A Token of Hope in the Midst of Cancer Treatment

Things are looking up for Ed as he begins the third chemo cycle.

As the third chemo cycle began, Ed reflected over the encouraging results of the previous week’s blood draw. It was a blood draw just three weeks after the second chemo cycle. His white cell count had now plunged from a high of 81,000 to a low of only 1,025. At that time, more than ever, infection prevention was paramount and Ed had to take all precautions to avoid communicable diseases as the flu season began. But his body could also begin rebuilding his immune system.

As Ed settled in for his first infusion of the third cycle, he was wishing Pattie could be there, but she did not have enough employees available to cover her absence at the fragrance store she managed. However, Ed was not without a caregiver. His friend and neighbor, John, came to be with him. Little did he know at that time, John himself would die of liver cancer in just three years. But on that day, Ed was happy to have his support, and John would enjoy the hospital’s chicken salad sandwiches.

Nurse Kathy met them in the waiting room and escorted them to the infusion room. Nurse Kathy was the supervisor for the infusion room who stepped up to cover for a nurse on vacation. All the infusion nurses worked collectively to cover the needs of all patients in the infusion room, regardless to whom they were assigned.

Nurse Kathy measured Ed’s weight, which had finally stabilized. After only eight months since he was first diagnosed, he had lost 65 pounds. As nurse Kathy continued to take Ed’s vitals, Nurse Lisa began hooking up the “plumbing” for Ed’s infusion.

Nurse Lisa brought up a question that she has asked before. “Are we going to leave the infusion needle inserted for the entire week?”

Ed was still reluctant to have that needle in his arm for the next five days, but Nurse Lisa did not give up and said, “You have had so many blood draws and infusion needles in the veins of your arms, that they are developing scar tissue, making the usual sites very difficult to use. Much more poking and you will need the portal installed that you did not want.”

Ed finally agreed, though reluctantly, on the promise that the nurses would bind it up very well so nothing could pull it out while he was sleeping.

Sleeping. Who was he kidding? He knew that sleeping was not going to be an option for the next three days because of the steroids he would receive. Thinking of the steroids, Ed touched the lump on his neck below his right ear and remembered how, just one week before, he noticed it had reduced in size from what it once was, even though it was still noticeable.

Nurse Kathy finished the standard “20 questions.” Mouth Sores? Yes. Diarrhea? No. Constipation? Yes. Nausea? Yes. Appetite loss? Yes. Loss of taste replaced by a metallic taste? Yes.

Nurse Nancy was nearby and paused to speak and ask if Ed was taking stool softeners. Yes, answered Ed, saying that he didn’t always have comfortable results.

Nurse Nancy asked, “Have you ever heard of a black and white? Four ounces of prune juice mixed with two tablespoons of milk of magnesia-- guaranteed to work every time.”

Ed filed that away in his mind, but never tried it. The oncologist soon would recommend Senokot-S, a laxative with stool softeners. Ed found that to work successfully if he took it the morning of the first day of a chemo cycle and twice per day for the next 10 days. Nurse Nancy also suggested a concoction called “happy mouth” (First Mouthwash) for the sores in Ed’s mouth and had a prescription phoned in through his doctor’s office.

Ed was all hooked up and waiting for his chemo cocktail to be mixed and pumped into his body. One of the wonderful volunteers, Phyllis, paused to ask if Ed or John wanted anything. Feeling a little more chipper today, Ed asked what she was offering. Phyllis, without hesitation, reached in to her vest pocket with her thumb and forefinger and pulled out what looked like a coin. Then she placed it in the palm of Ed’s right hand, holding his hand with both of her hands as she folded Ed’s fingers around it and said, “I give you hope.”

Ed could not speak. By looking into her eyes, he knew she was a cancer survivor.

Finally, Ed and John asked for a cup of coffee.

Phyllis asked, “Would you also like some of my world-famous coffee cake? I just made it this morning.”

Enthusiastically, Ed and John said yes.

As Phyllis turned to go prepare these morning treats, Ed opened his hand to see what she had place there. It was an oval, about the size of a nickel, with the image of an angel on one side. Phyllis looked back over her shoulder and said, “Its’ a pocket angel-- just a small token of hope.”

Ed carried it in his pocket since that time.

“Hope is the little voice you hear whisper ‘maybe’ when it seems the entire world is shouting ‘no!’”

-- Unknown