How to picture cancer? Sculpt a tumor in clay, or construct its chaos in rusty metals. Sketch its human face in bold lines, or smudge its hard jawline with soft charcoals. Extract an 11 x 14 matte print from a microscope slide. In my mind, I picture cancer as a belligerent little man with a big gun - and the little bastard has forced his way into my family’s house and laid his big gun on the table. My mother has cancer. Had cancer. The tumor was removed and chemotherapy has begun, no easy go for a woman in her seventies, but a woman not finished. My father died of a heart attack. Heart disease is a fathomable specter for me. This cancer. It is an industry, it’s a lifestyle, sometimes an inspiration and although I can’t help but process everything through an artist’s brain, it is at last a private, painful disease. Not my disease. I am in the waiting room. I am in the bedside chair. Stretching my legs down the long corridors. I’m in the cafeteria buying everyone Cokes. One morning I noticed a long row of empty wheelchairs at the curb with snowflakes dancing above them. I looked over my shoulder at the little bastard with the big gun and shook my head. I refuse to take his picture. I sat one afternoon in a sunbeam inside the multi-storied foyer of the cancer center where someone had endowed a black grand piano. A man began banging out gospel hymns, as a girl with a neon pink backpack wheeled into her own sunbeam to listen. It would have made a lovely photograph, if that little bastard with the big gun hadn’t been there. It’s kind of dirty to glean inspiration from someone’s pain, yet we all do it. What I admire about cancer patients is their adaptability. The way they shoehorn that little bastard into their lives. Teenage girls tie college logo scarves around their little hairless heads and cheer March Madness from their iPads. Old men ask to schedule chemo around their spring lawn mowing schedules. I admire that because I’m in the waiting room and I’m still mad. I don’t want to accept that little bastard as part of my family. I call this photo Listening to Willie. Mom had Willie Nelson on her iPad and we had opened the blinds in her room to the city lights. The photo was taken with my phone, not my camera. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t include a grainy nighttime phone photograph. But I’m trying to accept the little bastard with the big gun as part of my life.

Copyright RC



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