|Station Hospital, by Robert Sloan (Metropolitan Museum of Art)|
Distant friends are like distant comets. Gone for long periods. Then suddenly back, lighting the darkness for a time before looping out of sight again.
Which is why a friend who retired to Florida, but in November was in town and stopped by the newspaper — whoops, multi-format storytelling platform — surprised me by phoning last week. Off-schedule. I was puzzling over this when she texted: Where are you? That got me on the phone, the cold hand of unease squeezing my shoulder.
Some preliminary chat. Then she let it drop: cancer, one kidney already gone, a pea's worth of Mr. C. discovered in her lungs. Chemo started.
My turn to say something.
"That's terrible," I began, then tried to reel it back. "Losing a kidney . . . well, humans are designed for that. That's why we have two. And cancer . . . people shrug off cancer nowadays. It's like having an unpleasant hobby."
I told her about one of my older son's best friends since kindergarten, now 22. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in August, back at school, prognosis good, by January.
"What's your address?" I asked. "I'm sending you a book."
The book I send to all my friends facing cancer is "Time on Fire: My Comedy of Terrors," by Evan Handler, a 1996 memoir that begins this way:
"I'm afraid it is not good news," is what he said. "It is bad news. It is in the bone marrow. It's an acute myelogenous leukemia."And just like that, Handler, then a young Broadway actor, is exiled to the land of sickness.
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