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Cancer and Suffering Can Obliterate Racism

The first time you park your car in the vast, cold cavern of the underground garage and step onto the [hospital] elevator, you may feel alien and forsaken. Perhaps you’ll feel that you have been singled out unfairly, plucked from your healthy life and cast into this cruel ordeal [of cancer].

Walking through the lobby with a manila envelope of X-rays under your arm and a folder of lab reports and notes from your previous doctor, you’ll sense the deep tremor of your animal fear, a barely audible uneasiness trickling up from somewhere inside you.

But there is good news, too. As you pass one hallway after another, looking for elevator B, you’ll see that this place is full of people—riding the escalators, reading books and magazines, checking their phones near the coffeepots. And it will dawn on you that most of these people have cancer. In fact, it seems as if the whole world has cancer. With relief and dismay you’ll realize, I’m not special. Everybody here has cancer. The withered old Jewish lefty newspaper editor. The Latino landscape contractor with the stone-roughened hands. The tough lesbian with the bleached-blond crew cut and the black leather jacket. And you will be cushioned and bolstered by the sheer number and variety of your fellows.

This strange country of cancer, it turns out, is the true democracy—one more real than the nation that lies outside these walls and more authentic than the lofty statements of politicians; a democracy more incontrovertible than platitudes or aspiration.


Tony Hoagland, “The Cure for Racism Is Cancer,” The Sun Magazine (9-18)

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