Monday, November 21, 2011

Lessons from the Cancer Centre

Since mid-October, I've spent every weekday morning sitting in the regional cancer centre while my mom has radiation for squamous cell carcinoma that didn't take the hint and go away surgically. While it can be a tough place to hang out, because reality tends to stare you in the face, it's also a good place for basic reminders on the importance of little things in our lives. Here's what I learned:

  • We are stronger together. When you hang out in the cancer centre, there aren't alot of secrets. Either you are fighting cancer yourself, or you are supporting someone who is fighting cancer. You don't have to make excuses why you are there, or go into detailed explanations. Cancer is the great equalizer, and there's something strangely comforting about the solidarity that builds as you start to recognize the same faces every day. Race, creed, belief, age, gender and sex don't matter. Cancer attacks everyone equally.
  • Do unto others. The second day of mom's treatment, two of the gentlemen, and I use that in the truest sense of the word, shared information about the designated parking area and a monthly parking pass. Having this small piece of information took away two big stressors in my mom's daily journey. I have since passed the information on to others. None of us heard it from hospital administration (although hopefully that will change after my battle with the bureacracy over a parking permit)-it came from fellow patients. 
  • Small things matter.  Small things can make a big difference when you're facing a nasty adversary. Patients receive a printout of all their appointments on the first day, so you can see the journey ahead, and you know what you are doing and when. Changing an appointment is not a hassle. There are lockers with keys that patients can use if they need to change into hospital gowns. The main waiting area for radiation has coffee and tea and comfortable chairs. Volunteers restock the magazines on a regular basis. 
  • You have a name. Once you get into the treatment areas, you are not a chart. You are a person with a name, and people remember you and ask about you. They remember if you have a family, or grandchildren, they compliment you on a scarf or an outfit, and they treat you with respect. Efficiency does not have to be rude.
  • Courage wears many faces. I interviewed Dr Craig McFadyen, surgeon and Regional VP of the Grand River Regional Cancer Centre a few months ago for an article about the Cancer Centre that unfortunately died  when Waterloo Openfile.ca was tanked. He said that he was always humbled and inspired by the courage of the patients fighting cancer. “Every day you see extraordinary examples of courage in the Centre. Cancer is a tough enemy and we use things that can hurt you to cure you. The perseverance that people have to continue on and keep fighting inspires me every day.” 
God bless the patients, the caregivers and the families. Together we are stronger.