Readers of my blog know what I’ve endured as a cancer patient and my gripes about the medical system and uncaring medical personnel. But there is something I’ve kept relatively quiet about — until now.
Throughout my treatments, I was alone.
See, my parents were devastated by the news of my cancer diagnosis and couldn’t come with me during chemo and radiation and surgery. I no longer harbor resentment because I know they were suffering and so devastated by my illness. They just couldn’t deal with it. I have since put that all behind me, and my parents and I have a close relationship now.
During this darkest period of my life, my then-husband refused to go to chemo sessions with me. He refused to go to my MRIs. I drove myself to chemo and radiation, and I drove myself back.
He also refused to work.
I worked two jobs — while undergoing chemo and radiation simultaneously — just to keep from losing our condo and having our car repossessed. (Only took one sick day.) Success with the condo, no success with the car.
I walked everywhere even though I felt like sh**, and then I walked away from the marriage.
Yet, although I was technically alone, with the exception of a few close friends, I encountered many unexpected “heroes” — those who nurtured my aching soul and made me realize I really wasn’t so alone. I am so grateful to them for those special moments that helped me heal emotionally.
My medical oncologist. After crying to him about chemobrain, he held my hand and convinced me I wasn’t stupid. He told me he cared about me. He became my hero that day.
My radiation oncologist. With her sunny disposition, a kind smile on her face and a wicked sense of humor, she made me laugh. I appreciated that moment when she was talking with another doctor, and I had told the nurse that I had a fever. The nurse told my radiation oncologist, and she immediately ended her conversation with the other doctor to tend to me. Once she said, “You’re so sweet; I just LOVE you!”
Nurses. During my biopsy, nurses rubbed my legs and called me “honey” and “sweetie.” I needed to hear such tender words while I was feeling so vulnerable. And I want to especially thank the nurse who, during one of my meltdowns a few months later, held my sobbing self in her arms and rocked me like a baby. She gently wiped the tears from my eyes.
My chemo nurse knew I had nobody with me, so she tried to take time out of her crazy-busy schedule to sit down with me and just chat. She told me all about her life, her family, and we laughed a lot.
My surgeon. While he was performing my biopsy, I kept telling him that I didn’t want it to be cancer. He said, “I don’t want it to be cancer either.” I appreciated his humanity.
The American Cancer Society. This organization provided a counselor who would coach me through the treatments. We spent hours on the phone.
My primary care physician. She referred me to all my great doctors and was working behind the scenes to ensure I got the right doctors. She spent a lot of time on the phone with me, as well.
I also found heroes in the extraordinary people I shared my chemo room with.
At first I didn’t like the idea of sharing a room with other chemo patients. But in my case, having nobody with me, it was a blessing to be in the room with others. There was the man who served during World War II and was telling me all about his experiences. He told me that it was a shame I had cancer so young. I appreciated his empathy, and I hung onto every word of his war stories.
No matter whom I shared a room with, these patients — upon finding out I was alone — would try to cheer me up, even as chemo was being administered to them. They would share stories about their lives, and their family members would get me things to drink and would encourage me to stay healthy.
The most poignant experience I had in the chemo room, however, was when I shared it with a young woman whose breast cancer had spread. Things did not look good for her, but her parents were there by her side. They told me that she was their only child and they so loved her, so of course they were with her throughout all her treatments.
And, get this, despite their daughter’s dire situation, her parents became my guardian angels that day of chemo, tending to both of us. They made sure I had a blanket, offered me jelly beans, got me things to drink, helped me navigate my way to the bathroom, and were so attentive to me, that I realized they had adopted me as their second daughter that day.
I will forever remember their kindness.
I am grateful to all my heroes and realize that, because of these wonderful moments, I was never really alone.