I’m back taking one last shot of chemotherapy. Two hours on Monday, followed by two more hours on Tuesday every two weeks. Why do it, you ask? Because I would like to attend the fifth annual “I’m not dead yet” party at Winona Lake the last weekend before Labor Day. Can I make it? Not likely, but you never know. As my oncologist told me Monday, “Mike, none of us gave you more than ninety days and here you are four years later. Who can say how long you have left? But you won’t make May, if you do nothing. What have you got to lose?” Good point.
So there I was reclining in my leather chemo chair getting poisoned, when a young lady about four cubicles down came out into the chemo room, pulling her tower of heart monitoring equipment and the chemo apparatus. I could tell that she was using a permanently installed port in her chest, to receive the needle. Not a good sign.
She was wearing a university warm-up suit (the kind you earn, not buy) and appeared to have been very physically fit…at one time. I could immediately tell that she was probably a track person by her coordinated walk, although she was walking bent over slightly, as she headed for the bathroom, probably to throw up. Her mother was helping to guide her by holding her by the elbow and with an arm around her waist. It was slow going. Her mom was gently encouraging her to take each unsteady step.
She had beautiful natural blond hair and blue eyes and had a nice figure at one time. You could tell she had been a looker. She wore a simple gold necklace and a hair ribbon sweeping her lovely hair back into a pony tail that still bounced as she trudged down the hallway, shaky on her feet.
The thing that got me was the look on this once beautiful young woman’s face. It was strained, tired, and worn-out. I could tell that she was in pain and significant discomfort. Each small step was hurting her and she was bravely trying to get through it and not let her mom know how bad it was. But she couldn’t hide the agony twisting her face.
She was breathing in small, short gasps, probably because of the pain. Her mother sensed how much pain her daughter was in and was whispering quietly to her words that I could not hear. The mother’s face was withered with utter despair, but to her credit she was putting on a brave front for her daughter.
My cold, hard, lawyer’s heart broke as I was witness to this monumental, silent struggle being waged by mom and daughter against this terrible, relentless, almost always victorious disease.
My nurse walked over to my recliner as mom and daughter went into the bathroom together. Another bad sign.
I said to my nurse, “That beautiful girl can’t be 25. Right?”
She replied, “She’s only 22 and just graduated from college.”
I said, “I hope she has something that is curable or at least treatable for years.”
She said, “I wish that were true, but it is not. She is terribly sick.”
I said, “Some things are just not right in this world. I’ve had most of my life. A little short, but she has not even got started. It is not right. I hate this disease.”
“So do I, Mike. I just hate what it does to my patients and their families. The patient dies, but what few people understand is that a piece of the family dies, too. It is tragic. I hate it and there is not much we can do so often. We try to manage the pain and make the patients more comfortable, but that’s it much of the time. I do not know how the families deal with it.”
I cannot imagine how that mother will deal with her beautiful daughter never being married, never having grandchildren, never again using that marvelous athlete’s body. She will have to try to be strong and supportive, while witnessing her daughter day-by-day lose her long-term struggle. And then she will have to bury her daughter. Also into the grave will go a piece of mom’s heart, torn out by this disease, never to be healed.
It is just not right. It is just not right.