The waiting room at the Carbone Cancer Center is an interesting place. Our waiting area is familiar to me of course after weeks of visiting it each day.
We see familiar faces after a while. Some patients are old and then there is the real shock of seeing a young person a child...
Some people visit with each other, some stay isolated and don't make eye contact.
Some discuss their cancer and others will talk about anything but their treatment or cancer.
Yesterday as I was waiting for Rich, a woman came into the area. She'd had surgery done to her mouth and throat. She sat down not far from me and picked up a magazine.
Rich was called and I returned to working on the 'waiting room puzzle'.
The woman stood up and paced, then began to walk around and straighten up magazines in the whole area.
She came near me and quietly said, "I'm sure they are going to think me nuts for aligning all of these magazines..."
I saw her eyes and I saw what I thought was fear and loneliness. I put my hands in my lap and gave her my full attention.
"Nope, no one is going to think you are nuts, if you are like me the only way to deal with all of this stress is to stay busy," I replied.
She nodded and dropped into a seat next to me. "Yes! Yes, you are so right!"
Her hands fluttered and then she looked toward the treatment room where Rich had gone.
"I'm sorry but what kind of cancer does your husband have?" Her question didn't surprise me, we often discussed cancers with anyone that asked.
"Throat Cancer," I replied.
She nodded, dabbing the corner of her mouth with a tissue. The surgeons would have some reconstruction to do at some point...I thought.
"Me too," she said. "They got most of it by surgery, but this is my second week of both radiation ... and chemo."
"You are just starting," I said. "My husband has 6 more radiations to go."
"Did he have chemo also?" she asked.
"Yes, he did," I replied. I decided not to share my husband's medical horror stories with her, absolutely she...did not need to hear that!
"We are done with chemo and heading towards the end of treatment."
She sighed, "I'm just so tired and the nausea, and the chemo...ugh...and I lost 10 lbs in the first week alone!"
I reached over and took her hand in mine and looked her in the eyes. The eyes were so scared, so frightened...
"I'm not going to lie to you, this is a tough treatment. My husband lost 10 lbs his first week also and we had to deal with some nausea. Every person's treatment is different, but we've managed to come up with some very good 'power shakes' for him and recipes that are so simple and so packed with goodies..."
Her hands clenched mine as if I'd become a life line.
"Have you gotten the recipes from Jackie?" I asked.
"There is some great stuff in there, start eating and making some easy carbo packed foods now and freeze small packets for the days you are too tired to cook."
I nodded towards the treatment rooms, "I've sort of come up with some easy stuff for eating and he is still eating by mouth. It isn't easy but we are making adjustments."
"Does he have a feeding tube?" she asked.
"Yes, and so far he just flushes it and then adds water and pedialyte because the chemo messes with everything..."
Rich walked out of the treatment room and I could hear his boots on the floor.
"Oh." She replied when Rich came around the corner.
My husband, even with a cane can be a rather striking figure. He normally wears extremely bright colored western shirts. His silver and black hair is bright and touches his shoulders. Most of the hair loss is under the neck so most people wouldn't notice it.
She stood up and Rich told me that we had to go see Dr. Witek. I told him to go ahead, I'd be right there.
I turned to the lady. "I hope we see each other again, perhaps you'd like to talk, or maybe I can give you some resources that have helped me..."
Next thing I know I was holding this woman who had wrapped her arms around me tightly and held on even tighter.
I wrapped my arms around her and held on. I rubbed her back and whispered comforting words like a mother does to her child.
She stepped away and the nurse called her name for treatment.
Then she turned and grabbed me for another hug.
I held her tight until she let go. She dabbed her eyes and then turned towards the treatment room.
Rich looked at me.
"She's just starting treatment for throat cancer," I told him, "I think she needed a friend. She seems so frightened and alone."
I put my hand in his and we walked towards the next waiting room.
Dr. Witek was happy with how Rich was coming along and full of smiles.
However I kept thinking of the woman with the lonely eyes that were so full of fear.
I hoped we would cross paths next week, and perhaps I could help in some way.
Rich and I talked a lot on the way home, but in those moments of silence my mind kept returning to that woman in the waiting room.
Rich and I have gone through such tough times together since the March 13th diagnosis.
No one can even imagine what it is like unless they walk a mile in the patient's shoes.
As the care giver, I can only offer support and give care.
Who was that woman's support?
I keep thinking of her.
I hope to see her again.