Commentary on the short story listed below. Thoughts, concerns- how can I make it better? What works? What doesn’t work in the story? Due October 29, 2020 8AM.
The Oncology Department
I like to think I know what death is. But when those words came out of my mom’s mouth, I had no idea what to say. So, I didn’t say anything at all. Nobody I know has ever been this close to death before.
“Sky…Sky, hello are you okay? What are you thinking?” Mom said causing me to snap out of the trance I was in.
“Honey, you’re getting yourself all worked up,” my dad added, looking at me through the rear-view mirror. After hearing him say this, I looked down into my lap. My hands were shaking like crazy and my heart felt like it was going to beat right out of the car and onto the parkway. I could hear ringing in my ears, and they were warm, so I knew they were red hot. When I still didn’t speak, mom started again,
“Sky, cancer is not always a death sentence. Your Grandma Linda is a fighter, don’t write her off yet.” It’s like she was reading my mind. I looked up, now making eye contact with her in the rear-view mirror.
“How long have you guys known this?” my voice was much quieter than intended, but that was all I could muscle at the moment.
“We just found out today.” They both said it at the same time like they had been rehearsing it all afternoon. They glanced at each other and Dad continued,
“We wanted to wait until after the party so things wouldn’t be awkward.”
“Yeah well that worked out great didn’t it?” I said, much louder this time, which I instantly regretted.
“Hey, don’t give us that” my mom said. Her eyebrow raised like it always was when I gave them attitude. “We just wanted your grandmother to have one more nice night before her world is going to get turned upside down.”
I decided to stay quiet the rest of the way home. I wanted to ask so many questions, I wanted to cry, but most of all, I wanted to go to sleep and forget this conversation ever happened. So I shut my eyes, but I would not be getting a good nights rest any time soon.
Cancer. That’s all I could think about as Pittsburgh’s lights lit up the dashboard as we drove through the rather small city. I have watched from a far so many people embark on their journey. My best friend from grade school, my boss at my first big-kid job, one of our distant cousins from Kentucky. They all lost. But this time is different. This is my little sister.
Now I am not really afraid of dying. I am 75 so it is bound to be coming any time now. My life is kind of shitty anyway. I have three kids, I only like one of them, and he seems to be the only one that does not stop in to check on me from time-to-time. They each had two kids bringing me up to six grandchildren. Again, I only like one of them. But she lives so far away and is not old enough to drive so I never see her anyway. I’m in my house all alone for most of my life, so dying wouldn’t be the worst thing for me.
For Linda it’s different. She has two kids, each with spouses and children who love her. She sees them all at least once a week. It sickens me really but hey they are happy, and they stay away from me, so I guess it doesn’t really matter.
As I sit here in the passenger seat next to my son Ron, I can’t stop thinking about how absurd this all is. All our lives, Linda has always been the sibling that has her shit together. Even though she is the youngest, she always seemed to be one step ahead of Tom and me. She was the only one of us to graduate with honors, and mom and dad never let us forget that. She landed the best job out of college, even though my major was harder. And the one that got me the most, mom and dad liked her husband the best. And he is ITALIAN too. Crazy how things have changed.
I am up way before my alarm today. It has been three weeks since Grandma’s birthday dinner and 14 days since she started chemo. I have not seen her yet. I am so excited and nervous, and I do not know what to expect. I have been in hospitals millions of times for my grandma on my mom’s side, but I’ve never been to the oncology unit. I have seen movies about cancer before. The Fault in our Stars and Five Feet Apart. They all had the stereotypes of bald heads, blue lips, and a person so weak they cannot even walk on their own. I do not want to see Grandma get to that point.
“Sky are you awake? We are leaving for the hospital in twenty minutes,” my dad called from outside my room, interrupting my morbid thoughts.
“Yeah Dad. All I have to do is get dressed and brush my teeth.”
Twenty minutes later the three of us piled into our grey Ford Fusion and headed to Shadyside Hospital. Somewhere we would be spending a lot of time for the next couple of weeks. I was so excited to see Grandma that the short twenty-five-minute drive seemed to take us four hours. But we finally got there and began the quest to find her room.
I saw her before my parents did. She did not look herself, but she definitely didn’t look as bad as Hazel Grace Lancaster. I was thankful for that. I knew I was in a hospital, so I shouldn’t run, but I got to her bedside as fast as I could. She smiled as soon as she saw us.
“Hi Sky,” she said to me, much softer than her usual tone. I gave her the biggest hug I could without climbing into her bed with her. She hugged me back, but not hard.
“Hi Grandma, how are you feeling?”
“Oh, you know, could be better.” She is so strong. She would never admit to the pain she was probably experiencing at the moment.
“Where is Pap?” I said, verbalizing what everyone else was thinking.
“He went to go get me McDonalds French fries. And before I hear another lecture about it, I am craving them so bad. It’s the first thing I’ve actually wanted to eat since I started this stupid treatment.”
“Hey, whatever you want Mom. As long as you keep eating, that’s all were worried about,” Dad said as he leaned over her bed to give her a kiss on the forehead. We stayed for about two hours and watched her practically inhale the French fries when Pap got back. Soon after, the nurse came in to take her to her chemo for the day, so we decided it was time for us to head out. We all gave Grandma a kiss goodbye and waved as the nurse wheeled her down the hallway. As we walked toward the parking garage, I could no help but hear Pap sniffle behind me the whole way.
I was suddenly rudely awoken by my phone ringing this morning. I looked at the caller ID. I rolled my eyes when I realized it was my daughter Jessie. I flipped the phone open.
“Jessie its eight in the morning what are you doing calling me this early?” I said making sure she knew I was annoyed with her.
“I’m on my way to pick you up. We are going to see Aunt Linda today and I am not taking no for an answer. Get up and get ready I will be there in a half hour.” I didn’t need to hear anything else, so I hung up. I knew it was about time that Jessie was going to make me go see Linda, but did it have to be at eight in the morning?
She was there promptly thirty minutes later, and I was ready. We barely spoke the whole way until we pulled into Shadyside Hospital’s parking garage.
“Listen, I know you and Aunt Linda do not get along very well, but she is going through a rough time right now and you need to be sensitive about that,” Jessie started.
“Oh come on Jessie you don’t need to tell me that I know,” I replied, kind of annoyed that she thought I was going to make today about me. As much as I did not like my sister, now was not the time nor place to get into an argument.
“Okay well I was just making sure. She has been going through chemo for two months now and I just want to warn you she doesn’t look good.” This made me nervous for the first time all morning. We got out of the car and headed to the oncology floor. We got out of the elevator and there she was. Second room on the right. We made eye contact, and before I could even say a word, I felt a tear hit the corner of my mouth.
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