Before Padawan and I were assigned to the on-going mission of caring for the needs of our friend Rose, I was completely ignorant of all things related to cancer. Oh sure, both my grandmothers were afflicted with the consuming disease, as well as several dear friends of our family. However, the extent of my knowledge was that cancer is, as my father calls it, "the big C"...basically a death sentence.
Interestingly enough, my maternal grandmother had colon cancer - which is what Rose is battling. She was able to have surgery and radiation which managed to put her into remission for a whopping 15 years. Definitely a testament to early diagnosis and treatment. She actually did not die of cancer, but of old age.
My paternal grandmother suffered with mouth cancer, which was such a shame. She had always said she wanted to live to be 100 years old. She had a zest for life that I have inherited, I'm happy to say. She was always doing something; creating, laughing, talking...living. From the time she was diagnosed, through the surgery that disfigured her lovely face, to moving in for home care with my parents, I believe she lasted about a year or so...maybe two. And yes, it took her. A fact that she was none too pleased about, I can tell you.
But this mission is taking me to a whole new awareness of cancer and it's treatment. I've been to radiation appointments and sat in the "infusion" room. For Rose's treatment, we take her on Mondays every other week for four hours of the toxic drip, attaching her to a tree of bags and tubes, then again on Wednesdays for another hour. She lays uncomfortably in the reclining chair, snacking on popcorn or veggies, despairing her lot. I definitely feel my lack when she asks questions I cannot answer, makes statements for which there is no response. We've despaired along with her, forever trying to infuse her with our own concoction of hope, love and faith. I am sorry to say that we have not been as successful as I would have liked.
There are lessons to be learned while one sits in the infusion room. Lessons of relationship, humility and mortality. I have observed couples of many years gently banter back and forth as they struggle their way through the process and groups of friends gathered around another giving friendship and support. I have witnessed the brave faces of beautiful souls going through the process a second time after enjoying a time of blissful remission. Those brave faces hide the pain, disappointment and resignation of the inevitable. I have felt the overwhelming compassion well inside of me, driving me to fight tears at the sight of total strangers who are dropped off to sit alone for their treatments, as guarded nurses go about their duties.
Oh yes, lessons learned from watching the nurses, as well. They must, at some point, make the startling realization that they have to protect themselves from getting attached to the personal stories that each station is holding. A wall they must build to prevent the assured break-down that comes with the passing of a patient, a familiar face, a new friend. You can almost see the barrier, taste it in their actions, feel it in their aloofness. They work in a room of death every day, but they are not stressed...at least it doesn't show. To be able to compartmentalize is a skill, indeed, and they have mastered it well. And as much as they keep themselves at a distance, their patients try to draw them out, begging for personal interaction in their time of need.
The infusion room demands you to embrace humility, it is true. The contrast between health and the lack thereof is startling and stark. I am humbled at the gift of health, and have made new resolutions to do what I can to preserve my own. I have wished at times that I could give my health to those that are so sick...my heart breaks for them, for their situation. I strive not to let fear take hold of my reason; no, not every little twinge is cancer declaring war. Would I be able to accept it as bravely as these sitting in the chairs? A lesson in acceptance and faith, that would be.
Facing mortality. That is the ultimate lesson of the infusion room, I believe. Everything dies, this is true, and we will leave this earth sooner or later. How we face that truth reveals a lot about who we are, affecting how we treat each other, how we love and give of ourselves.
As difficult as they are, I am grateful for these lessons. I am honored to serve and will continue to do so until the mission is complete...however that might be.