There’s a secret language when you have cancer, a code only a select few will understand. Every week, Kim would repeat the code until the numbers were seared into my brain.

4. 30. 80.

Say the code, they’ll take your blood.

4. 30. 80.

Those numbers in that order, said to the right person, would earn a bag of chemo.

Or a dose of radiation.

Sometimes, on the worst days, a hefty serving of both.

4. 30. 80.

Usually the numbers just ensured quick passage from one form of torture to another. Usually the numbers floated into the air, never hitting a target, just existing. But one time, just once, somebody heard the numbers and did the math. The numbers hit home and the sheer lack of fairness of the situation was acknowledged, by a stranger.

“4. 30. 80. Wait, you’re only 31!”


“Wow. You are so young.”

“I know.”

“Well. Okay. If you go through the double doors, the nurse inside will administer your chemo.”

“Thank you.”

4. 30. 80.

Happy 32nd birthday, Kim. Wish you were here.