When treatment begins and when it ends; two huge days in a cancer patients' life.
Walking into the infusion area for that first treatment is an uneasy time. Very few patients enter with their heads held high. Instead, body language speaks of fear and hesitation. They can think of a million other places they'd rather be and I'm not talking vacation spots. Chemotherapy rooms, as comfortable and contemporary as they are these days, are still rooms filled with T-stands, bags dripping with harsh chemicals, and most of all, cancer patients. No one wants to be there.
First timers are afraid.
As the weeks progress, treatment doesn't necessarily get any easier, but the walk into the room becomes more familiar. Patients know other patients and nurses and patients have bonded to make the process so much easier. Any one who has spent time in infusion know a chemo nurse is a patients' connection to HOPE and sanity and calm. Your chemo nurse is your anchor.
I'm thinking of two chemo patient's tonight. Both are within reach of their chemo finish lines. One has a date to remove her chemo port. That spot on the calendar is circled. The other is looking in the mirror and seeing hair on her head and it's the same light brown as it was when she lost it. Two very big deals when you're in chemo world.
Or about to leave it.
So how did everyone do over the Holidays?
Did you go into December thinking, "I can do this." "I won't let all those Holiday memories come rushing in to remind me what I don't have again this year?"
Did it work? Some of the time, but not all of the time. I had my moments. Some of those moments were not really moments, they were MOMENTS. What I have learned over the years is that you can't fight the program. It's just like the experts tell you immediately following the loss of your loved one, "let it wash over you." It's like a big wave on a summer day in the ocean; you can't fight it, it's bigger than you, so dive into it, let it roll over you and eventually you'll come out the other side.
My waves are smaller now so I still feel sad, but I come out of it faster so it doesn't hurt as much.
I suppose the Holidays are just made to pack a wallop.
I have friends who tell me they feel it on calendar days that aren't marked in numbers and letters; just regular days, when their memories are sparked by seeing a couple holding hands or a hug good-bye at the airport.
That, I call LIFE. For some of us, it is in the past and for others in the present.
I guess this is the time to look back over the year and think about the highs and lows and do a little self-correction right?
I've never been a big resolution girl. I look in the mirror and see things that need improving all year long, not just on January 1st!
This is more of a "HOPE" time for me. I have way too many friends fighting cancer right now. These 'boomers" are part of the cancer population and they are warriors fighting for their lives every day. My wish for the upcoming year is that they get healthy again and that cancer research continues to be funded and new and better treatments find their way to the treatment rooms.
Yesterday, at the cancer center, in the midst of this Holiday season, there were too many patients walking the lobby floor hooked up to IV drips. There were so many visitors with their arms full of Holiday treats waiting for the elevator to take them to cancer patients who weren't home for the Holidays.
For those of us who have lived through this season with cancer as an unwanted guest, it doesn't take much to remember what it was like trying so hard to push cancer out the door and pretend it was just another Christmas/ New Year's to celebrate. It was anything but normal.
So HOPE is how I look at this end of year time.
HOPE for better times in cancer world.
So were you in one of those many cars doing laps in the Costco parking lot this morning? I was there early thinking earlier was better than later....WRONG! But I powered through the aisles and escaped because it seems at Costco they get it; I mean every register was open and moving.
Tis the season for power shopping. My local grocery store was in similar shape but in some crazy way, I was happy to be out among the crazed today. I felt a certain 'Holiday spirit' too. So many people were smiling and laughing and handling the long lines with ease. I was lucky today, not a Grinch in the bunch.
But that's not to say I'm not thinking about those who weren't out in the Holiday shuffle. I have too many friends who are carefully watching the side effects of some serious chemotherapy right now. The Holidays are not easy for cancer patients or their caregiving families. The treatments still go on. The treks to the cancer centers still go on. The ups and downs of cancer don't follow a holiday schedule.
So I'm wishing you all strength and courage as the Holidays approach. You are all warriors in my eyes and I admire you all.
And to this amazing community, here we are at another years end....YOU are my strength.
Happy Holidays everyone.
Why is it we survivors, even after many years have passed, try to be so strong? We think we can't show the sorrow that is still tucked away in those deep folds of our heart. We still have our moments when we get sad. Sometimes those tears still bubble-up and we quickly blink them away, hoping the memory that brought them to the surface will disappear too.
The Holiday season reveals our weaker side for sure. Memories of great celebrations that we miss dearly or sad recollections of how cancer tarnished the last holiday we spent together; it can be a hurting time.
And don't think we don't change our mood, because we do. We act differently and our friends can see it. I was with another cancer widow the other day and I could feel the stress in her actions and words. When I brought it up to her, she said she thought I was the one who was 'up-tight.' We both admitted to feeling the weight of the Holidays. So many reminders of a former life.
"If I think about them, I'll be sad and I don't want to be sad," she said.
I get it. If you don't go there, it won't win. Be strong.
Their big beautiful tree over the years always had a branch for the ornament I would bring back from Maui. Some of them had puka shells and others had sea glass. Some were in the shape of a palm tree and then there was the Santa holding a small, balsa wood surfboard. This tree was so highly decorated with Maui memorabilia mixed in with the religious angels and paper cut-outs made from the younger grandkids in the family. It was a tree filled with Christmas spirit. It's was a tree brimming with love.
This year it's a tree snuggled inside a warm home, cared for by a family facing Christmas for the first time without a very important presence.
