And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Ever since June 20th, 2017, it seems like my world has become framed with visits to the Cancer Center. At first, the visits were frequent, even daily, there for a while. Now, the visits are stretched out, to every six months. But because I still see both the medication oncologist and the surgeon (the surgeon because of the issues I had with an abscess developing a year after surgery), and their appointments are staggered, it feels more frequent. I saw the oncologist in April, the surgeon in July, and had my mammogram in July too. I saw the oncologist this past Tuesday, in October. Now I will have an MRI done in January (approximately six months after the mammogram), and then see the oncologist in April and the surgeon in July. It’s maddening. I thought the surgeon would have dropped off my radar by now, but no, thanks to the abscess. I thought I’d only be going to the Cancer Center once a year, to see the oncologist and have a mammogram. But…no. Not quite.
Originally, I hated going to the Cancer Center. I would have to lean against my car and take several deep breaths before going in, because I couldn’t believe I belonged there. During radiation, I cried every day. It’s not that the people weren’t nice – I really believe that they only hire folks that can put compassionate and understanding on their resume. I was always surrounded by the best.
But going in through those doors always meant one thing: I was sick.
So on Tuesday, the oncologist and bloodwork. It was a gray day. But as I drove into the clinic and made that special right turn into the special parking lot, I actually found myself breathing a sigh of relief. The Medical Center side of this clinic is very cold and sterile. They meant for it to look modern, I think, but the effect is just…Brrrrrrr. The Cancer Center side is lovely. Lots of windows. Bright walls. Greenery. Smiles. And fireplaces in every waiting room, that burn even in summertime. Comfortable leather furniture. I brought a book with me for the hour-long wait between the blood-letting and my visit with the oncologist.
From the moment I stepped in, I was greeted by name. I didn’t have to give it. I don’t know how they do that. I understood it when I was there every day, but even now, over a year later, I hear, “Hi, Kathie!” as the sliding door closes behind me.
Upstairs, my blood was taken and then I broke my fast at the café, with a warm meal that was delivered with a smile and a discussion of the book I’m reading (Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple) and a comparison to the movie. When I wandered back to the waiting room, I found a chair right next to the fireplace. I pulled it a little bit closer still, curled into the warmth, and read in the quiet provided by low conversations around me. I was warm. I was reading a good book. If I looked up, I saw smiles. Even among the patients.
And you know. I was alive.
I realized, as I set my book aside and just sat back and basked in the heat and the wide windows and good company that would talk to me if I wanted, and leave me alone if I wanted, that I was no longer there because I was sick. I was there because I was well, surrounded by the people who made me well, and who have every intention of keeping me this way.
That particular waiting room was filled with stopping places on my journey. Those chairs in the corner were where I sat with my husband, the day I came in for my grueling four-hour appointment to meet my medical team – the surgeon, radiation oncologist, and medical oncologist. I was recognized by a volunteer, who used to work with me on the book festival committee. He said, “I really never wanted to see you here,” and I wept into his shoulder.
Over there, in the opening to the hallway, was where a woman, with a port in her neck and carrying a basket, stood and announced to the room, “I’m terminal! And I have some angels I’d like to give you.” She went around and handed us each a hand-made angel, made out of netting, and with a bible verse glued to the back. That’s the chair I sat in, took an angel because I’m polite, and wanted to swat the cheerful cancer-filled woman and her basket out of the room. Weeks later, I shredded that angel and sent her on a piecemeal flight off my third floor deck.
Just down that hall was where I was held by two radiation techs as I cried on my third day of treatment because I realized I forgot my daughter, forgot that I had to pick her up at school, when I made the appointments for the impossible 20 days straight of radiation.
And there was where they told me I’d be okay. Over there was where they said I’d be fine. And there was where so many different people held me and said it was okay to be scared, okay to be sad, okay to be angry, and just flat-out okay.
And I am.
I realized as I sat there on Tuesday that now, I felt safe. Cared for. Protected.
Across the room, away from the fire, a woman sat huddled in her chair. She seemed to be on her own. Unobtrusively, she was crying. The chair next to me, by the fire, was empty.
I walked to her and patted her shoulder. “Hi,” I said. “Come sit with me by the fire. We’ll wait together.” I took her hand. She kept it after we sat down.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.