. “Mom, we need to talk.”

Alisia watched her mother. She didn’t stop washing the plate in her hand or turn around or say anything, but her shoulders tightened. It was times like this that Alisia missed her mother. She wasn’t sure how they had grown so far apart in the last few years. It wasn’t that Alisia hated her mother, though she may have said that she did. And it wasn’t that her mother had done anything to deserve Alisia’s disdain. Alisia was just growing up, that was all, and that meant she was becoming independent. Sometimes nobody liked that.

For her mother’s part though, she thought they were bringing her up right. They sent her to the “good” school, joined a church, and tried to provide her with everything she’d need to fit in. And yet, despite all of that, somehow Alisia still managed to spite her mother whenever she could. She even had her navel pierced.

“Mom?” Alisia said again.

“What is it?”   

“I need to talk to you,” her voice quivered. She was nervous. It had been years since she had needed to talk to her parents about anything that was important. Other than to ask for money, it felt like years since she’d actually had anything to say.

Alisia’s mom dropped the plate she was washing into the sink and turned around. She had no idea what to expect from her daughter. It was like she didn’t know her anymore. She could remember a time when she could describe every freckle on her body, and now she wasn’t even sure if her daughter had plans to go to college. “What do you need to talk about?”

“Mom, I — ” Alisia stopped. She thought she could just say it, but the words stuck in her throat like a chicken bone. She looked into her mother’s eyes. The consternation was there. It was always there. They had built so many walls between them.


“Mom, I have a lump. A tumor.”  There. The words were out. Alisia felt the burden of the words come off her chest. The weight floated in the air and landed on her mom’s shoulders.

Alisia’s mom’s mouth twitched, and she could feel heat behind her eyes.

“Mom, I’m sorry,” Alisia said. She didn’t know why she said it, but it came out anyway.

Alisia’s mom nodded, and without saying anything, she turned back to the dishes. Nice house, good schools, expensive clothes, bought the girl a car for her sixteenth birthday. A savings account in the bank for college. All of these things flashed through her mind, and underneath that, the words, my daughter has a tumor repeated.

“Mom?  Aren’t you going to say anything?” Alisia asked staring at her mother’s back. They stood that way for a very long time.

The P.E.T.T. (People for the Ethical Treatment of Tumors) was founded a year ago today. The organization’s mission is to advocate on behalf of the safety, welfare, and protection of tumors. P.E.T.T. rejects the idea that tumors are a “medical condition”…


The seventeen year old boy sat in the bathroom, his back against the door, his chest rising and falling erratically. His hands were covered in blood, and now it was pooling out around him on the linoleum.

The boy’s name was Kyle Vanderboss. He was the quarterback for the football team, vice-president of the junior class, and had a damn good shot at being nominated prom king in May when he and his girlfriend, Faith Hammons arrived. Kyle had scored a 30 on his A.C.T. and was already receiving invitations to several colleges in the tri-state area.

Two years ago, however, he began getting migraines. He thought they had started from a concussion received during a football game. After a CAT-scan, the doctor informed him that he actually had an inoperable tumor on his brain. It was swelling against his skull which was causing an immense amount of pressure, which was what was causing his headaches.

So he took a pair of scissors and cut off his left ear. He sat with his ear in a bowl of ice next to his leg. Blood ran down his face in warm waves. He jammed his fingers into the hole, but he couldn’t find the tumor. He trembled and sighed. He was just going to have to go deeper.

In the case of Alexander v. Massachusetts, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the removal of tumors is permissible for any reason that a person chooses up to the point that a tumor can be considered “viable.”  Only if the individuals health is in danger by the tumor after viability is the removal acceptable…


Sandia Brosset’s son, Andy, jumped up from underneath the kitchen table and scared his two younger siblings, Jennifer and Ben. They screamed and ran through the house with Andy chasing them making monster noises. Jennifer giggled. Ben ran behind her, a look of disinterest and snot on his face.

Sandia watched her children play as she reclined on the couch. She loved her children more than anything else in the world. She loved to hear their laughter. She loved the way the lights twinkled in their eyes. She loved the smell of their hair and the touch of their kisses. There was absolutely nothing in the world as precious as her babies.

The children’s cries bounced around the house, then, before long they were running through the front room again, screaming and wailing. Sandia laughed with them, holding up her hands at them, “Please, children, you’re going to wake the — ”

But it was too late. The tumor in her lap, the one that had started on her fallopian tube, was awake and fussy. “Mamma!” the tumor said in between its cries. It couldn’t say a lot of words, but it could say “Mamma,” and it infuriated Sandia to no end.

“Oh, go back to sleep!” Sandia hissed at the gray thing in her lap. It looked up at her with its potato eyes and cried, “Mamma, mamma!” 

“I said go back to sleep!”

The children continued to run through the house, the shrill joy in their laughter combined with the annoying sting of the tumor’s cries ratcheted Sandia’s anger to another level.

