Of course, inside a specialist's office, it's not uncommon to find detailed plastic replicas of anatomical parts. These replicas can be pulled apart to expose layer after layer—muscle, tendon, ligament, bone, and so on—and then put back together again like a puzzle. This is one way doctors help us envisage our hidden, otherwise inconceivable, demise.
But this lump on the pedestal is much more primitive than those clever, miniature artworks. Barely formed, its dimpled flesh is as ugly as it is impervious. It doesn't come apart, either; it just is.
Next to the lump is a stack of magazines I pretend to thumb through: under People Magazine, a radiantly smiling couple in a kayak gazes out from the cover of Living with Metastatic Cancer. Afloat in a calm river, the lovers are framed by an abundance of unfallen autumn leaves. I want to be inspired by the graceful image of holding on without clutching—as no doubt I'm meant to—but, honestly, it just strikes me as ghoulish. My lack of appreciation makes me feel I'm not the right person for metastatic cancer. It's what I don't see that troubles me to distraction: the bare bones of the trees once the last leaf has fallen; skeletons beneath the smiles; the river rushing on.
Just as the nurse hands over my prescriptions for the tests is when I've finally worked up the nerve to turn the tumor around, hoping to find an answer, perhaps some kind of descriptive plaque. The nurse gives me a funny look. Maybe I'm just superstitious, but I'm embarrassed to ask. Why does an oncologist display a model of a lump at the check-out counter?
To be continued...