Friday, June 18, 2010

The Cancer Chronicles, Part 4

Yesterday I took the kids up to Niagara Falls. We've been there before, but it was a nice getaway with them. We were able to walk around the park at a leisurely pace and do whatever we felt like doing. The kids played around while I sat and people watched.

People watching is one of my favorite activities. There were all sorts of tourists at the falls. Families with boisterous kids, exercise buffs, jogging along the trails, sweet elderly couples going on a slow stroll hand in hand, foreign families snapping pictures excitedly, young couples sharing a romantic day trip. I had a nice time watching everyone. I like to make up stories about the people I see. It's a fun activity, and I enjoyed the diversion yesterday.

But not today. People watching at a cancer hospital is completely different.

I'm sitting outside of the lab at the cancer hospital. A little boy, about five or six years old goes into the lab with his father. I notice them walk in, but like everyone else, they slip from my mind after they are out of view. Until I hear the little boy start to scream as he gets his bloodwork done. Oh that scream is haunting. The workers at the lab close the door. A young family sitting on a sofa near the lab gets up and move to a seat across the atrium, away from the lab. They, too, have a child who is a cancer patient here.

The boy continues to scream. After a few moments, the door of the lab opens, and he comes out, wrapped in his father's arms, still crying. I watch, heartbroken, as the father consoles his son. The screams soften to sobs, which then turn into whimpers as they walk toward the elevators.

This place will forever haunt me.

I see a woman being rolled through the lobby in a wheelchair by her long haired husband. Her t-shirt is bright green and has "WHY ME?" printed on it.

Now I'm in the nuclear medicine waiting room. MJ is back having a bone scan done on her body. Earlier today she had dye injected into her bloodstream. We spent the morning waiting for the dye to travel throughout her body for the procedure. My father sits next to me, his hand propping his head up as he dozes. Every once in a while he sighs deeply, a shaky sigh that tells me he is worried. Moments later he is snoring softly. This is hard on him, but he's holding up better than I had expected.

A young, stylish woman in her mid twenties sits close by next to a middle aged woman. The door opens and they both look up to see who the nurse is going to call back. In that instant, I know they are mother and daughter. Their eyes have the same expression, shape, and color. Only the amount of wrinkles around the older woman's eyes make them different. Several minutes later, a name is called and the young woman stands up and goes back to have done whatever it is they do at a 'nuclear medicine' office. I am surprised; I would have guessed that the mother was the cancer patient. It saddens me that it's the girl.

There are older couples here too... and they are sweet in their devotion to each other. But somehow seeing a cancer patient in their senior years isn't as horrifying as seeing a young person. The young married couple across from me in this waiting room, for example, makes me sad. They look to be about my age, maybe younger. The woman looks tired, she has no makeup on and is wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt. Her husband pulls a ziplock baggie out of his shoulder bag. It contains miniature Hershey bars. He fishes out a dark chocolate and hands it to his wife. She smiles tiredly and thanks him. I wonder what kind of cancer she has and if she has to have a bone scan done today, like my step mother does. As her name is called, she gets up to leave and her husband grasps her hand and squeezes it. "I love you," he mouths. She smiles and heads out of the waiting room. He sighs deeply, gathers his things, and escapes this place.

I will soon be 'escaping' this situation as well. Later today we will call to see when MJ's surgery will start on Monday. I won't be here for it. I am going home tomorrow morning. I'm torn. I want to go home; I need to get back to my life. But I want to continue helping out here too. Luckily, my brother is coming out next week to be with Dad while MJ is in the hospital recovering from the surgery. He is good at calming my father down and providing the support to him that he needs. It's time for me to get back home and continue on with my life. I will be able to do some things from home, I just hope it's enough to make a difference.


Kirsten said...

I'm with's sad to see older folk so sick, but when it's children and people in the prime of their lives...beyond tragic. We lost my FIL when he was in his early 60s. He was first diagnosed when he was only about 50 and spent the next 12 years or so constantly battling that monster. This is a man who had run the Chicago Marathon in the 80s and was one of the most fit people I knew of any age. Such a waste of a brilliant, strong, kind, YOUNG man.

(((hugs))) to your family and your step-mom. May you all be strong and may she defeat this.

Anonymous said...

Hey Monica....thinking of you guys! We'll keep praying. Glad to hear that Z is headed out to NY. I know Mike said your aunts might be headed that way too. Let us know if there's anything we can do from a distance. (Gift cards for meals, etc.) PLEASE let me know what restaurants, grocery stores, etc., we could send them a gift card to or any other way we can help. -- Abby

Barb said...

I hate that you and your family are having to go through this and know that you are in my thoughts. I have to say though, this was a beautiful and moving post ~ you are an amazing writer and observer. Very moving.