by Rebecca Zook
The ambient sounds in the large tiled room suddenly cease. Everyone was listening. At first you could barely make out the whistling, but soon smiles could be seen on most of the patients sitting in the turquoise chairs. Even some toe-tapping. The tune was familiar to everyone. Someone at the far end of the room was watching The Andy Griffin Show. As the last note fades, the voices regain strength. More people arrive to fill the chairs. The smiles, however brief, are welcome and needed. Most of the people sitting in the chairs are quietly engaged in battle. Most are fighting cancer.
Often the first one here, I always sit by the window. There are roses outside in warmer months. My feet dangle in the chair, not quite reaching the floor. My shoes slip off. I feel a bit like a child here; dependent on the staff that bustles around reacting with efficiency to the beeping of the machines calling out to them. Would I like a blanket, a pillow? Something to eat? No, I’m fine. I’m here once every three weeks. It provides me with a unique perspective about people and about life. I have a treatable, but not curable blood disorder, a primary immune deficiency. Intravenous immune globulin (IVIG), an expensive blood plasma product, boosts my immune system and helps to control secondary autoimmune diseases. It’s also the only treatment available for my illness.
We are hooked up to individual machines. Mine is giving me infection-fighting antibodies. Theirs essentially pumping poison into their bodies to kill invading cells. A man comforts his wife, talking in quiet whispers. It’s only her second time here. Some patients just want to sleep during their treatment. Others are compelled to talk, desperate to make a connection with someone who understands. I’ve heard about all types of cancers here. Of people’s marriages breaking up while they are still sick. Right now, the man next to me is discussing a dog that recently came into his life. He didn’t want it. He thought he hated dogs. Now he is grateful for its affection and that it has given him something to focus on other than his cancer.
In some ways, I feel like a fraud being here. I've been asked more than once what kind of cancer I have, and I actually feel bad explaining that I don’t have it. I also envy these people. They have a shot at getting better, of never setting foot in here again. This is a life sentence for me. Every three weeks, forever, hoping that my veins hold out, but self-pity is not something to cling to.
There is another group of people who come here. I wonder at their life story, but I can’t speak with them. Hands and feet in shackles flanked in front and rear by armed guards. All heads turn as they are marched through the room and placed in their own section. For a minute, the rest of us forget about our struggles. They are the incarcerated, the prisoners, also here for treatment. I imagine the trip and time here is something they look forward to. I imagine it’s better than day after day in a cell.
A sign on the wall proclaims: “Live. Laugh. Love.” We all deal with our personal disease differently. Some are overcome with sadness or anger. Some pray. Others are stoic and practical, realistic about the odds. But we are all trying. All of us. We understand more than most that each day is a gift not to be wasted.
This blog was reposted with permission. The blog image is an original painting by Rebecca Zook titled “Prickly Pear Cactus Flower Trio.” To see Rebecca’s art and her blogs visit: www.rebeccazook.com or www.fineartofrebeccazook.blogspot.com/