From My WindowIssue Date: March 22, 2018
Waiting Room Heroes
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
My husband is preparing to start a round of "precautionary" radiation treatments. He is recovering well from his surgery, and everything is on track for us to be able to, as promised by his radiation oncologist, "dance at our daughter's wedding in June." We feel very blessed, and that feeling was reinforced by meeting an elderly couple recently, who were completely amazing.
Mike had to undergo a "setup" study which took about a half an hour. I sat in the waiting room reserved for chemotherapy/radiation patients. It was a typical waiting room, and as always I came prepared with reading material. I normally stick my nose in a book in such a place, since I am famously impatient. (If I don't have a book, I use my I-phone to monitor the assault on environmental protections and our national parks, lest I get too relaxed, causing my blood pressure to drop to an unsafe level.)
But for some reason that morning, I pulled out my book, but didn't read. Nor did I consult my phone. When we had entered the waiting area, an older (older than me, wink) man and his wife had caught my eye. He smiled at us, and made a little small talk until Mike went back alone for his appointment. The couple looked pretty healthy for their age, so I assumed they were waiting for a friend or relative.
After Mike left, the man pointed out there was a coffee and hot water dispenser available for drinks. I made myself some coffee, noticing a wicker basket full of snacks on the counter. After I sat down, the man and his wife greeted several arriving patients by name. They congratulated one man, who confirmed he was on his last week of treatments. Their sincere joy at his news was obvious. They also chatted with several departing patients and their family members. Obviously they were regulars themselves, and knew all the regulars.
Another new to the scene arrival, like me, came. He sat down and looked a little overwhelmed. The outgoing man approached him, and helped him scan his card at the station in the waiting area, which was the process for "check in." After the newcomer sat back down, the social man picked up the wicker basket of snacks and offered it to me and then to the latest arrival. I began to think of him as the "host" of the area, and became curious about him.
He was happy when he saw I was willing to chat. He and his wife drive a little over an hour each way to treatment every weekday. He was the patient; he has lung cancer in both lungs. It was discovered a few months ago when he went to the emergency room for what his wife and he assumed was pneumonia. They get up at 4:30 a.m. to make the earliest radiation treatment slot; then, because he is on two radiation treatments a day, they must wait six hours before he gets his second dose of radiation. And in that interval, he's also undergoing chemotherapy daily. They finish the day at one of the last appointment slots for radiation, and then start their long drive home during the peak traffic time. She explained that he does the drive to the appointments and she drives home, since he's usually tired after his three treatments. Unless it is a weekend, they are up again at 4:30 a.m. the next day. I was shocked when he told me he was 76; his treatments and schedule would wear out a teenager.
While he greeted and assisted yet another newcomer, his wife and I continue to visit. I expressed my amazement at their positive attitudes and energy. She said quietly to me, "It's hard. Very hard. But I try not to show it; I don't want him to think of it." She explained that luckily, they had a son in Tulsa. Their son and his wife have set aside a vacated grandchild's bedroom for them; between treatments they go there and nap. When her husband returned, they asked me about my husband's situation, expressed their encouragement and told me they'd pray for us.
"Mr. Host" told me "I don't really think I will make it; but I feel good now. "I don't see any point in worrying about what is going to happen." When I told him how much I admired him, he brushed it off, and said he had a lot to be grateful for. I agreed; starting with his amazingly strong wife.
Another regular arrived, and he jumped up to welcome them. Soon after, they headed for the chemotherapy treatment.
I have spent the rest of my day marveling at these two people. What a beautiful, brave couple; they are the reason a cancer treatment waiting room, which should probably be a grim place with people who are strangers to one another, feels more like a haven of warmth and friendship. Because of them, bridges are being built, instead of walls. We are surrounded by people like them; we need only lift our heads and pay attention to see them, and be humbled and inspired.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.
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