Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hope is the Thing with Feathers- and No Hair...


I spent Thursday with my sister and brother-in-law at the medical center
where she is being treated for the return of her cancer. As usual, I had
pad and pen with me; as usual, the images which surrounded me found
their way into words.

Sitting in the waiting room at the gynecological oncology center,
surrounded by women in various stages of cancer treatment, I
feel like a voyeur, healthy woman that I am. In the corner sits an
Asian woman- Japanese, perhaps- whose head is covered by a
yellow scarf to conceal her baldness, a result of her chemotherapy.
At the other end of the room, her equally-bald "sister" celebrates
her hairlessness with a bright turquoise knitted cap, while the woman
to her left is wearing a tasteful blond wig, only made obvious by her
total lack of eyebrows.

On my far left, two women are engaged in loud, animated
conversation, perhaps to conceal the nervousness of the one waiting
to be called into the infusion room? And nearby, still another woman-
dark-haired and youthful-looking- talks quietly with a man- her
husband, perhaps- as she waits to be called in to see the doctor.
Since she is the only woman (besides me) sporting her own hair-
a lovely ponytail- I wonder if she is here to get the results of tests,
which would account for her somewhat anxious demeanor, for the
way she is clinging to the man's hand.

The infusion room is crowded...nine women of varying sizes, shapes,
ages, with one thing in common: a diagnosis of gynecological cancer.
No, actually, they have other things in common: each one is hooked
up to an IV pole on which hangs the bags filled with various chemo-
therapeutic agents. Each one sits in a blue recliner. And each one
hopes and prays that the drugs she is receiving will wipe out the
cancer cells which have invaded her body, making room for the
return of health and wholeness.

But there the similarities cease, as time passes differently for each of
them. The young woman in the corner spends the afternoon on her
laptop, while the African-American woman across the way mostly
sleeps. At the other end of the room, a cheerful woman is in
conversation with her husband and her daughter, while the woman
at the end of this row eats strawberries and works crossword puzzles.
Actually, there is a continual flow of women, as some finish quickly,
receiving only one drug, while other spend many hours sitting...
waiting...aware of the flow of these poisonous but often life-
prolonging agents into their already-compromised bodies.

Courageous- that is the word which comes to mind. Courageous- as
they smile, exchange greetings, wish one another well. Courageous-
as each one faces days, weeks, of side effects like nausea, fatigue,
baldness, neuropathy, forgetfulness (also know as "chemo brain"),
changes in taste, elimination, sleep, with a short, blessed respite of
perhaps a week, only to have it all repeat again after the next round. Courageous- as they don hats and scarves and wigs to protect their
sensitive, balding scalps from the summer sun. Courageous- as they
go from day to day, living life as fully as possible and hoping against
hope that this will all be worth it.

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