There Is No After Cancer

There’s life before… and now. And they are very different indeed.

Susan Kelley
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readJun 8, 2022


A 3D structure of a melanoma cell derived by ion abrasion scanning electron microscopy
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

I arrived at Johns Hopkins at 8:10 for an 8:30 appointment.

I finally looked up at the familiar glass entrance, after walking in a confused circle for more than a block, despite having been at this very place more than once before. I was distracted enough that I forgot to wear, or bring, a mask. People scurried in and out of the extra-large revolving door, and on the nearby sidewalk, all with some appropriate facial covering. Except for me.

As I approached the reception desk, though, the young woman there knew without my even asking, and she handed me a neatly compressed white mask the thickness of a flimsy coffee filter. I looped it around my ears with a quiet “thank you” as I trudged toward the elevator.

Was I trudging? I wasn’t walking with any air of pleasantness, that much is certain. But could anyone else see the weight? Feel it? No. Of course not. They are all carrying their own.

Elevator to 3. MRI, Radiology. The big machinery of diagnostics.

The self check-in kiosk was out of service. I absolutely did not feel like making polite conversation with the radiology desk attendant, and yet there I was. I had been reserving all of my potential pleasantness for the staff who would conduct my MRI soon, and here I’d have to expend some of it before I even entered the diagnostic space. Dammit.

The same Covid questions. The same date of birth questions. It’s all so very familiar. Not just to me, and not just to someone having some tests at a hospital, but familiar to everyone, all the time.

She directed me to wait in a set of vinyl-covered chairs. Chairs that are now spaced even further apart than they used to be, thanks to the virus. Chairs that leave heaps of uncomfortable space without the buffer of more chairs or tables.

I took a photo of my shoes.

I’ve been doing that since the beginning. Chronicling this experience by snapping a photo of my legs and feet as I sit in the too-numerous waiting rooms. While it may seem odd, I do this because I learned quickly that no one looks anywhere else in these waiting rooms. There is no eye contact. No…



Susan Kelley
Human Parts

Susan is a runner, a mom of 3 grown children, and an avid traveler. She writes about humans, and wrote a book about false accusations of sexual assault.