Lessons From the Cancer Center
November 8, 2015 | Posted in: chronic illness; support
Lessons From the Cancer Center:
Maybe like me, you are a watcher of people. You don’t mean to be, it just happens. You are drawn in by their essence, their stories. My husband and I can be at dinner and I will shake my head or shed a tear at something said or done nearby and he’ll ask totally dumbfounded, “What’s wrong?” People just have a way of drawing me in.
It was like that at the cancer center this morning. Let me be clear that I do not have cancer, but I am currently receiving IVIG (donor antibody) treatments there for an immunodeficiency disorder I have. Everyone receives their infusions in one large common room, most of which are cancer patients. I find my heart pulling in their direction as I watch them, pray for them and ache for them.
Today, there was an older man, gently resting one chair down from me. He was having some trouble with his port and seemed to be in quite a bit of pain. Not long into his treatment a young man who looked to me like he couldn’t be a day older than 19 entered the large room. He sat next to the older gentleman resting, called the nurse by name and asked, “Has he been resting for a while?” He explained about how his dad had been up late the night before, sick to his stomach and in pain. How he wasn’t eating much these days and was already losing the weight he’d put back on. As I studied the boy’s face more closely, I guessed 17 was probably a more accurate idea of his age. If I’d had him in class as my student a couple of years ago, would I have been able to get him to complete and turn in his homework assignments?
“Maam, can I ask you about these meds that came in the mail today?”
He enters notes into his phone as he listens. He’s so relieved to hear the meds will help with his dad’s nausea; maybe he’ll be able to eat a little bit again.
The lump in my throat is getting quite pronounced and I have to swallow hard as I think about these moments in life that turn a boy into a man. And certainly, that’s a man standing there in the body of a boy talking with the nurse, with such clarity and concern about the care of a father still resting quietly nearby.
Promptly, he dials the number he’s been given by the nurse to reorder the meds before next week’s chemotherapy. He passes through the various representatives with ease and respect and then, “ Yes, maam, he’s right here but are you sure you need to talk to him? He had an awful rough night last night and he’s resting right now. I hate to wake him up. Yes maam, I understand.” Gently, he shakes his daddy awake and explains that the representative needs his permission to speak to them on his behalf.
And the older gentleman says, “Yes, yes, that’s my son. You can talk to him. He’s a good boy.”
After the meds, he takes a phone call from a buddy about a car they’re restoring and just like that he’s a boy again, the room alive with the sound of his laughter. His dad coughs and he goes without a thought and pours him a glass of apple juice. The nurse asks, “Do you think he would eat something?” He cups his hand over the phone and says, “Naw, Dad says ya’ll can’t cook in here and everything has a bitter aftertaste” and winks.
Someone beeps in and he astutely judges the contents of the infusion bag and rate to mean they have about an hour remaining. And my heart aches for his knowledge that is equal parts car restoration and chemotherapy infusion rates.
I finished up before them and it took everything within me not to shake the young man’s hand and say, “Oh that we would all be loved so well in crisis. Thank you for the love you are giving.” But you know, it’s considered kind of poor social etiquette to eavesdrop and stalk people.
So instead, I am thanking you.
Thank you for knowing the nurse’s names and the chemotherapy infusion rates.
Thank you for knowing and caring about rough nights.
Thank you for making phone calls and picking up meds, and for giving up your youth, your rest, your retirement, your life to care for us.
*This post is written in honor of my brother, Matt, who lost his life to cancer at 19 years of age. And to my Mom, who faithfully went to the cancer center with him, where I am certain, he lacked for nothing.