I hear the question over and over: "How can you possibly work there?"
I get it. Cancer is a scary thing. Everyone envisions me in a dark, dreary cave, our patients moping around as they slowly drift toward death, with a thick layer of depression in the air.
That could not be further from the truth. With the right perspective, the cancer center is actually a pretty amazing and inspiring place to be. Yes, the patients are sick--some balding, pale, emaciated or wheelchair-bound. But it’s not depression that lingers here.
What is in the air is love. I see countless couples come in, fighting this battle together. One receives treatment, and the other is faithfully there to offer support and encouragement. At each appointment, you'll see them sweetly holding hands, helping shuffle the IV rack to the bathroom, or perhaps just sitting quietly next to their sweetheart while they rest. One couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with us. They brought in cupcakes, and shared the ups and downs of their marriage with the staff and other patients. Five decades prior, they took a vow to be there for each other in sickness and health. Seeing that in action is a very beautiful thing.
You'll hear laughter, and see so many smiles. We definitely have our share of characters. There is the gentleman who is always dressed from head to toe in his Dallas Cowboys gear. If you playfully heckle him about his team, he'll quickly fire up the entire infusion room with a good-humored football debate. You have the mother figure, who comes into the infusion room, like a whirlwind, engaging everyone in conversation with her bubbly personality and hugs for everyone. We have our resident comedian, who refers to himself as "that old geyser." If you stop and talk to him, he will have yet another witty joke to tell.
There is a great deal of gratitude. Our patients are always bringing us treats, small trinkets, cards, or plants to show their appreciation for what we do. We certainly don’t expect anything in return, because for us, we are simply doing our job. But in their eyes, we are helping them navigate through a very stressful and scary time. Quite honestly, I think the best gifts are the teary-eyed hugs, with a simple “Thank you.” Those always resonate with me.
Within these walls there are victories, celebrations, and happy goodbye hugs when patients are diagnosed as "cured." The room is always bursting with creativity, as many choose to pass their hours here drawing, knitting, writing, quilting, or other hobbies. There is compassion and understanding. Seasoned veterans take the newer patients under their wings. Friendships and deep bonds are forged in this room.
And yes, there is death. Sadly, everyone can't be saved. I stopped to chat with one of our regulars yesterday. I mentioned to her that I was glad I hadn't seen her in a while, because that usually means you are doing better. As always, her face lit up with a beaming smile and she gave me a warm hug.
On her way out, she made a point to stop by my office. “One day you won't see me anymore. Don’t you be sad, I will be blessed. But I’ll come see you every single day.” Her words struck my heart, I really had to hold back a tear. But, I imagine when that day comes, her radiant smile will be shining down upon all of us. When you look at it from that perspective, even in death, it makes it really hard to dwell on the sadness of it all.
During my time here, I have been fortunate to witness the human spirit prevail, time and time again. The people here have demonstrated true strength, although their outward appearance would suggest they have never been weaker. I have gained a perspective that has not only changed my life, but has had a positive impact on those around me.
So if you ask me, the more appropriate question would be "How can I not work here?"
Praise the good day at the end of it.