At chemo school.

Everyone is fiercely kind and painfully upbeat as we learn how not to eat rare tuna and how to tie a square scarf and what kind of mouth wash is good for mouth ulcers.

It is me and a friendly nurse and a number of other newly diagnosed cancer patients in their 70s and 80s all crowded around a table in a tight room in the bowels of the cancer center. There are so very many of us, actually, it’s kind of breathtaking.

“Are we having fun yet?” asks an obviously wigged and abundantly lipsticked lady as she fiddles with her cane. “I am!” pipes up her husband, winking at the nurse, then me.

We talk about the importance of condom use during mid-chemo sexual intercourse and everyone stares pointedly in my direction. I take furious notes in my binder. I underline condom twice, maybe three times.

“I have the c-word but the c-word doesn’t have me,” someone says and everyone nods.

Discussing the Chemo Shellfish Prohibition, a very elderly man in a golf jacket announces that he has a “sexual attraction to pulling the shell off shrimp by the tail.” “Oh for god’s sake–this again,” moans his wife. After a big pause, everyone laughs for real for real.

We recite the Cancer Center phone number aloud in unison, with gusto. We wish each other well.

We graduate. We’re ready for the big leagues.

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