Cancerous Growths

north korea

“Sure, I remember what you told me,” the old man said. 

His name was Tom.  He wore khaki pleated pants and a collared shirt; his clothes were clean and ironed but hung from his body.  They were meant for a bigger man, a man with more meat on his bones and vitality in his heart.   

He dismissed the woman, who also happened to be his wife and caregiver, with a weak wave.  Clearing an area in front of him, he rested his elbows on the cluttered table and held his head between both hands.  Blue veins ran across the back of his hands and down his arms.  Band-aides covered skin tears and puncture wounds, still fresh from the most recent treatment.  

Wanda crept forward silently in her orthopedic shoes and stockinged feet, bringing a grandmotherly smell cloud of light perfume and hairspray and powder.  She placed her hand on his forehead and her rings spun around, getting looser on her fingers as she also started to shrink with age and disease.  Her hand expertly registered two temperatures, fever and not-fever.  His skin felt cool and clammy, somewhere between fever and not-fever. 

“Get off,” he barked, lashing out as any sick animal will do in self-defense and looked up at her.  If he had fangs, he would have bared them at that moment and then scampered off to hide in the forest. Instead he had to settle for snarl of old, dull teeth, brown with coffee stains.  

She yanked her hand back with a “Harumph!” as though bitten by his sharp tone.  

“Do you remember what you told me?” Tom asked. 

Wanda nodded, “Of course.” 

No self-respecting wife would admit to forgetting a directive given to a husband. 

“You told me to cheer up because things could always get worse,” he allowed for a dramatic pause. 

Wanda waited, she was anxious and hopeful that something nice would come out of her husband’s mouth.  Perhaps something about how he appreciated her dedication and excellent nursing skills, and tolerance of his grouchiness and bad attitude. 

“So, I cheered up and sure enough, things got worse.”

Wanda gasped, that was the lifelong advice that she gave to friends and family, strangers and neighbors.  She said it out of habit; it was a reflex in her desire to help, to say something when silence prevailed and there wasn’t anything to say.  Now here it was, regurgitated and bastardized.  The cancer was killing more than her husband, it threatened to destroy the life they built together. 

Unless she could come up with another helpful saying to boost his spirits and refocus his energy.   

She gave a brave smile and wiped a tear from her eye, “No, things could still get worse.  We could be at war with North Korea.”

Changes

Faded

The woman’s lip quivered as she watched her husband regale their grandchildren with tales of days from fifty years past.  There was one about a monkey named Diana and another about a man in the Marines, and a more recent one about ending up a beauty parlor in just his swim trunks and a towel.

Suddenly, the woman realized she was holding her breath, trying to freeze the moment.  At her very core, she resisted movement forward towards the undeniable future.  She inhaled deeply of the stuffy air around the table and blinked back the tears that threatened to constantly fall. 

The man’s voice grew weaker and started to crackle as he continued his story telling.  A bag with tubes gurgled and percolated as it pulled liquid from an open wound in an undisclosed location under his baggy shirt and pleated pants.  He tapped his plastic cup with cartoon turkeys marching along the rim against the side of the table.  The woman, now breathing but with a still quivering lip, stood to fill his cup with punch.  Not so long ago, she would have resented the same request, but not anymore.  Now, it was something to do to be useful and needed and she was grateful.

Meanwhile, the man bravely marched through the fields and belly crawled through the jungles of his memory; afraid that if he stopped, he would find himself at the edge of the universe with nothing left to hold him back.

universe

a cup of tea

tea

“Can I get you a cup of tea?” she asked with dry and cracked lips.

Her mouth sounded like it had been swabbed by one hundred menacing cotton balls. No moisture survived there.

Old, faded jeans and an oversized sweater hung from her gaunt frame as she turned around.

“I’m going to have some; it’s supposed to fight the cancer.”

She didn’t seem convinced.

“No, thanks,” I politely declined remembering to never accept food or drink from a stranger.

Wait, was that advice good only around Halloween,only related to strangers in unmarked vans or pertaining all strangers? That was the part I couldn’t remember. Then I recalled voice from my past to always accept food and drink, but with discretion.

So that’s a maybe, sometimes its ok, grey area type of suggestion generated from a voice in my head.

The woman shrugged with indifference and returned to the electric kettle of boiling water. Steam rolled off the hot water as she dipped a bag of tea into a cracked teacup.

An earthy and fragrant smell escaped as the water turned red from the teabag.

My throat longed for a sip of tea. I swallowed my fears and concerns with a mighty gulp of air as she sipped from the cup.

What the hell, I thought.

“I would actually love a cup of tea, if it is not too much trouble.”

She gave me a wicked grin and I noticed her stained yellow, crooked teeth.

“You’re going to like this.”

Leaning forward, she whispered, “It’s got the good shit in it.”

On following recommendations

sun 2

In general, in-door tanning is not recommended (that is. if the CDC can be trusted).

It has something to do with the increased risk of skin cancer for each minute spent under the golden, glowing bulbs. In spite of the well-known and scientifically supported evidence of this, I still decided to take the risk last week. The temptation of feeling warm light on my face after what seemed like an eternity of cold and grey weather was too great to resist. After all, it was free tan week.

When I entered the tanning salon, it was packed with other pale faced Hoosiers. I was surprised that so many other people were able to disregard such strong warnings of danger associated with tanning beds. Just then, a red faced, blonde teen burst through the door, bringing with her a whiff of tanning lotion and burned skin.

We reached the counter at the same time and she started drumming the countertop with French-tipped nails, like she was in a hurry to catch skin cancer. I took a more leisurely approach, assuming that the cancer, premature wrinkling, and sun spots would wait for me as long as it took to check into a bed.

The cashier raised her perfectly manicured eyebrow at the blonde who continued to tap on the counter.

“Hi, I just tanned earlier today across town and I wanted to tan again. Is that ok?”

This is where someone with common sense should have intervened to stop the proposed baking of the girl’s organs. I, for one, was mesmerized by the humming of the machines and hot air escaping from the cracks in the line of doors and wasn’t about to stand in anyone’s way.

“Oh, you want to double dip,” the cashier said.

Smiling, the girl nodded in the simple pleasure of being understood in so few words.

“Of course, you can. We actually recommend it on free tan week.”

My jaw dropped and then I looked around for that person with common sense whom I expected to step in just a few seconds earlier. Surely that person would intervene now.

“In fact,” the cashier continued and stepped away from the counter and produced a colorful bottle from underneath of it, “we recommend that you use this lotion afterwards to seal in all that color you will get.”

“I’ll take it,” the girl said. The price and/or risk were of no concern.

As I pulled the lid of my tanning bed over my body and started the machine, I reflected on what just happened and decided the following about recommendations. 1. People lie to people who don’t want the truth. 2. We get just what we are willing take. 3. Winter in the Midwest is depressing, so I took 20 minutes of safe and recommended artificial sun.

Image: www.educationalservice.net

Other recommendations on tanning, for the interested reader:

http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/indoor_tanning.htm
http://www.skincancer.org/healthy-lifestyle/tanning
http://www.skincancer.org/news/tanning/international
http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/tanning/hooked-on-tanning