Angie here, checking in from the mountains of Colorado. We’re having a relaxing time on vacation and we’ve even seen SNOW! On Tuesday night we went to see Secretariat (excellent!) and when we got back, I made my brother and sister in law watch “Lars and the Real Girl” . . . and I cried again! I’ll bet I’ve seen that movie a dozen times, and I sob every time . . .
Hope you’re having a great day, too!
Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear, unusual for a Washington October. Theo dressed in a wool skirt and a long-sleeved blouse, then threw a light blazer over the outfit. The effect was perfect: lightly feminine, softly businesslike.
Dr. Ken Holman had established his Georgetown practice of obstetrics and gynecology in a handsome brick building on Reservoir Road. An elegant sign proclaimed in gold-toned letters that Theo had found The Women’s Center, and as she studied the registry of doctors, she noted with surprise that Ken Holman was apparently the only male doctor on staff. If the names were any indication, the Women’s Center offered the services of two female general practitioners, another female gynecologist, and a female family therapist.
She walked into the plush lobby and signed in to see Dr. Holman. After she had waited ten minutes, a sturdy, stone-faced nurse opened the door and called Theo’s name. The nurse greeted her without a smile, glanced curiously at the briefcase in her hand, and motioned down the hall. “Our first stop is the scale, Ms. Russell,” she said sharply. “After that, I have to prick your finger.”
Theo stopped in midstride. “You don’t understand. I’m here to talk to the doctor, not to be examined.”
The nurse pointed steadfastly toward the scale in the hallway. “I think you’ll find it easier to talk about your problem if you let Doctor examine you.”
“I’m not here for an examination.” Theo brought her briefcase to the nurse’s eye level. “I’m here to interview the doctor for a book I’m writing.”
The nurse raised her chin in a haughty gesture that told Theo she had better things to do than waste Doctor’s time with would-be writers. “All right, then, come with me and I’ll show you to Doctor’s office. But I don’t know when he’ll be able to see you. He’s busy this morning with patients, people who really need to see him.”
The nurse turned and began to storm down another hall, and Theo hurried after her. “I’m supposed to be on his schedule this morning,” she puffed. “I have an appointment for nine-thirty.”
“Sometimes appointments can’t be kept. Babies don’t wait, and Doctor has to be there when they come,” the nurse answered. She paused by an open door and gestured inside with an open palm. “You just take a seat and be patient. Doctor will see you when he can.”
Theo was about to ask if the doctor was out delivering a baby, but before the words could leave her mouth, the nurse had spun on her heel and walked away. Theo sighed and stepped through the doorway.
A faded couch sat against the wall by the door; newspapers littered the sofa, and a Styrofoam cup half-filled with an inch of milky coffee sat on the end table. Books and folders covered the hulking desk so thickly that Theo couldn’t even see the surface; more books lined the walls in Tower of Pisa stacks. A dime-store bulletin board near the door was plastered with snapshots, and as Theo stepped closer she saw that half of the photos were of sweaty, exhausted-looking, smiling women with babies. The other photos were of a tall, blonde, bearded man in surgical garb who held the babies in his broad hands with pride shining from his eyes. Theo guessed that the bearded man was either Dr. Ken Holman or an extremely prolific father.
“I see you’ve found my mug shots.”
Theo whirled around, embarrassed. The bearded man from the photographs stood in front of her, a smile on his attractive face. The broad hand that had ushered so many babies into the world stretched toward her. “I’m Ken Holman. What can I do for you?”
Theo shook his hand and struggled to find her voice. “I’m Theo Russell,” she said, feeling as awkward as a schoolgirl. He had a good handshake, warm and firm. “I know you’re busy, Dr. Holman, but if you could spare a few minutes, I’d like to talk to you about breast cancer and abortion.”
“Theo Russell?” He released her hand and moved to the well-worn leather chair behind the desk. “I don’t suppose you’re related to—but it doesn’t work that way, does it?” He smiled and gestured toward the sofa as he sank into his chair. “Please. Just push away whatever you need to. Have a seat.”
“Thank you.” Theo moved a pile of newspapers onto the floor as she sat down, then pulled one of her business cards from her purse. “And no, I’m not related to Theo M. Russell; I’ve never even met the man. It’s just a coincidence that we’re both writers. Here’s my card.”
