Arthur Rackham’s St. George and the Dragon, from English Fairy Tales by Flora Annie Steele, 1918.

“Whew!” Sagacia said, placing a short stack of neatly folded dish towels in the drawer. “Glad that’s done!” It always surprised her how much laundry two neat people could generate.

Sagacia looked over at her friend, whose face, scrunched in puzzlement, was squinting over a sheet of notebook paper.

Well, sort of neat, she thought to herself.

“What’s up?” she asked aloud.

“It’s this question from Focused in Fernwood,” Simplia said. “About cancer and folktales.” She released a deep sigh, then continued.

“I mean, I’ve heard people say that stories are DE-scriptive, not PRE-scriptive. ‘Take two fairy tales and call me in the morning,’ said no doctor ever. For the life of me, I can’t think of how folktales or fairy tales could directly help someone with cancer other than to maybe distract them from a pain for a few minutes.”

“I’ve been thinking about that, too,” Sagacia said.

“And furthermore, only one of our magical friends replied, so maybe they are having a hard time thinking about it, as well.”

“What did that one say?” Sagacia asked. “And who was it?”

Simplia held up the notebook paper page. “It was Mary Grace Ketner.” and she squinted to make out the penmanship but managed to read . . .

The metaphor of magically being in two places at the same time in the Chinese Fairy Tale Chien Nang saved me! My mother had ovarian cancer when my children were in their midyears of school with sports or school or other events every weekend. When I skipped them to go see her and help my dad take care of her, I felt bad about leaving the kids and my husband at home. When I went to their events, I felt terrible about not being with my Mom. Reading about how Chien Nang was able to be in two places at the same time and satisfy two relationships made me smile and eased my heartache about not being able to do it all.

“Hm-m,” Sagacia said, plopping her chin into her hand and her elbow on the table. “That’s metaphorical, all right, but it’s more about the caretaker or the family than the patient. Not that that’s a bad thing.”

“And I wonder what makes cancer different from other life-threatening diseases,” Simplia proposed. “Or is it?” she asked. “Metaphorically, I mean.”

“I wonder if any of our magical friends have had experiences with a particular fairy tale that reflects, for them, some stage of dealing with serious illness or death?” Sagacia wondered. “What are those stages, again? Denial, bargaining, something like that? Is that like confronting a giant, you know? Slaying a dragon? Taking the treasure instead of the advice? Is that hope of survival like escaping the wolf? Or coming out of the woods? Returning home?”

“We could ask,” Simplia said. “A story that, say, a cancer therapy group could use as a discussion starter?”

“Yeah, maybe. So, let’s head over to the Fairy Tale Lobby and see if any of our magical friends are there!” Sagacia said, grabbing her umbrella.

Yeah, umbrella. Did I mention it was raining?