Love in the Time of Cancer

Tree-lined path leading to the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens

We sit in the middle of Carlton Gardens. The Royal Exhibition Building looms in front of us, the sky blue behind it. I can hear rushing cars, rushing trams, rushing water from the fountain. Everything moving around us. It’s nice to be slow. He unpacks a feast between us––chunks of feta, slices of bread, sundried tomatoes, olives, salami. My mouth salivates. He looks at me. His eyes are swirls of brown and gold. I lean across and kiss him. His lips are soft. He tastes like warm coffee. 

‘Happy anniversary.’

‘One year off the back of a Tinder swipe,’ he says. ‘That’s not bad.’

‘Not bad at all.’ I chew on an olive and press it, smooth and salty, against my tongue. I open my mouth and show him.

‘Delightful,’ he says, and laughs. 

‘You think we’ve got another year in us?’  

‘With all your class and all my patience, I’m sure we can manage it,’ he answers. ‘Plus, we’ll be stuck in a lease so that’s an incentive.’

In the weeks leading up to our next anniversary, there will be talk of coming back here. But there will be too many fears about dirt and animals and airborne bacteria. Instead, I will pull out the rug and lay it out in the middle of the living room. I will lay out the food he can stomach––slices of bread, bowls of hot chips, Minties, dark chocolate, ginger beer. When I kiss him, his lips will be dry and cracked. He will taste like salt and mouthwash.

Clack clack clack. The controller clicks as he slams down on the buttons. Clack clack clack. He presses them over and over. I can’t discern the pattern but I’m sure there is one. Clack clack clack. The players run across the screen, his body following their movement. Sometimes he talks to them like a coach, not realising he’s saying things out loud. Not today. Today he grunts when he makes a mistake and breathes out when a play works. 

I’ve been reading the same page for the last ten minutes.

‘Hey babe?’ 


Clack clack clack. 

‘Yeah?’ I say, folding the corner of my page. He’s not looking at me.

Clack clack clack.

I keep watching him. His eyes dart across to look at me and then as quickly dart back to the screen.

‘What?’ I nudge him.

Clack clack clack. 

‘You know how I was having those tests.’

I can’t tell if it’s a question or a statement. ‘Yeah?’

His eyes still stare the screen and his fingers rest on the controller. His lips are pressed together like he’s holding in a bad taste. When he finally looks at me, it comes out in barely a whisper.

‘It’s cancer.’

He didn’t want to tell me. He would’ve kept it to himself, rather than upset me. I try to keep my face straight, but I feel the tears choke in my throat. Push it down. I don’t want to make this harder for him. I want to be stoic, strong, supportive. This is not about me. Tears slide down my cheeks. He sets the controller aside and wraps himself around me. I rest against his chest, his sweater scratching against my cheek, and listen to his heart.

Chemo Day 1. Check in at 11am. Wait until 2pm to get IV. Wait until 3pm to start treatment. Chemo Day 2. Wake up at 7am. Can’t eat breakfast. Lunch at 12pm. Can’t eat lunch. Dinner at 5:30pm. Can’t eat dinner. Chemo Day 3. Repeat Day 2. Rest Day 1. Sit at home, lie in bed. Rest Day 2. Sit at home, lie in bed. Chemo Day 4. Repeat Day 1. Sleep most of the time. Chemo Day 5. Repeat Day 2. Rest Day 3. Released between 11am-3pm.

Go home.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Photo by chee.hong on Flickr.

The author of this piece lives in Melbourne, is a recent graduate of University of Melbourne, and is writing a book based on the cancer journey.

Love in the Time of Cancer is an excerpt of an unpublished manuscript of the same title.

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