Radiation: Day 17

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I walk into the radiation waiting room, and there are more people than usual for this time of day. A young man sits by himself, looking more like a family member than a cancer patient. A man and a woman sit together talking, though apparently they are not a couple.

An older man and woman, definitely a couple, sit talking with a woman whose quarter-inch spiky hair reveals a recently completed chemotherapy regimen. She is telling them how she feels after radiation, how it’s different than the chemotherapy, how it’s different than what her friend with lymphoma experienced. Two more days, she says, and her treatment will be completed. Except for the hormone therapy they will give her for five years after.

“This is my first time,” says the other woman.

“She only has to go 10 times,” her husband chimes in. “The tumor’s in her brain.”

“Oh,” says the woman with breast cancer, comparing.

“Kind of like mad cow disease,” the man says, to lighten the moment.

In natural waves, the conversation to my left diminishes, and we all hear the couple to my right talking, apparently planning a party.

“Sweet potato pie would be good,” says the man, typing into his iPad.

“All that talk about food is starting to get to me,” the woman with the brain tumor says across the room, maybe a little too loudly. She laughs. Is it the tumor talking?

“Are they still talking about yams?” her husband asks.

“No, sweet potato pie.”

“I love sweet potato pie,” he says to himself.

The tech calls the woman back for her first treatment, telling her and her husband that this one will be the longest so they can get things set up.

“You’ll be next,” the tech says to me as he walks by. “We’re running behind today.”

I look at the clock on my phone; it’s 3:39. My appointment was at 3:30.

The couple planning the party begin to wind down their conversation.

“I’m an expert, and I’m telling you, open caskets make the mourning harder,” the nicely dressed man says to the woman. The younger man sitting across the room has joined them as they prepare to leave.

“It’s not just a personal preference. I’ve seen it both ways. Open casket is harder,” he says, convincingly.

We’ve all heard them; we all realize, sitting there with cancer ourselves or with a loved one being treated, that this family is planning a funeral.

As they leave, several other people walk in, mostly in twos – daughters with moms, moms with daughters, wives pushing husbands in wheel chairs. I give up my seat so that a couple can sit together.

Walking across the room, I determine never to plan a funeral in a cancer center waiting room.

Even if it does include sweet potato pie.

Photo by jeffreyw, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

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Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.


  • Dawn @ Dawnings ,

    Charity, your posts chronicling your radiation treatments have been stunning. So sober, so intimately there, yet somehow removed enough to have perspective beyond words. Then to articulate these experiences with such clarity. These posts are a gift to me, one who fears relapse, if only a little bit, every day. These will all be “re-reads” for me. Love and healing to you in Jesus’ name.

    • Marilyn ,

      Oh, the conversations in the waiting room (and treatment area, in our case) are always this very combination of MUNDANE and MEMORABLE. They become etched. I had no trouble picturing or hearing any of this. And your mental note at the end is worth remembering.

      What Megan said is so true, though. It becomes another character in the room. It’s surreal.

      • Jennifer @ GettingDownWithJesus.com ,

        I’m just in awe of the matter-of-fact-ness here — and all the coping mechanisms present in a single room … laughter, joking, food-talk, blunt comparisons of diagnoses, even frank speech on death.

        Thank you, Charity, for your willingness to share these moments with us. They help us understand ourselves better.

        • Carolyn Counterman ,

          That makes me so thankful that Mom had written all her wishes down – her clothing, the songs, even the pallbearers… we didn’t have to talk about it while she was sick. We could just spend time saying goodbye.

          I didn’t eat much at the luncheon, so I don’t remember what kind of pies the church ladies served. I’m sure they were good, though not as good as what Mom made.

          • Ann Kroeker ,

            I used to like sweet potato pie. I’ll never look at it the same again.

            • Sheila ,

              What I love about this post, Charity, is how it reveals the relentlessness of life. Sitting in the treatment waiting room, planning a party, making a note about sweet potato pie.

              Wonderful.

              • Megan Willome ,

                It’s easy to forget that everyone is in different phases. I’m sure they didn’t realize how it sounded. For them, death probably moved in slowly, until it was just one more character in the room.