Monday, November 25, 2013

The waiting room

Googly eyes on the chemotherapy waiting room
sign. Someone added a touch of whimsy
to a fairly bleak, uncomfortable room
Wow! The past several weeks have flown by!  I meant to post here more often, but life got in the way and I've been consumed with life events.  I'm back... and will be back to talking about weight and diet in the very near future.

But for now, I am going to write about waiting rooms.

When you or someone you love is receiving regular treatments, like radiation or chemotherapy, you run into the same folks over and over again in the waiting rooms, and you form a bond with many.

It's hard to start a pity party in these places, because all you have to do is look to the left or right of where you're sitting to see someone who is walking a rougher path than your own.

Everyone has a different way of dealing with cancer.  My husband never doubted he was going to beat the cancer, even when he was feeling his most miserable and the radiation had burned his throat to the point he couldn't eat (or even yawn) without incredible pain. He never took his eyes off the end result: a cancer-free body!  While we haven't received a clean bill of health from his oncologists, I did watch the lump on his neck slowly shrink and eventually disappear completely during his treatments.  My husband's strength and attitude constantly had me in awe.

While the waiting room for the radiation treatments was a fairly pleasant place, one of the grimest, most uncomfortable places in the world is the Chemotherapy Waiting Room at Audie Murphy Hospital - and it's the place where I've spent the most time over the past several weeks.  The room is decorated in stark white and bleak grey.  There is a small TV with a bad speaker that's usually tuned into soap operas or reality courtroom TV shows.  The few works of art on the wall are patriotic, but the subject matter is fallen heroes.  The chairs are stiff and hard and the room is always bone-chilling cold.  But it was in this grim, cold place that I met one of the most inspiring people I've ever had the pleasure to meet.

Her name was Kathy.  When I first saw her, she was completely bald from chemotherapy and had tied a big, colorful bow around her head.  She was using a wheeled walker to keep herself steady, decorated with twinkling Christmas lights, and she was wearing colorful novelty pajamas to her appointment.  Her chemotherapy appointment was more than just a medical procedure, it was an event.

I saw Kathy several times during the course of my husband's treatment and as I got to know her I learned that she had an extremely rare form of cancer that attacks the lining of the blood vessels and this wasn't her first time to battle cancer.  Seventeen years ago she had been given two years to live and no hope for a cure ... and she proved the doctors wrong by surviving and beating the earlier cancer.  This time around, she was pretty open that she was a "terminal cancer patient" but her diagnosis did very little to keep her down.

Each week she would enter the waiting room with her walker adorned with colorful lights, decorated according to season or holiday.  On her head would be a colorful headband or funny hat, accessorized with sparkly costume jewelry, and she would change into a fun pair of novelty pajamas before her treatment would begin.  Many times it was obvious that she felt tired and weak, but as her treatment progressed she started to look healthier than the rest of us - I believe she may actually beat a second terminal diagnosis.  Her huge, fun-loving spirit is so much bigger than the cancer!  I couldn't help but smile when she entered the room - she was a one-woman celebration of life in an extremely grim place!

She might have received a terminal diagnosis, but the illness is not keeping her from living life and being an inspiration and source of hope to others.

I encountered so many strong, inspiring people over the past several weeks: A woman with throat cancer who couldn't eat herself, but baked weekly treats for the doctors, nurses and fellow patients;  another woman who was violently ill from the chemo but drove herself to culinary school every day, determined to become a chef; and a man with disfiguring cancer who made a point of greeting each person in the waiting room cheerfully every morning and took time to ask others how they were feeling (I even saw him dance).

There were those who complained or were frightened, too.... but for the most part the people in these waiting rooms had a resolve to get through the treatments and get on with their lives.

If nothing else, this experience has strengthened my beliefs about the human spirit and how important attitude is at all times and in all situations.  Yesterday cannot be relived and tomorrow is promised to no-one.  All we have is now.  And we have a choice on how we pass through this moment in time.  Do we make the most of an imperfect situation, decorate our walkers with twinkling lights, or do we let an imperfect situation get the better of us and moan about our fate?  Which path do you think leads to healing?

And for those who are wondering, I have put on a few pounds but have remained in my size 12s.  In a few weeks I'll get back on Ideal Protein and my bike and maybe one day soon I'll find out what the final three phases of the diet are like!