As I sat waiting for my family to pick me up outside the cancer centre yesterday, I was approached by an elderly woman who had been sitting on the next bench.
"You have beautiful skin," she said. I was of course thrilled at the compliment, as I have been feeling anything but beautiful lately.
She asked if I was in treatment at the centre. I said that I was.
"I have lung cancer," she said. "I never smoked but I worked in intelligence. I worked mostly with men. The rooms we met in would be blue with smoke."
"And also, the spyplanes brought in films taken overseas which I handled regularly" she continued, "They had a coating on them. My colonel says he wouldn't be surprised if that's what caused the cancer, as several others we worked with also have it."
I told her that I have breast cancer. She replied that her sister had breast cancer and is doing well but is nervous as she approaches the five-year mark.
"I have lung cancer," she repeated. "And it's not the good kind of lung cancer."
"I'm thinking of going to San Antonio, Texas. There is a doctor there...They can cure cancer now but if the drugs don't make money, then the drug companies won't sell them. And the doctors here, they won't do anything that isn't in the medical mainstream."
"I think I'll go. But I need to find out more. I shouldn't say this, but I have lots of money. Still, I want to make sure they aren't quacks. I looked the place up on the internet and it looks good. I have a brother who is a doctor in Victoria. Im going to get him to look into it but I think I'll go."
"So many people have cancer now."
She paused to look at the book in my lap, "What are you reading?" (It was The Lighthouse, by PD James). "I haven't read that one. She's not my favourite. Well, her stories are OK, but as a person...(makes a face)."
"Are you waiting for a ride?" I ask her.
(Laughs) "Yes, my daughter. She drives an old jalopy. It's a wreck. She has a million dollar house but still drives that thing. She's not a showoff, that's for sure."
"Such beautiful skin," she says again, and reaches out to stroke my face.
I go back to my book, and shortly after, her daughter pulls up in a battered blue Toyota Camry, with the windows rolled down.
She waves goodbye as she gets in the car.
I liked her.
I wonder how much of her story was true.