Bridgette Wyman is 42 years old. And she is dying. Soon.
If you are a fan of online lesbian fiction, you may know Bridgette better as A.C. Henley, author of the Quin McKee detective stories.
Just this year, the first two McKee stories were published as one novel, “McKee: The Return,” under her A.C. Henley pen name. It was a dream come true for Bridgette, who already knew that the cancer doctors first discovered in 2005 had come back again, and this time, it probably wasn’t going away.
I talked with Bridgette on the phone on Wednesday, July 22. I had contacted her and her partner, Sherry, through a friend of theirs, because I wanted to get their permission to put a notice here on Instant Tea about funeral expenses. See, Bridgette doesn’t have insurance, and her online friends and fans are collecting funds to help Sherry cover those final expenses when the time comes. And since Bridgette and Sherry are from the DFW area — and are living in Arlington right now — I thought that folks from here might want to help out one of our own, even if they hadn’t read her books before.
But when Bridgette got on the phone with me, her voice somewhat weak and fuzzy from the medication she was taking to dull the pain, she wasn’t interested in asking for help for herself. What she wanted to talk about was urging other women to help themselves.
Her message: Women have to take control of their health. You know when there is something wrong with your body, and don’t let the doctors stop looking until they find out what it is.
Bridgette’s fight with cancer started four years ago. She is a pastry chef — “trained in the French tradition,” she told me — and at the time was working for the Paris Bakery in Paris, Texas. In her spare time, under the A.C. Henley pen name, she was writing stories and posting them online where they were drawing tons of fans.
At the suggestion of a friend, she started a Yahoo group where she could post new chapters of old stories and some totally new stories, and where she could communicate with her friends and fans online.
“At first, I thought I was being kind of full of myself to start a group. But it turned out that I met a lot of friends. Not just people who were sucking up because they wanted to read my stories for free, but people who really cared for me. It just blows me away,” Bridgette said.
“That group and the people on it have gotten us through some really hard times — not just financially hard times, but emotionally hard times,” she said. “I think that’s pretty great for a group of men and women who hardly know each other at all, except for corresponding through the Yahoo group.”
But then, Bridgette said, she started having problems with unusually heavy periods each month. Eventually, she went to her doctor, who gave her a prescription for birth control pills to help regulate her periods.
But, Sherry said in a note to me this week, the hormones in the birth control pills actually made the situation worse, feeding the still-hidden cancer “at an alarming rate.”
Finally, in October 2005, doctors discovered that Bridgette had uterine cancer. A biopsy showed it to be “stage 4 — the worst kind you can have,” she said. Then an ultrasound indicated that her ovaries were enlarged as well, “and suddenly, it became very hard to find a doctor to do the surgery.”
The doctors in Paris, Texas were either not willing or not able, and “so the search began to find a doctor who would take me on with no insurance. Finally, I found a doctor in Tarrant County at UNT, Dr. Sal Rococo,” she said.
So Bridgette had the surgery. Then she spent the next six months going through two rounds of chemotherapy. After that, doctors told her the good news: The cancer was in remission.
“So I went back to work,” Bridgette said this week. “I went back to work at Paris Bakery, and I really liked my job. But then, I started getting tired again. I was very lethargic all the time. So I went in to see the gynocologist. They did some tests. They told me the cancer was back, and that it had spread.”
So Bridgette went back into the hospital for another surgery. “Sherry was the only one there with me, because we thought it was just routine. They would remove the tumor and I would go home,” she said.
Instead, she added, “They told us it had spread way beyond that. They told Sherry I had six months to live.”
But Bridgette didn’t give up. She went on with her life, having some good days and some bad days, writing when she could and working to try and get her detective novel, which she had already posted online, rewritten and ready to be published.
She decided to take her first two stories featuring tough lesbian private investigator Quin McKee and combine them into one novel, titled “McKee: The Return.” Kate Sweeney came on board the project as a publisher to help steer Bridgette and “McKee” through the process, a process Bridgette said this week “I thought would never end.”
The doctors had told Bridgette she had six months to live. And she — and her online friends and fans — were determined to get “McKee” published in time for her to see it happen.
But then six months turned into seven months. And seven turned into eight. And “I just decided that maybe I wasn’t really dying of cancer after all,” Bridgette said. “I thought, maybe the doctors were wrong. I thought maybe I was just really tired because of everything that was going on, and from the side effects of the medicines. Because I was feeling pretty good otherwise.”
Finally, the editing process for “McKee” was finished, and despite some hesitation from the publisher, Intaglio, over the iffy economic situation, the book was released in February. And thanks to “a huge group of friends,” Bridgette got to have a launch party in Paris in April.
But the cancer was still there, lurking in the background, waiting for the chance to attack again. “I just started getting more tired more often,” Bridgette said. “The chemo failed. Then the second round of chemo failed. So they put me on a third round, and that just really didn’t do anything.”
So she went back to the hospital for a barrage of tests, none of which offered good news. The tests showed that her liver had failed and that her bowels were perforated. All the doctors could do then was put her in touch with hospice care and send her home to wait.
“So I’m on hospice care now,” Bridgette said from the home of friend in Arlington with whom she and Sherry are staying now. “I haven’t had any solid food in I don’t know how long, about 20 days. My greatest pleasure now are frozen hard Coca-cola cookies. I like the carbonation in it. I’m surviving on that and ice chips from Sonic and cheap popsicles.”
She also has another book, “Rapture,” that has “all-new characters.” It isn’t finished, Bridgette said, but “Sherry is going to pick up the mantle now and finish it, with help from some other writers who have the same style as me. We’re going to submit it for publication. I know there are no guarantees, but hopefully the publisher will like it. If not, then we’ll be free to submit it to other publishers.”
But Bridgette knows she likely won’t be here to see “Rapture” published.
“I don’t know when I’ll be going, but it won’t be long,” she said, but without a trace of self-pity in her voice. “It’s been an incredible journey.”
But she had one more message to her friends and fans and to every woman who will hear her: “Have yourself checked for uterine cancer. Get that ultrasound because that is the only way to find it. Listen to your body. Be pro-active. As women, we know when something’s going on with our bodies, and you’ve got to take care of yourself.”
And we’ve got to take care of each other, too.
If you want to help cover the final expenses for Bridgette, send your donations to Sherry Barker, 114 Parkview Drive, Arlington, Texas 76010. You can also buy copies of “McKee: The Return” online at Amazon.com. Watch for a review of the book in the Friday, July 31 issue of Dallas Voice, and online that same day at DallasVoice.com.