Laughter in the Face of Cancer: An Exercise in Descriptive Writing

John Cheever once said, “For me, a page of good prose is where one hears the rain and the noise of battle.”

A truly inspired writer will be able to make their reader experience the imagery in the manner in which is was meant to be felt when the author sat down before the blank page and opened their veins. To the seasoned writer and their fortunate readers, it isn’t merely raining in the story; instead, the sky has opened up, pelting the pedestrians, who scurry like church mice to their waiting cars. Thick gray clouds cast an ominous pall over the city, interrupted only by violent streaks of lightening.

A truly seasoned writer will be able to not only describe the tangible world around them, but also intangible. They will be able to describe emotions so vividly that readers also will feel them. For example, today, I will hopefully be able to describe how it feels to sit in the hospital waiting room for three hours while my mother, who is scared and more vulnerable than I am accustomed to seeing her, has a cancerous lump removed from her breast. The smell that permeates the air in her state-of-the-art, three month old hospital is eerily familiar to that of a more mature facility. Is it the smell of anesthesia, catheter bags and fear. The staff here are friendly and try to smile often, though the smiles that peek from behind the sterile masks are carefully constructed. They are not overly concerned, nor are they too optimistic. They are smiles that can only be described as vague, or cautiously optimistic at best. Before surgery, my mother lay on her uncomfortable looking bed awaiting her oncologist. She has always been a strong, commanding woman, but today, in the face of one of her greatest trials, she looks small, her frame having shrunk to an impossible degree almost overnight. It seems as if she had been trying to will herself away from this most disagreeable situation and nearly succeeded. She appears to have all but disappeared. There is no word yet on how it is going, so we wait. We pass the time by taking turns convincing each other that all is well. We eat fairly tasty food in the cafeteria for ridiculously low prices and laugh at reruns of the Super Bowl commercials on the internet. The laughter is therapeutic. It almost makes us forget what we’re doing here. Should we feel guilty for laughing so freely? I don’t believe we should, although it kind of feels the same as laughing at a funeral; right, but wrong at the same time. The clash of emotions is confusing, frustrating and yet, somehow necessary.

That’s all I have to offer today; a somewhat cathartic exercise in descriptive writing. If I am adept enough in my craft, perhaps it will be just cathartic enough to heal us both.

© 2011 Jaynie2000

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Comments 2 comments

Amy Becherer profile image

Amy Becherer 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Beautiful piece that left me feeling your fear, especially the sense of your mother appearing smaller...succeeding through sheer will to have "all but disappeared". You have sincerely managed to not only take the reader to the facts of what inspired this write, but beyond. As I read, I could see the "smiles" you described on hospital personnel and smell the specific hospital smells we all know. Your imagrey conjured the edgy, nervous energy inherent in this experience. I hope your mother is doing well and is back in the comfort of her home.


Jaynie2000 profile image

Jaynie2000 5 years ago Author

Thank you Amy. She is home and things look good. Starts radiation in 6 weeks, but everyone is very hopeful and positive. I'm glad you enjoyed the piece.

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