I’ve been volunteering at the infusion center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Danvers, where my daughter worked. It’s been a dream on mine to work there, certainly not in her place (I am not a medical professional) but in her memory. It’s been a dream of mine to find a small way to continue her good work toward excellence in patience care.
If MGH had allowed me to create my ideal volunteer job, I’d have developed the job they gave me. I fetch beverages and warm blankets. I deliver lunches. I chat with patients and their guests who are receptive to conversation. I’ve shared a few of my paperback crime novels with one gentleman who was reading one by a favorite author.
My job is the perfect job for me at this point in my life.
On my first day on the job I met Nancy, who is fighting her cancer with style and determination. I admired her the moment I met her and her sister, who was in from New York City to support the fight. Something between Nancy and me clicked and I felt a pull to her in my heart. It was as if an old friend was sitting in that chair with those toxic healing poisons dripping into her veins.
I looked forward to seeing her each week, which is kind of a shitty thing to say, that you look forward to watching someone endure chemo. Chemo is probably the least fun you can have under any circumstance. That said, I joke occasionally that I’d “rather have chemo” than do something I find unpleasant (like watching last night’s State of the Union address). I can say I’d rather have chemo because I’ve had chemo. It’s pretty miserable experience.
Today Nancy had her final treatment and got ring a beautiful brass bell that hangs on the wall in the radiation area. Ringing it symbolizes the end of this part of the cancer experience. When someone rings the bell, it is with relief (it’s over), trepidation (it might come back), and a bit of fear.
Fear. You’re walking out the door, away from the medical team that became your lifeline. They held your hand, coaxed you, encouraged you, laughed with you, and worried with you. They share the relief (it’s over) and the trepidation (it might come back).
Finishing treatment is a little like being a baby bird and having your avian parent push you out of the nest or your human parent take off your training wheels. It’s exhilarating and it’s terrifying.
When Nancy walked down the hall to the bell she found her medical team waiting for her. They were as proud of her and she was of herself. They presented her with a lapel pin with a graduation mortar board and they led the applause when the clapped hit the bell.
She had tears in her eyes as she rang it. She rang it three times–once for family, once for friends, and once for the community that rallies around the patient. And then she walked out the door.
I mentioned earlier that she is recovering with style. Today she wore socks woven with marijuana plants.
Today was a good day for Nancy and a fine day to be her friend. We have talked about seeing each other again, with cocktails in our hands. That will be another good day.