I mean, I knew it, I guess. We all know it, don't we? We know that cancer doesn't discriminate. It attacks young and old, black and white, Republican and Democrat, rich and poor, Christian and Atheist.
Cancer doesn't give a shit.
But you know who does give a shit?
The people cancer affects... the people whose cells it infects... the people it hits like a ton of bricks, knocking them off their feet, winded and stunned, daring them to get up and fight.
And the people who love those people.
And the people who help all of those people get through it.
Yesterday I was at the cancer center, waiting for them to call me for my appointment. A tall, elegantly dressed woman walked in. She was wearing an expensive cashmere coat and beautiful powder blue leather gloves, and she carried a bag that I'm pretty sure cost more than my first car. She was, as my friend Mel would say, a fancy lady. And I could tell right away she was a newbie. She had that shell-shocked look of one who doesn't quite believe she has to be there and who doesn't yet know the protocol.
I wore that look for quite a while.
And she was all alone. I know many people have trouble with that, with even the idea of someone being alone in the cancer center, but I also know that I went to (and wanted to go to... and still go to) most of my appointments by myself.
Some things are hard to share, man.
After she checked in and got her bracelet, she sat down across from me in the waiting area. I smiled at her and she nodded. Her expression made me swallow hard and blink back tears. It was so... pained.
I remembered my first few visits to the cancer center. I couldn't even make eye contact with anyone. I couldn't speak. I fought back tears from the moment I walked through the door until the moment I left.
I hated it.
I still hate it.
But it's gotten easier.
You can get used to just about anything, can't you?
Anyway, she sat there, still, waiting, looking straight ahead, tears welling.
My heart hurt for her. Part of me wanted to offer up some words or a gesture of encouragement, but I didn't. I didn't move. I didn't say or do anything. I'm not sure why. Maybe because I would have been uncomfortable had a stranger talked to me during my first few visits... I would have burst into tears and I would have hated that.
That's what I told myself anyway.
Then, the woman sitting to my left got up. She was about the same age as the new lady - older than me by about a decade, I'd say. She was bald under her knitted cap (not a strange sight in that environment, certainly) and she stooped when she shuffled across the floor. She was wearing an old sweatshirt, tattered at the cuffs, stained sweatpants, and ratty sneakers, and when she smiled at me, I could see gaps where teeth had once been.
She was not a fancy lady.
But she sat right down next to the lady with the cashmere coat and the expensive bag, she took her beautifully manicured right hand into both of her own gnarled, work-worn ones, and she said softly (but with great surety), "It's OK, honey. You ain't alone here."
And the fancy lady looked at her for a long moment, and then, as tears streamed down her face, she hugged that not-fancy lady hard.
And I had to clear my throat and look away.
Those ladies taught me a couple of lessons yesterday.
I learned that sometimes it's not enough to give a shit.
I learned that sometimes you have to show it.
And I learned that cancer really and truly is a great leveler.