Every 3-4 months for the last five years I’ve traveled to the best cancer hospital in the world.
In the first few years my husband and/or dad went to every appointment. As the diagnosis became reality, I started to make the trip alone.
But I’ve never really been alone.
There’s a text message that goes on behind the scenes. An entire web of communication I’m not privy to. Except it’s not a web but a net, just in case the news is bad. They’re waiting, ready to catch me if I fall.
As I get older I look more and more like I belong here, but still all three of us together on our laptops seem out of place. Like we’ve mistaken the waiting room for a shared coworking space. Their presence makes the experience surreal in a good way. We talk about television shows and kids. Where we should eat lunch next time I come. Like it’s a visit and not an appointment.
An older couple sits across from us. Several actually. Sometimes growing old together looks like getting sick together and that really sucks.
Ocular patients share their waiting room with oral cancer patients. A man is wheeled out from the back and left to wait for transportation near the front desk. A medical mask covers the lower half of his face. Fresh scars creep up from underneath. I can’t tell how much of his face is missing. But a cavern gapes where his nose once was and the mask hugs no jaw.
To my right B sends a work email. To my left H gives a quote over the phone. I take a deep breath and remind myself that my reality is closer to theirs than his.
I go back alone when I’m called. The nurses are like friends now. The PAs ask about my kids.
There’s new pigmentation. On the other eye this time. We photograph it to be cautious. We’ll check it again next time I come. I’ll “keep an eye on it” until then.
The guy in the next room is terminal. He’s 35. He’s got two kids. A wife. And less than six months to live.
His melanoma was uveal. They’re going to take his eye and his whole orbital. It won’t save him. He got here too late. The surgery is a measure wholly for comfort.
For a second I forget to breathe and my eyes water so much I blur the pictures. The tech heard the same things I did and she hands me a tissue. Her eyes glisten, too.
I finish my photos and walk back to the lobby.
We grab our things and head for the car. I fill them in as the elevator descends. I can tell they’re worried about the new pigmentation, but they feign confidence and I love them all the more for that.
The plane is almost empty and I scroll through the photos on my phone. I’m not great at selfies. The don’t interest me at all. With everything that’s happened in the last few years I tend to value how I see the world more than how it sees me.
I stop at this picture and smile. Physically they’re both pretty, but in entirety they’re beautiful. They both got mad at me for taking their picture but I can’t always trust my eyes anymore, and I wanted to remember this just as it was. We take staged pictures at weddings and baby showers. Posed photos on vacations and nights out.
But this is who these women are. Willingly inconvenienced. Selflessly silly. Funny, and generous, and smart, and so very present.
It isn’t a picture of my friends—they are the picture of friendship.
I know it won’t always be good news. I know there are dips and drops ahead, but it’s easier to be brave when you know there’s a net.
Especially, when it’s held by those who will never let you down.
Liza Dora is an author, illustrator, teacher, mother, wife, blogger, and the owner of the eponymous Liza Dora Books. Her writing has been in publications around the world and her books have been featured in both media and print. She’s sold books in over ten different countries and her titles have been both Amazon Hot New Releases and Amazon Bestsellers in their respective categories.