There’s been a lot of suffering and dying on Planet Cancer, recently. Several friends are struggling with relapses. Somebody had a cord blood transplant (35 years old). Somebody’s in the middle of chemo (late 20’s). Somebody has stage 4 breast cancer with brain mets–(26 years old)–her 3 word text to me was all she could manage, and was all I needed to understand. A prominent member of our community who’d been on hospice, passed away this morning (30 years old). A “healthy” friend asked me today, how was I doing, so I told him that I have some friends who are sick. Some friends who are dying. He was really sorry to hear that. I was like, “it happens”. Describing such occurrences in the “normal” world is awkward. Out of context, it feels really strange to just casually answer innocuous questions like “how are you” this way, like I’m describing a trip to the movies or the grocery store, or a weekend camping. Illness and Dying happen, just like that. They do.
I hung out with my friend at the hospital last week; the one who had the cord blood transplant. She goes in every day, to draw labs and get topped off with whatever blood products she needs to tide her over, until her new immune system goes live. It felt surreal, though oddly familiar, and thus comforting, to be on that outpatient unit, where everybody was bald and wearing face masks. Everybody shuffling around like zombies, or just laying in their cubicles, unmoving. The girl in the cubicle next to my friend, had a blanket pulled over her head. When her caregiver walked in with juice and goldfish crackers, she flipped the blanket off to reveal just her bald head, from the chin up. I thought it was a man, until I heard her speak, and noticed her pink flip flops on the floor by the bed. Then she gingerly sat up, revealing the rest of herself, and I realized that she was a kid. A teenager. I was taken aback. How is it that cancer could invade this girl’s life, and rob her of even her most basic distinguishing physical features? I couldn’t even tell if she was female or male, young or old. She was just a humanoid shape. An outer shell. Colorless, like she’d had all her paint rubbed off. Cancer takes everything away.
It’s right next to the building where my support group meeting is held, though I never noticed it before tonight. How is that?!? The most amazing tree I’ve ever seen. I had goose bumps. I freaked out. I took a bunch of photos. I tried to get the group facilitator, who was standing next to me, as excited about the tree as I was. She wasn’t feeling it. I WAS EXCITED ABOUT A TREE. I can vaguely remember a time when I don’t think I would have cared, either. Do people seriously not care about this stuff??! The world is full of some damn amazing things. It’s a damn amazing tree: it looks like a ghost or a monster, with it’s arms up, mouth gaping, even has leaves on it’s “head”, where the hair should be. This is my favorite tree, now. Cancer helped me find my favorite tree.
Cancer takes everything away, but it gives things, too…