On my to-do list is: Pick up a variety pack of ginger chews and a box of saltines to add to my husband Fran’s goody-bag. Plain crackers and ginger were two staples of his limited diet during his six rounds of chemo, but that was more than a year ago (it’s so nice to be able to write that). The loot in my shopping cart is for Barry, one of Fran’s colleagues at work, who is facing his first chemotherapy.
We have no idea if Barry will have the same reactions as Fran — nausea, dry eyes, hemorrhoids (sorry, honey) — or whether he will have his own crazy-ass, chemo-combo-platter from the bounteous buffet catered by cancer drugs. But it doesn’t matter. What really counts is letting Barry know he is not alone; that others have been there, done that and lived to tell about it.
I consider myself a compassionate person, but I never understood the full ramifications of a cancer diagnosis and treatment until Fran was told he had double-hit lymphoma in 2014. Before that, I sent get-well cards, fruit baskets and flowers followed by a figurative swipe of my brow. There-by-the-grace-of-God sort of thing.
But not anymore.
I am an auxiliary member of the cancer club. Fran has a full membership. This group has wicked initiation rites and no one wants more recruits. But, like Barry, they come. And members like Fran will step up to soothe their anxiety, listen to their fears and try and make them laugh. That’s what happened when Fran was in the hospital for the first time.
The first to visit were Barb and Bill from church. Barb had been downstairs for a checkup in the breast cancer clinic. I hugged them as if I’d been stranded on an island and hadn’t seen anyone in ten years. They were walking proof that cancer was just a bump in the road, not the road itself. They reminded us that we would get through this.
Then, our friends Pat and Bill arrived. Pat had been diagnosed with lymphoma a year before. She came bearing a bag of goodies that helped her through her chemo: lollipops, hard candies, hand sanitizer and a big green water bottle. They looked at Fran with IV’s sticking out of his chest and arms, as if he were sitting at the lunch counter at the local diner. No look of horror or imminent tears. They talked about ports (double or single?), meds (did you get Rituxan [rituximab]?), and what their kids were doing, as if sitting in a hospital room at Roswell Park Cancer Institute was no big deal — it was something manageable, overcome-able. That’s exactly what we needed. And that’s what Barry will need, too.
So, Fran will be there with a bit of gossip, a few bad jokes and a bag of his favorite treats. That reminds me: I need to pick up a cool-looking water bottle.