It was a long fall. Or so I think I remember it being that way. I recall the trees were hesitant to give colour to their leaves and, once they had, the colour was rather, well, lack-lustre. At least that’s what I think I remember. There were a few exceptions to the rule, of course. There were a few spectacular trees who refused to go down quietly. It was as though fall was their time in the spotlight and they had an “I’ll be damned” kind of attitude which carried them to their glorious seasonal climax: They were crimson red.
I’ve always wondered how it is that some trees – same species – can “finish” with such glory? Why are they able to pull through while others simply droop, drool, and drop? What is the difference? Is it that some simply dig deeper into the ground to find that pool of minerals that they need to carry on? Is it that the angle of the sun’s rays hits them at exactly the right time of the day when they are all primed and ready to draw in the sun’s energy and make the most of it? I don’t know. I wonder. Maybe I spend too much time wondering. But – I do wonder about it.
I suppose the same can be said about people.
I’ve seen it. And I see it a lot in the cancer centre. I see people digging down deep into the roots of their being to draw the strength they need to do what they need to do to finish the task at hand. Maybe that task it taking a round of chemo. Maybe it’s taking herceptin – a post-treatment drug used for breast cancer survivors. Maybe it’s taking magnesium, blood, or Lynparza. I watched a parade of courageous warriors enter and exit the post-treatment pod at Royal Victoria Hospital on Monday. Some were ashen grey, some wore wigs, some were hair-challenged but hopeful. The war-wounded. The heroes. The fighters. They dug deep and reached high. Their moment of glory was not at hand yet. They were not willing to give up without a vibrant display of colour, courage, conviction. Cancer be damned.
They were resilient.
Yet. Mother Nature can sometimes throw some pretty messed up curve balls. The best laid plans of mice and men can oft’ go awry. Robert Burns saw it. The wee mousie saw it. I saw it. While waiting to be called in for my magnesium treatment on Monday, I had the good fortune to meet a wonderful couple whose tan told tales of warmer weather. There was not much time for uncertainty in terms of who it was receiving treatment, for as soon as the wife entered the waiting room with a hand-knit cap on her head – I knew it was she. “She” who had been ill. “She” who had been given the bad news. “She” who had been treated. “She” who was digging down deep looking for the elements of recovery in her soil.
“We flew in from our trailer in Florida last night and will be leaving for there once again in the morning after my wife’s Herceptin treatment.” He was matter-of-fact in his statement. I had heard of people like that. People who flew home every few months for treatment and then flew away once again to warmer climates. Why not? The sun has got to be more healing than the snow. Oh, how I would love to walk along the beach in the morning with my feet wet from the warm ocean current instead of having wet feet from melted snow which escaped down the top of my boots after trudging over snow banks. Yes. Why not Florida? And good on them. I wondered how she would feel, though, on the plane and if the altitude would impact her in a different way. I don’t know. Again, I wonder.
Several hours had passed when “She” and her tanned husband were seated in the chair beside me. I kept quiet. I wasn’t sure if they wanted to be recognized. One can never be too careful with guarding the privacy of those seated in the chairs. I gave several awkward glances towards them in the hopes of catching their attention. I was bored. I had already been sitting in my chair for 4 hours. I had already seen several scores of people receive their treatment and leave – from that same chair. Finally – contact! We exchanged a few words and then we snuggled back down into our own routines to focus on getting the full benefit from our treatment. It is always as if focusing on the reception can sweeten the wine. I tried to imagine my magnesium course through my blood to feed my cells as fertilizer would ignite the growth of plant roots. My energy would soon “flower” and I would be the quintessential image of good health and boundless energy.
It was routine. The nurses were calm. The warriors were fighting. The tone was casual.
“She” unhooked herself for a pee break. This is always quite a feat as there are several plugs and one is never too certain if you pull the wrong one if you are cutting off your supply of the “goods” being delivered in the bag hanging from your IV pole. But – the visit was routine and she was soon hunkered down for her treatment once again.
There has been a lot of flu going around lately so, when, she started shivering I thought that maybe she was starting to get the flu. THIS would be a nightmare as so many warriors in the room were still rather “raw” from treatment which wiped out their immune system. The flu could take you down just as quickly as cancer. I watched as she and her husband tried to settle her “chill”. Nada. He rubbed her legs. Nada. I looked directly at him and said, I think you need to call a nurse. Nada. I looked at her and said, “I think you need a nurse”. Nada. She got worse. Her lips quivered. She was doing a full body shake now. I called my nurse. The time for pleasantries was over. The time had come to throw privacy to the dogs. This woman was in crisis. She was reacting to her Herceptin. And that’s not good.
The nurse was calm. They are always calm. Soon – a dose of Benadryl was administered – followed by some other sedative. Warm blankets followed. Encouraging words. Doctors. Everyone calm. This was not a life-threatening moment. At least – it wasn’t to them. My Florida friends, however, were visibly shaken. “This” was not a day in the life for them. “This” was a crisis. And it was – emotionally to many warriors in the room. Some knew what was happening. Some did not. Some were attentive. Some were not. Me? I wondered what was happening? I remembered my reaction to Paclitaxol. I remembered the panic, the Benedryl, the warm blankets, the doctors… You don’t forget those kinds of traumas in short order. That day – the leaves on my tree were shaken, just as they were shaken on my Florida friends. It wasn’t long before her body was calm. She was doped up. He was watching. I was watching.
Then. The beep.
It was the beep of my pump to indicate I was finished my treatment.
It was the alarm sounding that my life was about to take a turn out of here.
I looked over to my friends. I call them friends because when you share these kinds of moments with strangers, it rips away the cloak of show to reveal the soul of humanity. We were united in our fight for life. We were united in solidarity – to overcome. We didn’t even know each others’ names, yet, we were to never forget each other.
I was unhooked, unplugged, and swabbed and bandaged. My chair was prepped for the next cancer warrior. This post-treatment dance was about to begin from the beginning once again and my Florida partner was about to waltz with someone else.
We exchanged a glance, “she” and I. It’s all “she” could muster through her sedation. “Thank-you”, she blinked. I smiled, “your welcome”. And then I glanced a “I wish you both well” to both of them, turned, and left.
I didn’t cry until I was in the shower of my own home. I’m not sure why. I guess I can chalk it up to PTSD. That trauma had been hard on all of us. “She” and I had shared her trauma. “We” the warriors – had shared it. And collectively, I think “we” lost a bit of our footing that day. It would take more sun, more dirt, more time for us to regain our strength. But we would. We do. We dig deeper. We spread our leaves higher to stretch and reach for the sun. We breathe more deeply. We root more vigorously. We prepare ourselves for the fall. We know it’s coming. We know it happens to everyone. But we will be damned if we won’t go out in a blaze of glory – full colours glowing – to the oohs and awes of those with whom we have shared our life journey.