Friday, May 18, 2007

May 17, 2007 - Santa of the Chemo Suite

OK, this story's a bit of a tearjerker, but I can't resist posting it. It's one of those little vignettes that portrays the humanity of cancer survivors, even as we're surrounded by all that medical technology.

A cancer patient named Michael Lewis posted it in the response area of Leroy Sievers' "My Cancer" blog on the NPR website. (It's part of Leroy's May 15th blog entry, in case any of you want to look it up in the original context.)

One thing I like about the story is the way it demonstrates how life goes on, even in the midst of cancer treatment...

Early December of 2005 I received a whole new attitude on looks in an elevator at my oncologist's. I'm a 64 year old guy, 5'9", with the rather unattractive little belly we fellows sometimes get. I'm also balding and sport a full, neatly trimmed white beard. The steroids taken with chemo created what my kids called "chipmunk cheeks". I admit that around Christmas time, I let the beard grow a bit and though I have never taken a job as a Santa, it would not take much to do so. I love it that, sometimes, at the market, I get the wide eyed (usually hopeful) glances from little ones. It sure is fun.

Bone tired from chemo, I entered the elevator, really not paying much attention to those around me. I have become accustomed to those tired looks in others and rarely have trouble sorting out the patient from the caregiver. But this day I became aware of the beautiful blue eyes of a six or so year old girl staring up at me. People came off and on the elevator. Finally, I knelt, looking straight into those eyes and, with my best Santa smile quietly said, "Ho Ho Ho". Her eyes widened for just a moment. Then she smiled and said, "Are you really Santa?"

I gave my stock answer, " No, but I help Santa a lot." thinking of the many gifts I had yet to buy. Thinking that this might indeed be the last Christmas with my little blue-eyed girl of 25.

Just then I realized that under her pretty blue scarf, this beautiful child had absolutely no hair. Thankfully, the elevator door opened and some inertia pushed us into the large waiting room.

Ashley, as I was to come to know her, sidled down the long row of chairs. She settled into the chair next to me. We made eye contact, she with a quiet, wistful look only little girls are capable of. I smiled and said, "Hi". We glanced at each others' wrist bands.

She began her conversation casually, as though she were talking about one of her dolls, "I've been very, very sick." she said. I nodded, "I know about that. I've been sick, too."

We continued our conversation for some minutes until her oncology nurse quietly sat by Ashley's side. "I have to go now. Would you walk with me in there?" blue eyes imploring.

"In there" was to the oncology suite. Through a door and down the long corridor I had long ago christened "Valley of the Shadow". Mom and nurse nodded at my enquiring eyes. Ashley slipped her small hand in mine as we walked a long, curtain draped hall to the bed which would be hers today. I sat in the chair beside her as the nurse prepared all the paper wrapped implements. Ashley held my hand. Thank God for lovely oncology nurses who know their business. Small tears at the pain were wiped away. We sat quietly as bags were hung. Chemo is a busy time.

Anne, my oncology nurse, rushed past the room, did a huge double take and blurted, "Michael, I've been looking all over for....." Onc nurses are busy folks and don't like their schedule messed with. But I'm proud of her. She got it right away. Smiling softly at Ashley she said, "I have to take him away now."

Anne and I just cleared her curtains in the Valley before the tears overcame us both. Curious heads bobbed out from curtained cubicles as Ashley's bright voice echoed from linoleum floors, "Thank You, Santa Claus!"

So if that image in the mirror bothers you today, just be thankful that you don't look like Santa Claus. It can be brutal.

As you said, Leroy, "..who ever said this was fair?"

Michael Lewis

1 comment:

Stushie said...

Great story, Carl. Thanks for sharing it.