Monday morning’s are still the same. The people change and the stories change, but the weary ‘look’ in the eyes of patients at the oncologist’s office is always the same.
I guess she’s in her late 50’s. Sitting at the edge of her seat with hands folded on her knees, her perfect posture clashes with the short, gray wig, red cardigan sweater and slightly baggy blue slacks. She is alone. At first what looks like stoic patience, begins to feel as if she’s apologizing for being an inconvenience. It wouldn’t matter if it’s January or July; the cardigan isn’t warm enough. I suspect she’s praying her name is called next.
The hulking 40 year-old man at the receptionist window is dressed entirely in black; mourning black. His baldness is new, his flesh red, his mannerisms gruff. Aggressively piling his black overcoat on the counter top, he scratches in the spaces of yet another insurance form; moving to a seat is not an option he considers. Perhaps he’s just not yet accustomed to his own body’s betrayal. We give him space. We all understand.
The couple in their early 70’s bounces in together, greeting everyone they know (and don’t know!) as if running for mayor. I can’t tell who the ‘patient’ is and who the ‘support’ is, but I know they are very connected; a package deal. In their actions I see giving; in their eyes, I see searching. Eyes never lie. I am reminded that cancer is a family disease; it makes everyone weary.
When I was first diagnosed, I felt like I had a large red “C” sewn on my chest; my own scarlet letter. I hid the shame of my body’s betrayal by enthusiastic over-achieving. More is better, too much is just right. Ultimately the cumulative effects of chemo broke me down physically and emotionally. One of the grand paradoxes of my dance with cancer was that once I learned to ask for and accept help, my drive to survive escalated.
My worst day during chemotherapy was my last day of chemotherapy. After eight months of nearly daily contact with the doctor’s office, I realized I was on the verge of being pushed from the safety of their poking, prodding and poisoning. Leigh held my hand as I wept. I was scared. I’m glad I was not alone. Complications, hospitalization and many twists and turns delayed the declaration of ‘Remission’ for another five months; yet the toughest day was that last day of chemo.
My name is called and I’m led through the door to have my vitals taken. I’m tickled to see Terry in the lab; I’ve known her since the Fall of 1994 when the big red “C” first appeared on my chest. She tells me again I’m the best looking bald patient they’ve ever had; I still like that. She draws the blood that will confirm I’m as healthy as I feel.
I’ve been in remission nearly 16 ½ years. I am very grateful I can write those words. Today I am reminded how fortunate I was to have the love and support of my family and friends. I don’t know if I could have done it alone.
Nobody should be alone; especially on Monday Morning.
For more on my dance with cancer, see Family Ink.