The tree I visited today was small. There were a few paper cut-out ornaments hanging from the branches and a UVA ornament; a statement piece signifying where most of the family lives and works these days. I carefully hung the little reindeer with the green lei around his neck sprinkled with little tiny shells deep into the pine needles. This little tree is on its own these cold winter days. It casts a thin shadow across the headstone of my friend Jay. Cancer robbed him of Christmas with his family. He's been gone 9 months.
The experts tell us around the Holidays it's OK to cry. Crying is a natural outlet of grief. Lean on your Faith. Whatever works for you, do it. Holding on to your spirituality is a comfort. Say "No" if you're not up to celebrating or seeing friends and family. No one ever said you have to attend every event. Eat, sleep and pamper yourself. Take care to keep up your strength and well-being.
AND HONOR traditions because they are meaningful.
And that's where this little ornament plays a big role. It's a tradition. It belongs on the little tree now.
We're "in the window."
It's the time of year for those of us who have lost loved ones to cancer, to feel the weight of the loss during the Holiday Season. There's no denying it. Time, as 'they' say, helps a lot, but there's something about the family traditions, the gatherings, the planning, and all the memories that hang from the tree or the mantle or the menorah; there's no ignoring that someone is missing.
I still hang Leroy's stocking at the fireplace. It is a work of heart, his grandmother made for him...It's decorated with sequins and little green trees and white fluffy trim. It's an original, just like the tiny boy it was made for and I love looking at it. Leroy loved rock and roll, but when it came to Christmas music, he was all about the traditional sound, so I play that music and think back to the celebrations we had together before cancer came into our lives.
I'm not trying to forget our Holiday time together. I cherish it. Every year there are new memories to add on to the old ones, but the old ones are still so important.
So if you find yourself "in the window," open that window and let the good times flow....past and present.
I've think I've seen almost every emotion played out in the lobby of the Kimmel Cancer Center over the many years of walking through those doors. The lobby is a living, breathing playbook on cancer. Patients move through there identified by their bald heads, blue masks, oxygen tanks and chemo drips. Doctors in white coats have a cadence all their own; many times, the lobby is a passage way from the research labs to the recipients of all that research. It's rarely anything but a full day in the out-patient center.
In the corner of the lobby the other day, I was standing in line waiting to get my parking ticket processed before heading down the elevator to my car. In front of me, clearly in a state of extreme sadness stood a young woman, her mom and her grandmother. They were a matched set of faces, just different generations. The little grandma stood and stared straight ahead, her eyes rubbed red from tears. The mom, in-charge and fumbling in her purse for the parking ticket, was trying so hard to hold it together. Her younger daughter just let the tears flow. Why is it when you just want to disappear from a lobby like this, processing a parking ticket seems to move in slow motion? The attendant did what he could but when machines are involved, emotions don't matter.
My hand instinctively went to the daughter's shoulder and I tried to console her. From her glance in my direction, I could tell she was surprised that anyone had noticed her crying. She was in her own space, a weeping wall separated her from anyone else in the room.
"It's OK to cry" I said.
No words were exchanged that day between us. The mom simply nodded, the grandma just stared straight ahead but the young woman put her hand on mine and looked directly at me. So many tears lined up in those big brown eyes. Such sadness from a heart clearly hurting.
She couldn't leave that lobby fast enough.
I can think of a half dozen homes altered by cancer this Thanksgiving.
Friends who are fighting cancer and don't have the same energy they've had in past years to stand and prepare a huge Thanksgiving meal for family and friends. Instead, they'll leave the cooking to others and if I know them like I think I do, they'll raise a glass of ginger ale and look around the room wondering if they'll be here next year to enjoy the room full of love and support. That's what cancer in the room does to a Thanksgiving celebration.
I'm also thinking of a couple of homes where a chair at the table, will be just a chair; sitting empty this year because cancer stole another loved one from us. Glasses will be raised at this table too. Everyone will say how thankful they are for everyone who has gathered, but there will be so many broken hearts from the loss.
There will be 3 cancer widows at my table this year. THREE cancer widows. Add to that, three young adults who missed having a father in their homes for a good part of their 'growing-up' years. We will lift our glasses before dinner and say how much we miss these three wonderful guys. They were a force in our lives and they left a big hole in our hearts.
We were lucky; we had them even for a little while. That's something to be thankful for, indeed.
Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.
I have two really good friends who are in the deepest, ugliest part of fighting breast cancer. They were diagnosed about a week a part.
Both women are smart and sharp and from their diagnosis, moved on to connect to oncologists and surgeons who are affiliated with comprehensive cancer centers and they are being treated aggressively.
They both have Taxol, an anti-cancer chemotherapy pumped into their veins now and each woman is handling that differently. I'm sure it has to do with the other drugs being used to make their individual chemo treatment as effective as possible. Because both found their cancers early, the prognosis is good, although the type of breast cancer is different for each friend.
If you think about it, it wasn't that long ago that getting a diagnosis of breast cancer meant only one type of chemo, maybe some radiation added to the protocol, but even that wasn't targeted and a lot of healthy tissue got caught in the crossfire of the radiation beams. So much has been learned and treatment has been specialized to fit specific types of cancers, even in the breast cancer family.
These ladies are lucky. They really are lucky. They have a better chance at a long, strong life now, post treatment.
It's that way for many cancers now. Research and clinical trials have pushed forward the knowledge to better treat our family members and friends.
Two steps forward....