It will probably seem stupid that I am posting about the middle of my cancer journey, rather than starting from the beginning. I have honestly been so consumed with the journey itself that writing about it almost seemed like overkill. Now that I can see the finish line, I find that specific moments come back to me to remind me of the life lessons they represent.
I have gained a tremendous amount of respect for the medical profession while going through treatment. Surgeons, lab techs, nurses, radiologists, oncologists, their staff members, even the pre-admissions nurse at the hospital, all have treated me with amazing kindness, understanding and courtesy. It makes you think about how much of the painful side of human life they see every day, and how they manage to keep their balance and humor, in the face of so much tragedy and trauma.
One person in particular came to mind today. I don’t even know his last name, although I do remember it begins with a “C”. I think of him as Dr. Michael. (I should mention that the 10 days I was in the hospital for my surgery, I honestly never remembered a single last name – but I can see their kind faces and mostly remember their first names!)
Dr. Michael is a resident, and we met as I was going through pre-surgical prep. One of the people who come and talk to you, and explain what is going to happen. A nice young man, reserved and proper, with his clipboard and white coat. I was, typically, cracking jokes and laser focused on the whole positive energy thing. It had been working for me so far, and I wasn’t about to fall down on the job at the critical moment. I think he walked in as I was explaining to one of the nurses that I had them paint my nails in what I was calling “Cadaver Grey” in case the worst happened, because I always like to match. (I am not above using sick humor when necessary.)
I caught him hiding a smile, and I was determined to make him crack. He kept his professional attitude, but unbent enough to join in, just a bit. I think he was humoring me. Fine by me. I like being humored, especially by intelligent young people.
Dr. Michael was in the operating room and checked on me every day I was in the hospital. He was a welcome presence during the first days I was in the ICU. I had never had major surgery, and I admit I found the whole thing scary. It is both humbling and frightening when, after running your own life for 60 years, you find yourself unable to function without the kindness and assistance of other people. I don’t know how other people react, but I kept looking inside for my balance, my mojo. I knew it was there, even if the light was dim.
However, on the 4th day in the ICU, I had some problems and they had to put me on IV feeding. Having tubes stuck into your nose and down your throat really sucks. The tape they put on my nose felt like some honking great beak, and when I spoke, I sounded like some nasal old hag with a Queens accent. I was tired; I was allergic to the pain medication, which meant that every time I gave myself a jolt, I was looking around for the nurse with a shot of Benadryl so I didn’t itch on top of everything else. In other words, I was a hot mess.
Late in the day, Dr. Michael came in to check on me. As usual, he asked me “How are you feeling?” Instead of my usual reply, I said “I’m afraid I’ve lost my mojo”. He looked at me with the greatest kindness and said in a very firm voice, “No, you haven’t. You will get it back.” He sounded so sure, so confident in me and my ability to rise back up and fly, that I felt my heart lift in hope.
I looked at him then, as if I was the youngster and he the wise elder, and said “Are you sure?” He smiled and nodded at me, and replied “Yes. I’m sure. Nothing could keep you down for long. You will get it back. Don’t worry.”
Words can’t really describe how empowered I felt at that moment. Even as he maintained his professional demeanor, he allowed himself to offer me the reassurance and connection I so desperately needed. His respect and confidence in me reminded me that I had the power all along. Just like Dorothy had the power to go home by clicking her heels together, I could bring my mojo back once I believed in myself.
This small exchange was just one of many moments in my journey, and yet so full of revelation. I hope I never forget how I felt, and I hope Dr. Michael goes on to be a wonderful healer, using that instinct for empathy as skillfully as he uses his medical training. The human touch makes all the difference.