Cancer and Sunflowers

Cancer and Sunflowers July 13, 2018

“What kind?” I asked, because it seemed like someone ought to ask a question.


“Are you gonna have that chemotherapy and radiation?” asked the woman in front of me.

“I’ve got two doctors,” said Betsy. “I’ve got a… a blood doctor. He’s new. And Doctor such-and-such was gonna do the surgery. I like him. I was gonna have the surgery on the fifth, but my oxygen was too low. He said I might never wake up.”

I didn’t say much more as the bus rumbled up to the last stop. Betsy was most worried about having to have a tracheotomy, which one of her relatives had had: “Those hurt so bad, I swear they make your throat feel like a hexagon. I don’t want that. I can’t stand to think of that.”

She went on as we crossed in front of Rural King and up Mall Drive. “My mother now, they sent her home to die. I thought they’d give her an IV, you know, but they didn’t. They sent her home with nothing, to die. She couldn’t swallow a thing. Didn’t know it was possible to live that long without any food or water, but she lasted til October. As for me, I just hope I go quick.”

We arrived at the Wal Mart then.

The lady in front of me reminded Betsy that she had to make one more run before the day was over. We’re always afraid she’ll leave us stranded at the mall overnight if we don’t remind her toward the end of the day.

I did my shopping, with every terrible word I’d ever grumbled about bus drivers weighing on my conscience.

I felt had to do some act of penance for my anger, but there’s only so much penance you can do at Wal Mart.

I picked out a bunch of sunflowers from the cut flower stand. They were the ugly kind, the kind that are mostly black center with a small shock of yellow petals around the rim– the kind that look like black eyes. But every variety of flower in the five-dollar section of the floral department was ugly, and I couldn’t afford one of the expensive bouquets. It was either the raccoon-eyed sunflowers or the dyed confetti daisies, and I couldn’t see myself giving confetti daisies to a dying woman.

On the way home, I sat quiet, guilty, trying to think of complimentary things to say. The chatter went on– not about Betsy’s cancer. About how hot it was, the good sale on the ice cream at Kroger and what flavor was everybody’s favorite. The lady who had been in front of me was riding home behind me; she said she liked caramel turtle best. We all murmured our affection for discount caramel turtle ice cream in that terse, wordless, Northern Appalachian way.

The woman who had six months to live got back on the bus two blocks before I got off.

“How are you?” somebody asked.

She complained about the heat.

As I left, I handed the sunflowers to Betsy. I wanted to say “I hope you get well,” but all that came out was “Have a good weekend.”

She was still exclaiming about how sweet I was when the bus doors closed behind me, but she was wrong. I’m not sweet.

Neither is life, but it is what it is.

(image via pixabay) 

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