I miss going to the Coborn Cancer Center.
“What?!” people ask. “How can you MISS going to a CANCER center?”
These are people who, understandably, have a phobia about that dreaded “C” word.
As a patient with colon cancer, I “graduated” from the Coborn Cancer Center Aug. 8 after undergoing 28 radiation treatments and two bouts of chemotherapy. My prognosis, I’m told, is excellent.
Let me try to explain why I miss the cancer center. For one thing, I have never met so many wonderful people in one place. In six weeks, I had the good fortune to meet at least 40 of them: receptionists, nurses, aides, technicians, doctors. There is not a one of them I did not enjoy meeting and talking with. They are not only experts, they are passionately committed to what they do day in, day out – helping others through the “journey” of cancer. What is extraordinary – beyond words – are their teamwork, their communication skills, their compassion, their personalized attention for each patient and their good humor. There is nothing worse than going to a clinic where everyone is funereal serious and long-faced. When they say “humor is the best medicine,” they’re not kidding. It really is. I used to accuse cancer-center employees of taking happy pills every morning. How can they keep up such good-humored spirits all day long, working as they do with pain and suffering? They are true pros, and so if you want to see shining examples of grace under pressure, just pay the cancer center a visit.
Aside from that phenomenal staff, the other reason I miss the cancer center is because of the fellow patients I would meet and chat with in the lobby as we all waited our turns for this or that procedure. Many were bald or balding, with bandannas or caps on their heads. I didn’t go totally bald, although my hairstyle can now be described as the “wispy look.” Some of those patients looked so weak, tired and forlorn, it was enough to break your heart. My side effects weren’t that bad, but they were sometimes unpleasant enough that I could deeply relate to how some of the weakest patients must have felt. However, like the grace-under-pressure of the staff, the patients also demonstrated remarkably upbeat attitudes and good humor. Three of my favorites are what I call the Kimball Family. There was Mr. Kimball, Mrs. Kimball and their 20-something daughter, Ms. Kimball. Mrs. Kimball was undergoing treatments for breast cancer. (She’s doing fine now, thank goodness.) I called them the Kimballs because they mentioned they hail from Kimball. And they, in turn, called me Mr. Rice because I live in Rice.
“Well, hello, Mr. and Mrs. Kimball!” I’d say in the lobby. “How you doin’?”
“Oh, just fine, Mr. Rice. And how ’bout you?”
“Oh, fair to middlin’, thank you.”
Then we’d sit and shoot the breeze, usually about pets, as they have a night job cleaning the Kimball Veterinary Clinic, where I had my four pets “fixed.”
Two other favorite “lobby people” were my neighbor Marty Dubbin and her sister, Mary Kay Tretter. Marty’s younger brother, Dean, a farmer who hails from Genola, is suffering from throat cancer. His relatives would take turns bringing him to the center. It was such a pleasure when I’d arrive at the center to see Dean, Marty and Mary Kay waiting in the lobby like old friends. And I never tired of playing mischievous verbal hi-jinx with them, especially me bragging about the spiffy new boxer underwear I had to buy and how good they look on me. They would groan and giggle, and Mary Kay would dare me to show off my hubba-hubba knickers. Then she’d giggle and blush like a naughty school girl.
I will never forget my first visit to the center. A woman walked past as I was sitting there and gave me the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen. A blue bandanna on her head, she was thin, pale, ghostly and obviously feeling so very low. She smiled so weakly, but the smile was absolutely radiant, coming as it did from that thin, pained face. I wanted to give her a hug, and now I wish I would’ve. I’ll never forget that incandescent smile. It was exactly like seeing the triumphant human spirit shining through a veil of pain.
And now, dear readers, I think you can understand why I miss that cancer center.