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.