Monitoring stations divide the functionally open room; chairs and beds strategically positioned in every corner and in every chair and bed a body. I pull her plaid rolling luggage carrier filled with snacks and warm booties and we make light small talk while following the kind, ample bodied nurse, softened even further by the box of chocolates my cousin hands her.
This treatment my cousin has not scored a bed and she reclines in her waiting chair, seeking maximum comfort in a place with minimal comforts. Removing her soft cotton slouchy cap from her newly shorn head, she sighs, relieved to be uncovered, momentarily enjoying the coolness of leather against her scalp.
Not too long ago I watched them buzz it off, or what was left of it. Her once richly luxurious hair fell in dark thin clumps onto the floor in her kitchen while I manically swept, worried the hair would trigger unstoppable tears to fall as well. Amazingly they didn’t. She was already all cried out.
How did we get here? To this chair, in this cool, efficient room where my beautiful, vibrant cousin who manages her life and work with the power and fierceness of a clap of thunder and her 2 ½ year old like a soft cloud filtered by sun sits before me hooked up to drips and portals and an amazingly bright smile.
She looks herself, pretty with sparkly earrings and lipstick. I remember all the times years ago watching her artfully apply a streak of black liner or curl her lashes with an apparatus that resembled a director’s chair. Four years older, she walked all the paths of adolescence first – from makeup to boys to drinking – and her sister and I followed with her as our guide.
It’s been decades since I watched her transform her face in the magnifying mirror; a little girl standing behind her admiring her maturity, confidence and skill. I feel much like that girl now, seeing her here, admiring her beauty, her courage and strength. But unfortunately Cancer is not something lipstick can cover.
No one can truly understand what it’s like to live through the pain and discomfort, the emotional turmoil and sleepless nights, the phone calls telling and retelling a story that makes you sick, the people who disappoint you and the hope and doubt that constantly wage war along with the medications inside you.
While most of my days stream by with carpooling and homework, running to the supermarket or gym, my cousin endures one treatment to the next fueled on pharmaceuticals and kisses from her daughter.
But I see that sunshiney day in the not too distant future when this will all be past. Instead of talking in between fluids and poisonous, life-saving drips, we will laugh between sushi rolls and Chardonnay. She will be well and move on to enjoying the frustrations and difficulties of everyday – the annoying woman in front of her at check out, negotiating with her two year-old to go potty, working her job while managing her household.
There will be nothing new and exciting to discuss beyond what we ate for dinner, where we went on the weekend and our beautiful, wonderful, sometimes pain in the ass children.
Life will be typical, average, ordinary. And we will celebrate.