Friday, July 31, 2009

Cancer Is a Small World After All, Part I

I never really knew what a small world my cancer world was. There was me in the middle, of course. (Egocentric, no?) Then there were my family members, both biological and through marriage, who have traveled their own cancer journeys, some winning and some who had succumbed from the disease. Naturally, there were others, including friends, acquaintances, and even strangers, whose experiences have affected me. Have you ever stopped and really thought about YOUR cancer world?

I spent last week in the hospital, on 7-South, the Oncology Ward. While I was walking the floor, a gurney carrying a woman downstairs, presumably for a test or procedure, went past me. In the flash that she went by, I thought I knew her. Then some of her family rounded the corner, accompanying her on the way downstairs. I definitely knew them. One of them stopped as she recognized me. We both kind of mumbled something to the effect of "what are you doing here?. Who knew that one can actually run in to people you know on the cancer floor?!

A few days later when I was feeling a bit better, I asked my nurse if the woman was still in the hospital and if so, would she ask her nurse if I could come visit. What is the etiquette on running into someone you know who is also a patient? This was definitely not covered in the Emily Post books I have read.

The woman told her nurse to tell my nurse to tell me that yes, I could come visit. So after I squirreled up the courage, I walked three doors down to see a friend who I didn't even know had cancer. (A very embarrassing side effect of my being a hermit and completely out-of-touch with the "outside" world.) Of course, true to herself, she was beautiful despite her battle, and even had the nerve to have eye make-up on! My IV pole with attached machines and I got seated and situated. It was now time to look her in the eye and figure out what to say. Naturally, cutting right to the bottom line, I ask, "What the Hell are you doing here?".

This super cool, super hip, successful business woman, family matriarch, who I have always admired, answered my question in her typical style. The ice broken, we had a pretty long visit for two people whose bodies are not cooperating and who frequently forget what we are talking about or what has already been said. And we had some laughs, too. Fancy seeing you here.....

My friend prefered she remain anonymous. And I am keeping the details of our conversation private. But some of you may know who she is anyways. I can confidently report that she's kicking ass as usual. And to you, my dear, if your read this, thank you for sharing and for listening. And I am here for you any time. And I apologize for not being there sooner.

One thing that really made an impression, however, was how she expressed her joy, her dreams, and her hopes. Her family has been through some pretty amazing stuff in the past year. I am so proud for her that she is not defining herself by her disease. It is clearly just a part of the big picture. My hat is off.

We also talked about another woman we both know, a former colleague of mine, Bernadette. I did not know her well, but I had truly enjoyed the homemade soup and bread she had brought me during my battle. I has also learned that she frequently inquired about me with various friends. While she was reaching out and giving to me, she herself was battling cancer and unfortunately losing the fight.

Her memorial service was held the day I was admitted to the hospital. She had begun hospice just three days before she died. I have deep regret that I was not there for her or even able to pray for her. Thank you, Bernadette, for your beautiful soul that cared about me, despite hardly knowing me, even as your cancer was ravaging your body. May God Bless you always.

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