"So the odds of recovery are 94-99%. Pretty good, huh?"
We were two middle-aged guys whose morning routine included a walk to the corner to buy a newspaper from a blue, metal stand. Sliding our quarters in the slot, pulling open the door and lifting the ever-thinning tabloid. Wondering if we were the last two guys to do that.
He'd just told me about his cancer diagnosis. The message from a doctor saying 'page me.' (Never a good sign.) Waiting on hold after grabbing an empty office in the cubicle farm where he worked. Then the news.
"Only thing I know about cancer," I said, "is that every cancer story is different." Thinking, as I spoke, that I had to say that a lot these days.
"Mine is like," he paused, tapped the blue newspaper box with his rolled up paper and looked up at the grey, cloudy sky as it began to drizzle, "mine is like 'cancer for amateurs,' or beginner's cancer." He took a breath. "Hardly anybody ever dies of it, Skin cancer. You catch it early, you carve it out. Bada-boom, badda-bing. You're done."
He paused again before he said, "Worst part? Telling my wife. She reminded me that I had promised, all those years ago, that I wasn't going to let anything bad happen to me."
"Mmm." I nodded.
"And believe me, I've seen serious cncer. I remember a couple who were friends before they had kids and moved away. His cancer was major league. We were over at their apartment for Thanksgiving. I was looking for something in the kitchen and I came across his pill collection. It looked like a storage room at Walgreens. Or another friend who also happened to be in Manhattan on 9/11. His cancer was Godzilla. Mine is a gnat."
"Hard to compare when everybody's story is different, isn't it?"
A garbage truck rumbled by. Delivery truck backed into the loading dock of the Trader Joe's across the street. He folded his arms across his chest and said; "You know what really amazes me about becoming a junior member of this cancer community or whatever you want to call it?"
"What stuns me is the courage I see. I mean raw courage. One guy I knew? Got to be with him for part of the time he was dying. And you know what? He never, ever, ever complained about anything. Oh, he communicated. When something sucked, be it the latest whack job politician, the income gap or the fruit cup for desert--he didn't hide the problem. No false stoic. But I can't ever remember him complaining or feeling sorry for himself. Same thing is true for this other guy who had cancer with a capital C. He's still here doing fine. He'd write these truly poetic exaltations of joy when the chemo went well. And when he'd go into remission? The world would be singing for everyone. These guys? True courage."
"So you going to tell anyone besides your wife?"
"I don't know. Probably not. I mean, what am I gonna do? Post it on Facebook?"
"You could. What's the worst that could happen?"
"I could come off as complaining. The guy who stubbed his toe in a room full of people with broken arms.
But even worse, I'd be ignored. I mean, I have people I'm genetically related to on Facebook who wouldn't throw me a "Like" if the world stood still. Course I also have people who feel like family that I've never met. I'm lucky enough to have a couple voices from the past. One of them, I can remember once actually feeling her smile as I read the words, "I found you!" There are strands of an on-line community of writers I still cherish. First person to ever tell me I was a good writer and somehow make me believe it was a lady writer from Ohio, Gone now, from cancer. But what she left me is still here,
But then if I put this little cancer story on Facebook, who knows how I'd say it. I mean, last night I was up for hours convinced I could feel the cancer growing and soon I'd lose a leg."
"Active imagination huh?"
"I'm a Cubs fan. We need those."
"Reminds me of faith," I said to him.
"What, the Cubs?"
"No, something you just said reminded me of something I once heard about faith. Guy named Paul Tillich. He said that doubt was an essential element of faith."
"So I can pay attention to the 1% chance this will get worse," he laughed.
"Ok, then if doubt can be a part of faith, how do I deal with that doubt as I'm praying? How do I face that doubt?"
"Maybe that's where the courage comes in."
"Handling the doubt is where the courage comes in. Hmm. I like that. Course, I still don't want to put my story on-line. Even if anybody read it, it would pass quicker than you can say, pictures of a dozen cute kittens and babies."
"You might be right," I said.
"But hey. Wait a minute. You're a writer. Maybe you could do it?"
So I did.