Reflections from the Cancer Center

Today was my long day at the University of Michigan Cancer Center which means 7 hours to observe. Today consisted of blood tests, Oncology appointment, Taxol Chemotherapy and Herceptin drug infusions.

From the minute I arrive at the Cancer Center, it strikes me how many people are battling cancer at one hospital–all ages, all races, all religions.  That fact never ceases to surprise and amaze me.  When you enter through those doors, the first presence you see is the volunteer station that gives away hats and scarves made by volunteers.  It always makes me realize the severity of the situation that I am facing, and other’s generosity.

My first stop is always the Blood Draw area so my Oncologist can see what is happening to my blood counts.  When I enter the Blood Draw area, it is a busy day so about 50 people are there.  I first look around to see who has wigs.  It has just become a hobby.  Wigs have gotten so good these days, it is difficult to know. It helps me understand where the patients are on their cancer treatment journey.  Some men even have wigs.  I can usually spot those!  Then I wonder what terrible cancer the person is battling and pray for them. I try to engage in conversation with someone in the waiting room.  You can spot the newbies as the pure fear resonates from them.  Also, you can decipher those that have been at it a very long time by their demeanor and almost casual, non-chalant spirit.

So after the blood draw, it is time to move to the next floor to the Breast Cancer Clinic area.  In the elevator I notice a woman who seems very tense.  I smile at her and ask her if she is a new patient.  She indicated that she is two years out from Breast Cancer, but something new has developed.  Obviously, she was very afraid.

Then as I step off the elevator, five teenage Mennonite young ladies are singing for the cancer patients.  Their warm harmony and wonderful spirits bring peace and tranquility to the area.   I’ve seen these young women many times before as they volunteer  often.  They pass coffee, tea, and juices, they engage patients in conversation, and they sing!  They are amazing young women!

After I check in and fill out my “Chemo Side Effects” paperwork, I take time to look at the 25 or so patients gathered in the Oncology Waiting Area.  Some women are bald, brave and beautiful, others have on scarves,and a few wigs.  Every time I sit down I remember with fear, trepidation and hope my first visit as a new patient.  Never will I forget those emotions and fears.  I try to seek out a new patient, engage her in conversation, and alleviate some of her fears.  Usually, I am right and yes, indeed, they are a new patient.  It is meaningful to me to be able to share just a little of the wisdom I have gained in 6 short months.

The spouses and family members of the new patients are the most terrified.  It is written all over their faces.  In fact, I used to think they were the patients.  But I have now been able to discern family members first as they have a gray, fearful color, sad eyes, and a desperation about them.  The patient, on the other hand, is trying to hold them up emotionally.  One woman I spoke to was there accompanying her sister who is in chemotherapy.  She told me that her sister is doing great, but she is an emotional wreck.  She helped me understand what my sister has gone through with me.  I want to help her pain.

After my Oncology appointment, it is time to go to the next floor to the Chemo Infusion area.  That is sometimes very eye opening, as very ill patients can be in wheel chairs or gurneys, usually asleep.  Then as I check in, a man who appeared to be in his early 60s told the two check-in assistants that his Oncologist just told him the chemo is working and the tumors are gone.  I overheard his comments.  He then made an announcement to the 35 or so patients waiting, and we erupted in applause.   His joy after so much suffering and sorrow was so intense, it brought me to tears, and I gave him a hug.  All of the chemo patients there wanted the best for him.  It was very apparent!

At the Chemo Infusion area, I am pleased I have a Chemo Nurse I had previously.  At this stage of the Chemo game, even though they have 45 Chemo Nurses, I am now getting repeat nurses.  It is very nice to establish a relationship with them!  Several Chemo Nurses have told me they really enjoy getting to know their patients, and even when I am done with Herceptin, they want me to come visit!  That was nice to hear!

One of the joys of Breast Cancer is the people God brings in to your life on this journey.  I am grateful for each and every one of them!

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