At a café the following day, Augustus and Hazel tell Hazel’s mom all about the meeting with Van Houten. They play up the humorous side of the whole thing. Hazel reflects:
You have a choice in this world…about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice.
After they finish the story, Hazel’s mom says she is going for a walk. She tells Augustus sternly that he needs to talk to Hazel. Augustus looks unhappy, and Hazel gets scared. Something about the way her mom suggested a talk, and about Augustus’s reaction, makes her think that he may not have recovered from cancer as completely as she has always believed.
As she and Augustus walk silently back to their hotel, Hazel thinks about a man named Abraham Maslow, who created a diagram called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. According to Maslow, a person must have food, safety, and other necessities before becoming capable of fulfilling higher-order needs such as strong relationships and personal growth. In Hazel’s opinion, this theory is “utter horseshit.” It implies that kids like Hazel and Augustus, who are too sick to be safe and secure, are “less human," unable to grow the way healthy people can.
Back at the hotel, Augustus explains that around the time of Hazel’s most recent hospitalization, he started feeling an odd pain. He went to the doctor and got a PET scan. “I lit up like a Christmas tree,” he says, explaining that he has cancer all over his body. Hazel understands that this means he is dying—and that he will probably be gone before her.
After revealing this, Augustus apologizes for hiding the truth. He says that he did not want to hurt her. Hazel finds it impossible to feel angry. She thinks:
Only now that I loved a grenade did I understand the foolishness of trying to save others from my own impending fragmentation: I couldn’t unlove Augustus Waters. And I didn’t want to.
Hazel tries to reassure Augustus, but he does not really want to hear hollow comforts. He says he was hoping to go to a big museum today, but that neither he nor Hazel is up to it. He explains that he looked at the paintings online before leaving home and that he saw many portraits of warriors and kings and martyrs—but no pictures of cancer sufferers or plague victims or the like. “There is no glory in illness,” Augustus says.
As Hazel listens to this, she reflects that Augustus is living proof that Abraham Maslow was an idiot. Many people who have all their basic needs fulfilled never bother to think hard about anything. Meanwhile, Augustus, who has no security, thinks bravely and intelligently about art and meaning.
As they always do when there is no other source of comfort, Augustus and Hazel turn to humor. They joke about his cancer, and then they decide to make out.