Inspiration comes when you least expect it. You can be inspired by anything. Many are predictable. Art, nature, sunsets, magazines, books, people, animals, etc. The list goes on and on. But yesterday I found myself overcome with tremendous admiration at a place where I had been many, many times.
Nine years ago I underwent surgery for uterine cancer. I had been working in Greece and knew something wasn't right. Thank goodness I was scheduled to go home in a couple of days. I immediately call my nurse practitioner whose astute observation saved my life. She immediately took a biopsy and found out I had cancer. I will never forget that phone call. One moment I feel like a very healthy 50-year-old and the next moment I'm wondering whether I will see my son graduate from high school. Looking your mortality dead in the face is something you can't explain. It's not that it's so overwhelming. It's just that when it's not expected it's jarring.
No one quite understands what the feeling of having cancer is until you have it. No words, observations, sayings, articles... nothing prepares you. I'm not trying to be melodramatic. Cancer is very cut and dry. You have it or you don't. You die or you don't.
But here's where the inspiration comes in. I went for my yearly exam that will be a part of my regime for the rest of my life. I entered Cedars Sinai as I had entered so many times. For the first five years it was every six months, but now I have gotten past the stage where I can get life insurance. Before five years cancer free they deem you too risky. I didn't have to do chemo or radiation. Didn't lose my hair. Some of my insides were taken out, but I feel I got the better end of the stick.
I go to the front desk and check in. They give me my wrist band as a reminder I'm a patient, not a visitor. I will always be a patient. I'm healthy now, thank God, but here I will always be a patient. I go into the waiting room and notice that there are so many more people waiting than there were even five years ago. I don't know if that means more people are being treated, but it appears that way.
My name is called, and they take me into a room where people are getting their chemo treatments. And this is when the realization creeps up and grabs me. I see an older man with his wife. The nurse is giving him his meds and talking about the weather. It seemed it was a way of focusing on something else that wasn't as difficult as the task at hand. I am so inspired and in awe of her strength and kindness to this couple. She does this all day long, day after day (she had said she had been there for 27 years) and her focus on her patient and her professionalism in the midst of such sadness was astounding.
Not far away, sitting in another chair, was a beautiful young lady with a scarf on her head receiving her treatment. Our eyes met and she gave me such a pure smile, like a small child. We were patients in the same room, but the connection in our glance I think made her feel like she wasn't alone.
I feel guilty just having my temperature and blood pressure taken. I feel like I have escaped from something. I am called in to see my doctor, but I excuse myself to go to the restroom. And once I am behind the closed door by myself I start to cry. I can't stop. For some reason, being there is a reminder of how lucky I was to dodge the big C. I am cancer free now, and am determined to be for the rest of my life. But somehow in that bathroom I realize it could have happened to me. Instead it has happened to so many people I see when I come here, and today it has been overwhelming. I'm angry, I'm grateful, I'm sad and I'm crying because I am so happy I have survived. But more than any of that, I'm inspired by how hard people fight and how much they are loved and how many dedicate their lives in trying to win the battle.
Photo credit: Kris Evans.
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