“Hungry!” the tumor said.  

“You just ate!” Sandia said.

“Hungry!” the tumor said. “Hungry, Mamma, hungry!”

“I’m not feeding you again!” 

She leaned over and grabbed a gray roll of duct tape from the floor. She ripped off a strip about eight inches long and put it over the tumor’s mouth. It whined, and its eyes never left its mother’s face, but at least Sandia couldn’t hear its awful voice.

Sandia laid back against her pillows and watched her children play, while between her legs, her tumor cried silently.

From NPR News:

“The United States Supreme Court ruled today that William Ross, the man who murdered three federal agents including Samantha Weiss, who had unknowingly carried a sentient tumor on her right breast, will be charged for the deaths of four individuals…


Dr. Andrew Winn’s hand trembled as he closed his cell phone. He was getting old — perhaps too old — to continue in what was a younger man’s profession; but he loved his job, and he loved helping people. He wiped his soft hands across his face, which had begun to take on more and more wrinkles. His eyes had bags under them.

The call had come from Dorothy Rainwater. Dorothy had been a patient of his for more than forty years. Before that, Andrew had been in love with her (though her name then used to be Dorothy Sternburg). Dorothy’s granddaughter had a tumor growing inside her. Dorothy’s granddaughter was only fourteen years old.

Dr. Winn took an oath many years before to do no harm. Never before had the distinction of “do no harm” been more muddled than now. For Dr. Winn, doing no harm would be to take this horrible toll of responsibility, this unwanted burden placed upon a child, this easily corrected accident, away from a little girl who could then go to high school without the long, late nights; she could get a driving liscense, she could meet a boy and get married. Someday she may want to have children. If this girl could just wait another ten years to have the responsibility of caring for another, everyone involved would benefit.

Besides, Dr. Winn could remember a time when tumors were just masses of cells that had gotten out of hand. They were the results of bad habits, accidents, a glitch in the genetic code, and just plain bad luck. And now that these lumps of cells could generate a nervous system, everything was different. Laws were rewritten. It was ridiculous.

Dr. Winn slipped his coat on, grabbed his car keys, and slipped into the night. He drove in silence to his office. He tried not to think about politics and religion, and tried to think only of Dorothy Rainwater and her granddaughter. When he pulled into the parking lot, they were huddled together underneath the awning over the front door.

“Where did you park?” Dr. Winn asked, looking down the quiet streets and then jabbing his key into the lock.

“We parked a block down, just like you said.”

“Good. Let’s get you inside, sweetheart,” Dr. Winn said to Dorothy’s granddaughter. She looked a lot like her grandmother had when she was a teenager. “We must hurry.”

The two women and Dr. Winn slipped into the office. He left the waiting room and reception lights off, and walked through the darkened hall to the last room. He turned the light on, pulled the shades, and then grabbed a gown from one of the cabinets. “Here, put this on,” he said to the girl. “Then climb up on this table and I will be right back.”

The girl nodded. Her face was frightened, her eyes red, her lips swollen. She was being strong though, and Dr. Winn was quite impressed by that. What she didn’t know was that he was just as frightened as she.

“Dorothy, can you help me?” he asked, and Dorothy followed him to another room where he put on a pair of scrubs and began to wash up for the operation. As he washed his hands and neck and face, he breifly gave Dorothy a run down of all the instruments that he would be using during the operation. They were laid out on the cabinet beside the sink. “That first one is a scalpel,” he said. “I will use that to make the incisions. If I say, ‘scalpel,’ I will need you to hand me that one.”   

Cleaned and prepped, they came back to the makeshift operating room. Dorothy squeezed her granddaughter’s hand as she lay on the table in the thin paper gown. “Thank you for doing this,” she said to Dr. Winn. He nodded, smiled with his eyes, and then began preparing the anesthesia.

The operation took two and a half hours. Dr. Winn was able to open the girl’s neck, locate the tumor, and remove it, dropping it in the pan beside the bed without any ceremony or comment. It writhed there, twitching and squealing. It was no bigger than a jelly bean. Dr. Winn stitched the girl back up and was allowing her to slowly come off the anesthesia as he washed up from the operation. Afterwards, he came back into the room to check on her. Her heartrate was good and her blood pressure normal. The girl was going to be fine.

As he sat in his office, leaned back in his chair, dozing a little, waiting for the night to be over, a knock came from the front door of the office. He knew what was happening. Nobody came knocking on a doctor’s office door at 4:30 in the morning. He thought about slipping out the back, but he figured there’d be men waiting for him there as well. Instead, he walked into the girl’s room, checked her vital signs once more; she would be just fine. Then he gave Dorothy a kiss on the cheek. “You stay in here,” Dr. Winn said.

Dr. Winn walked back through his office, the pounding on the door intensifying. As he came forward, he flipped on the other lights. There was no point of keeping his whereabouts secret. When he opened the front door, a police officer had a warrant for his arrest.

