Today I sat around the table with employees from a local cancer center. We were there to discuss plans for a survivor event next year. As I sat there, I found myself reflecting on my own survivorship journey.
I want to share my reflections, realizing that everyone’s journey is different. One is not better than the other, they are each unique.
Thinking back to when I was diagnosed in 2007, I remember feeling like I had been thrust into another world. Hospitals were not places I was familiar with. I felt like I was learning how to survive in a new culture. Within that culture, people spoke a different language. They wore different clothes. They had goals and habits that were unfamiliar to me.
I had to learn to be on time. Often, I had to wait long periods, after rushing to make my appointment times. I had to learn patience and a pace controlled by sometimes life or death discussions. One day a caregiver was complaining about the wait time and I wanted to complain too. Then I realized that if I were the patient who had an emergency or needed more time, I would want my doctor to focus on me and not the next person. I shared that thought, then closed my mouth.
I had to learn to field questions from strangers, I still struggle with that one! But my reflection today landed on this, cancer creates community like no other. Community is a fellowship with others. A fellowship that develops from sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.
I am amazed at how something so traumatic creates a kinship. Sit in any waiting room and see how patients who come every week begin to form bonds. Sure, they may share their ailments, but they also share their concern for one another. They share hope and happiness.
I met some of the kindest and caring people at the cancer center. I laughed till I cried in joy with people. I cried in sadness and held the hands of strangers in hard moments. I still hear the voices in my head of some of the people I met there that have passed on. The things I learned from them left indelible marks deep in my soul. I still celebrate good reports through social media with fellow sojourners. I pray for the difficult reports.
I became an employee at the cancer center where I received treatment a few years later. During that time, they switched to a new computer system. One of my roles in that transition was to keep patients informed and happy during those first few days. I handed out snacks and drinks in the waiting areas. I checked on schedules and gave updates to those waiting. It was one of those days I met Francis. She had been there the entire day. Late in the afternoon she finally made it back to the infusion area. As I went by her, relieved she had made to the back, she was laughing and smiling. I stopped and said, I am amazed that after such a long day you are still smiling. She laughed at me and said something about choosing to make the best of things. I renamed her in my mind that moment “Happy”. Days later, I shared my new name with her and of course we laughed at her new name.
Even though I moved on and live in another state, I still get cards from her, all these years later. They are filled with gratitude and care and make me smile and tear up as I reflect on them.
Cancer creates many difficulties and hardships; I am not ignoring that. Yet cancer can also create a strong community of support and care. Both can be true and one doesn’t cancel out the other.
At the table today I was the only survivor in a room of providers. They seemed truly happy to include me. They welcomed my perspective. I walked away amazed at the care and thought being put into an event for us. I walked away thankful that there are providers that care and are part of our community. While I don’t enjoy the hard parts of survivorship, it is a community filled with amazing people.
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