He took the card she offered, gave it a quick glance, then tossed it onto the mountain of paperwork on his desk. Stretching his long legs out beneath the desk, he tented his hands. “Sorry about the mess, but I don’t usually entertain people in my office. I do my best work in hospitals.”
“So I see.” Theo nodded toward the pictures on the bulletin board, and the doctor grinned and leaned forward, his blue eyes studying her with mild approval.
“Well, if it’s any consolation, I’d much rather look at you than the other Theo Russell,” Holman said. “I only met him once, and though he’s very talented, you’re much prettier.”
Theo looked down at her hands as her cheeks burned. Good grief, had she forgotten how to handle a simple compliment? She had to get a grip on herself. Everything depended now on her professionalism.
“Thank you, but I’m not here to be flattered, Doctor,” she said, sitting up straighter on the sofa. “I need to discuss the information you gave Theo Russell about the link between abortion and breast cancer. I’m planning to do a nonfiction book on the subject. It’s disgraceful that more people aren’t talking about this.”
He frowned slightly. “If you’ve never met Russell, how’d you hear about my work?”
“I read his proposal,” Theo answered, taking care not to reveal too much. “Janet Fischer, an editor at Howarth House, showed it to me. I found Russell’s proposal fascinating, as did Janet. But, as I’m sure you know, there is not a lot of research to substantiate your claims.”
Holman’s chair squeaked in protest as he leaned back. “Whose side are you on, Ms. Russell? If I help you, will I regret it tomorrow?”
“I didn’t realize we were involved in a battle,” Theo said, shifting her weight on the couch to see him better. “Why do I have to be on a certain side? I just want to write the truth.”
“I’m always amazed at the way truth is manipulated,” Holman answered, his gaze no longer friendly. He seemed to be weighing her motivation. “If I tell you the truth, are you willing to report it?”
She had thought to ask the questions, not answer them, and she heard herself stammering. “Well . . . because—because breast cancer is an important women’s health issue. Everyone’s talking about it—”
“And no one’s doing anything,” Holman finished. He leaned forward again, and she saw the snap of anger in his eyes. “You probably think I’m terrible, Ms. Russell, but I’m tired of having the results of my research invalidated by reporters who call themselves objective.”
“So your results are not truly valid.” She felt her heart sink.
“It all depends on who evaluates it. You tell me, Ms. Russell. From what you’ve read, do you feel a link exists between abortion and breast cancer?”
She studied him silently. Ken Holman had an honest face; his wide forehead gave way to guarded eyes that shone with intensity. His features were classically sculpted, his eyes direct and piercing. He really wanted to know what she thought, but something told her that if she didn’t agree with him, she’d soon be on her way out the door.
“I’m not a doctor, but I’ve read enough to think a link could exist,” she said, weighing her words carefully. “If you play fair with me, Doctor, I’ll tell that truth in my book.”
“Then you need to start playing fair now, Ms. Russell. Before we go any further, I want you to know that I refuse to perform elective abortions. I’ve come to believe that we can’t solve the problems people have simply by eliminating people. Now, according to your personal standard of morality, am I a monster for not allowing women to exercise reproductive control over their own bodies?”
Theo listened with a vague sense of unreality. It was the abortion litmus test. Supreme Court justices, presidents, television reporters—were even writers judged by their views on abortion? She knew that she agreed with this doctor, but if she hadn’t, but what right had he to use her position on abortion to judge her ability and honesty as a writer? She wanted to write a straightforward, fact-based book not predicated on her religious faith. She wanted to give readers an honest look at a troubling social issue that could be appreciated by anyone, regardless of their theological or political perspectives. Was she naive to believe that it could be done?
“Is that a fair question?” she whispered, frowning.
“Of course it is,” Holman answered, his voice heavy with forced casualness. “If I were hiring you as a receptionist, I’d have the right to ask if you liked people. I’m thinking about sharing my work with you, my confidence, so I have the right to ask what you think of me. Am I a monster, Ms. Russell? A misogynist? A caveman? You needn’t spare my feelings, I’ve been called far worse.”