Dr. Andrew Winn was handcuffed and tucked into the back of one of the police cruisers. He was formally charged with performing an illegal tumor removal. He would never again practice medicine.

From The New York Times:

…six people are dead in an explosion at a tumor removal facility in Worchester, Massachusettes. So far, no individual or group has taken responsibility for the blast. This has been the third such bombing this year…


Jerry Chandler was a thirty-eight year-old man with a bitter ex-wife and three children that couldn’t care less about him. He used to be a man with a lot of promise and potential. He had a degree in physics for Christ’s sake!  But the booze and the bad attitudes and the lack of motivation all added up to the same thing. Now he lived alone in a little apartment outside of Cleveland, working on the night crew for Wal-Mart, and drinking in the mornings when folks were driving their children to school.

Well, he wasn’t completely alone. There was the tumor that had come up on the inside of his forearm. It had started as a mole, but it continued to grow until there was a knot there the size of a tennis ball. It hurt like hell to touch, and in the past week, it had begun to make noises and look around.

Jerry had called in to work. He wasn’t going to work with this thing on his arm. It whined all the time and looked up at Jerry with these black beady eyes, watching him, almost knowingly.

Instead, Jerry had a plan. He didn’t have health insurance, but he did have a physics degree, and he had a pretty good idea that he thought would work. So he spent about seven hours in the kitchen working and modifying and testing. Finally, around four-thirty in the afternoon, Jerry poured a large amount of alcohol down his throat, and put his arm in the modified microwave. He had cut a hole through the plastic door.

He set the timer for one minute and pushed start.

Jerry screamed in pain as the liquids in his arms heated and boiled. He screamed after only sixteen seconds, but the clump on his arm screamed before that.

After a minute, Jerry removed his arm. It was covered in blisters and burns. The tumor pulsed on his forearm, the eyes twitching back and forth, its mouth whimpering. It wasn’t quite dead.

Jerry put his arm back in the microwave and pushed the “Minute Plus” button.

From ABC Nightly News

Thirty-six protesters took to the streets of Washington D.C. today to protest against the raising of two tumors by homosexual actor, Clint Macmillian and his partner Jason Bainbridge. Spokesman of the group, Richard Standswell, declared that the tumors would be better off removed from the body and cast out of a moving vehicle than to live under the influence of homosexuality. This comes just two months after Rosie Degeneres was found to have two tumors in her lymph nodes.


Doris Turk sat on her front porch everyday from sun up to sun down, smoking unfiltered Camel cigarettes. She waved at the kids riding their bicycles through the trailer park, and she passed a word with the men and women as they came home from work. Doris sat in the blazing afternoon sun without as much as a squirt of sun screen on her prematurely wrinkled, dark skin. Beside her chair was a coffee can full of butts.

At night, she slipped into her house and watched television while eating greasy foods and experimenting with an assortment of different drugs and medications. She was not married. At four-hundred fifty pounds, she didn’t see marriage in her future. When she was younger, she assumed that that meant she would never have a family, but she knew now that that was just wrong.

She sat in front of her television and lit another cigarette — her fiftieth or sixtieth of the day. She knew that she didn’t need a man to have a family. She glanced down at an encyclopedia she was looking at, turned to a page on “radioisotopes.”  Yes, she knew she didn’t need a man to have a family.

From The New England Journal of Medicine

…a new study has shown that scientists have isolated the gene that is responsible for the exponential growth experienced by tumors sharing the host body. This particular amino acid chain, found primarily in pre-viable tumors, may hold the answers to several cures for several degenerative diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s Disease and type II diabetes…


Mrs. Rountree sat in the front row of the high school gymnasium. She was wearing her blue church dress and sat nervously, clutching a handkerchief to her lips as she listened to the commencement speaker finally finish his long speech. After he sat down, the superintendent stood up at a podium and asked the one-hundred thirty graduates to please rise. Then they began calling the names.

Mrs. Roundtree watched as one by the one, the students walked on stage to receive their diplomas. She heard the names that she had heard for the last twelve years and the applause from the families as they ran onstage. She couldn’t help but cry. It was the end of childhood. After tonight, they would no longer be their babies.

Mrs. Roundtree watched them climb on stage and thought to herself that she never really expected Travis to make it this far. It was a miracle in itself that he had survived as long as he had, but to be able to cross the stage with his other classmates was more than she had dreamed of eighteen years ago.

“Travis Rountree!” the superintendent said, and the gymnasium exploded in applause. Lights from dozens of cameras flashed as the gray mass in its large cap and gown came onto the stage, smiling out at the cheering crowds, its black beady eyes gleaming with pride. The superintendent leaned back over the microphone, “Congratulations, Travis.”

Travis waved his tentacle-like arm at the crowd, and then took his diploma. The entire gymnasium was on its feet, clapping and screaming Travis’s name. Mrs. Roundtree, hunched over to carry the seventy-pound mass on her back, bawled into her handkerchief. She was so proud. She was just so proud.

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