In the radiology waiting room a man stands, with trouser socks pulled up to his calves and shiny leather loafers, wearing nothing other than a droopy hospital gown. He has a laptop in one hand and a cell phone in the other, and he paces back and forth furiously, determined to do work up until the last minute he has to enter the radiation room. These are the prostate cancer patients.
There is a very pretty young woman, head wrapped in an elegant scarf with thick blush on her cheeks, sitting while milky white liquid drips into her veins. She has shiny silver flats that match her silver bag. There are middle-aged women too, many walking about slowly, many flat-chested, waiting outside radiology. These are the breast cancer patients.
There is a young man with a brace like my mom's, he has multiple myloma, with tumors along his spine. His mother comes each day in a different shalwar kameez, tunic and scarf perfectly placed, a perfect shade of sunset orange one day, a black and gold embroidered ensemble the next.
There are patients who carry buckets for vomiting in their laps, and those with perfect hair and those with none. These are the cancer patients.
No one looks like the brain cancer patients. No one has to be arranged on the table just so, wincing as their disabled body is laid on the hard surface. No one has to have a wire mesh mask clamped over their entire head and shoulders so tight that they can barely breathe or talk. No one else has the mask's "waffle face," the indentations that last for an hour after the mask has been released.
My mom has maintained a good appetite through her treatment, a side effect of the steroids, she happily eats most anything we put in front of her. Starches are best: pizza, mashed potatoes, pie, and pudding. Nothing too acidic or vegetal, the wine aficionado has lost her taste for anything except half glass of Lillet.
My aunt sent Tennessee country ham, super-salty thinly sliced cured ham, and I made biscuits for serving. Ham biscuits are less of a recipe and more of a Southern tradition. My grandmother called them "hambiscuit," one word and always in the singular. They are found at every family party I ever attended, and these days they are pretty comforting, wrapped in foil and tucked in your bag, snacked on in the sterile halls of the radiology waiting room.
thinly sliced country ham (I recommend these guys)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter—chilled and cut into small cubes
1 cup buttermilk, chilled
additional melted butter for brushing the tops
1. Preheat the oven to 425° and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. In a large shallow bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and fine salt. Add the chilled butter and use a pastry blender or 2 knives to cut the butter into the flour until it is the size of peas. Stir in the buttermilk just until the dough is moistened. Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and knead 2 or 3 times, just until it comes together. Pat the dough into a 1/2-inch-thick disk.
2. Using a floured 2 1/4-inch round cookie cutter, stamp out biscuit rounds as closely together as possible. Gather the scraps and knead them together 2 or 3 times, then flatten the dough and stamp out more biscuit rounds. Pat the remaining scraps together and gently press them into a biscuit.
3. Transfer the biscuits to a large baking sheet and brush the tops with the melted butter. Bake the biscuits for 20 minutes, or until golden. Let the biscuits cool slightly on the baking sheet.
4. Split biscuits, fill each with a nice, but not too thick, pile of country ham. Serve as soon as possible.