Monday, April 4, 2011

Cancer- A Passport to the Mind

I write to you today from the Lurie Cancer Center waiting room.
Its packed.  It's always packed.

One could deduce that there are not enough seats in the waiting room because Northwestern Hospital is a leading Cancer Research Center, where people travel from around the world to be treated by the best and brightest.  Or one could argue that there are simply too many of us fighting this disease.

One in 3 women and 1 in 2 men will be diagnosed with Cancer.

How can we possibly digest this statistic?

The reality is Cancer will touch you in your lifetime. Whether it's a friend, family member, or G-d forbid your own personal battle, no one is free from her vicious grip.

If you are reading this and following my journey, then you are already touched by the disease.  You already are apart of these mind- numbing statistics.

So who are the people behind these statistics? Who waits here with me?

To my left, there is an elderly gentleman, dressed in what could be his Sunday best. When he arrived with his mother who was attached to a ventilator, there was only a seat for her but not for him.  At first I was unsure if he was a patient, and then I noticed he was holding a purple pager- also known as the VIP membership card to the Cancer Club.  I immediately got up and pulled in a chair from the neighboring treatment room so he could sit right beside me.  Once he got settled, he turned to me, showcasing a grin from ear to ear, staring me deep in the eyes, and gleefully exclaimed " I feel so blessed. Everyone is so nice to me!"

I wanted to reply, " It is I that feels blessed to have shared this moment with you".  But instead I said, "It is really my pleasure."

This small act of kindness created a domino effect.

Moments later, the man to my right-middle aged, thin, and noticeably shy- grabbed 2 Vogue magazines and quietly approach me.  "Miss, may I suggest you put this underneath your laptop. The battery can cause damage to your legs- and you and I both wouldn't want this".  I paused, smiled at him, and thanked him for looking out for my best interests.  I then wondered, could his gesture have been driven by my earlier act of kindness, or perhaps was he motivated by his own personal experience? What was his story? Why was he here? What had he endured? We both stared at each other smiling, - mutually happy that we were able to make a lasting impression on one another.

One act of kindness led to another and then another.   Soon enough the warriors in the waiting room really started to look out for each other.  We were welcoming new members as they arrived, we started engaging with each other, and slowly the dry wall that existed between us was breaking down.

I feel an unusual rapport with those that wait here with me. Not only is there an unspeakable bond that exists between us because we all are surviving Cancer - but we are connected because we have traveled to the mind's darkest and most brightest of places. Cancer has this miraculous ability to give it's fighters a passport to the mind-where desirable destinations include savoring small interactions, gestures, and acts of kindness.  This passport also allows family, friends and strangers to engage in unusual levels of intimacy and access the fighter's most extraordinary strengths and insecurities.  These small trips that I make while carrying this passport are not only gifts but profound blessings.

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