“I believe you have the right to refuse to do anything that contradicts your personal belief system,” she said, meeting his gaze squarely. “If our country allows women a choice, we can allow no less for our country’s doctors.”
Holman pressed his lips together in a thin line, obviously less than happy with her answer, then turned his chair sideways and propped his feet on the edge of his desk. “If I told you I performed thirty abortions a week, would you still be willing to feature my opinions in your book?”
She reflected a moment. “No.”
“Now we begin to understand each other,” he said, nodding. He gave her a more relaxed smile. “What do you want to know?”
Theo shuffled through her papers and pulled out the questions she had prepared. “In my research, I found a Portuguese study indicating that the risk of breast cancer decreased significantly with abortion history. The study was—” she shuffled through the papers in her lap— “done in 1993 by Drs. Gandra, Barros, Moreira, Calheiros, and Magalhaes. Can you explain this?”
Holman smiled and tipped his index finger in her direction. “Very good, Ms. Russell. You’ve done some homework. Not even Theodore turned up that particular study.”
“So,” Theo pressed, “doesn’t this research refute all you’ve said?”
“Not if you study it carefully.” Holman tented his fingers again. “In Portugal, unlike America, most women who get legal abortions have already had one or more children, and thus most women enjoy the lower risk of breast cancer associated with the protective effect of the first full pregnancy. The Portuguese study lumps women who have already had a child in with women who aborted their first pregnancy. The researchers then compared the combined results to the total population rather than to women who have not had abortions.”
“What protective effect? I don’t understand.”
“A woman’s first full pregnancy causes hormonal changes that permanently alter the structure of her breast. The completed process greatly reduces the risk of breast cancer. During a full pregnancy, the breast cells differentiate, mature, and specialize. Once cells have become specialized, they are very unlikely to turn cancerous.”
“And that’s why women who give birth at a young age have a lower risk of breast cancer?”
“Right. Studies have found that women who give birth before age eighteen have about one-third the risk of women who have their first child after age thirty-five. Ironic, don’t you think? The entire medical community is warning women about the statistical link between high-fat diets and breast cancer, but they ignore the fact that a woman who has had an abortion is far more likely to develop breast cancer than a woman who eats a diet high in fat. And I have the scientific support to prove it.”
Theo paused, thinking. “How did you come to give this information to Theo Russell?”
“I met him at a medical convention. He was gathering material for his book on suicide—I was desperate to get my research published somewhere, and he took my research notes.”
“And the lawyer Russell mentions . . . Adam Perry. Was he at the medical convention, too?”
“No, Adam and I play golf at the same club. My wife, you see, had an abortion in her twenties and developed breast cancer ten years later. A classic case. Adam Perry has filed a lawsuit on her behalf.”
“She’s suing a doctor?”
“No, we’re suing the abortion clinic where Linda’s abortion was performed. I thought Adam Perry might be able to help Russell, so I arranged for Russell to meet him.”
“How can your wife possibly expect to win her case? With so little evidence to support your claims—” She broke off as something dark flitted behind the doctor’s blue eyes.
“She can’t win, Ms. Russell. She died six years ago. I’m suing on her behalf, and I don’t really care about the monetary awards. The real winners, if Adam can pull this off, will be the young women who have swallowed the lie that abortion is simple, painless, and harmless. I want publicity. I want to get the word out. Young women who abort their first pregnancy are playing Russian roulette with their bodies. They have a one-in-six chance of later developing breast cancer. And, like Linda, they may find the cancer too late.”
Theo felt her face burning again. How could she ever be an effective interviewer if she kept stumbling onto topics that alienated her subjects? “I’m sorry,” she stammered. “Truly sorry if I was tactless. But I understand, truly I do—”
“I don’t know if you can,” Holman said, standing up behind his desk. He thrust his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. “And I’m sorry, but I have patients waiting. If I can be of any further help, please don’t hesitate to call. I’ll give you whatever medical information you need, and I’m sure Adam Perry will be happy to help with whatever legal issues you’d like to discuss.”
Theo stood, tucked her slim briefcase under her arm, then offered her hand to the doctor. “I know what it’s like to lose someone you love,” she said, keeping her voice low as he reluctantly shook her hand again. “And I never intended to pry into your personal affairs.”
She didn’t wait for his reply, but turned and walked away.