Monday, April 29, 2013

"Two Roads Diverged.."*

The picture of the dog above comes with a story. Early one evening during the spring of 1977, at the age of about six weeks, this dog found himself walking along a ditch between two fields that had been recently planted with corn. How he arrived there, no one really knows. As he walked along the ditch and came to the end of the fields where they met a gravel road, he had a choice to turn left or right. Or he had another option in which after veering to the right, he would then veer to the left, following a gravel ramp, and continue in his original direction towards the setting sun. The third option was the most difficult as it involved ascending a short, steep incline that ultimately led to an open door leading into a large barn. Normally, at that point in the evening, the barn door was rarely open. This particular evening however, there was a teen and an adult male working in the barn. Who saw who first also remains open for discussion, but when the eyes of all 3 characters met, their eyes met with curiosity and not fear. So curious was the dog, that he continued toward the two males and as he reached where they were sitting, he laid down to rest next to the younger of the two males. I'll never forget that moment.

Late in the spring of 2012, I was made aware of an individual who was preparing to undergo a stem cell transplant procedure for his cancer diagnosis. His family, being made aware that I had undergone a similar process, asked that I reach out to him. I did. When I met him and learned his diagnosis history and treatment, I learned that he was diagnosed 10 years earlier and had been dealing with recurrences and new treatments for those 10 years. He was tired and frustrated. After his stem cell procedure, he had to make another decision to undergo a dramatic surgical procedure that would involve a 50% possibility that he would not make it through the surgery with his life. He chose the surgery because, in spite of all he had been through, he still wanted to have the opportunity to live. 

He survived the surgery, but within a few months after his surgery, a tree limb fell on his car, totalling the car. Even though that was insult to injury, at this very minute, he is alive and well and enjoying his life with his family. To be candid, I don't know how he was able to tolerate what he did for as long as he did, or make the tough decision that he did. I can't say I know how I would decide in that situation. The doctors have told him if he has another recurrence, there is nothing else they can do. However, his response to that is, "Based on what you know now. There may be something else that comes along between now and then." Exactly!

The character in the photo above chose one of three options that spring night after being in an earlier situation in which he may not have lived another minute. Whatever the reason he traveled into the barn, I know that because he did, he enjoyed a rich life for another 12 years. I know because of his decision, my life was enriched. I like to think that the expression on his face in the picture above is one of happiness and gratitude.  

When I think of him and the person I spoke of above, I find answers to the decisions I would make if there was a recurrence.

"And that has made all the difference."*

*"The Road Not Taken" - Robert Frost

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Come Visit And Talk For A Spell

Almost 15 years ago to the day, I was visiting my grandmother (she's the one on the left, with the headscarf, in the above picture). Unbeknownst to me at the time, she would would pass away a month later. In her earlier years, she wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper, sharing the news from Sinclair Ridge, WV. She would hand write the article on Sunday evening, then drop it in the mail on Monday for publication in the paper that hit the newsstands on Friday. Most of the columns detailed the comings and goings of the residents of the area, but sometimes would detail the recent purchase of a new bovine on a local farm.

In addition to her column writing, she would faithfully write a letter to any and all of her family and friends that would write to her. Again, on a weekly basis, as long as you replied to her previously sent letter.
Once I moved away to college, I would write to her to let her know how things were going, not necessarily on a weekly basis, but on a regular basis of at least once a month.

As she got older and was unable to write, the regularity of my letters to her dropped off and ultimately stopped. During my last visit with her, most of the visit was comprised of telling her what was happening outside of the nursing home where she resided.There wasn’t much two way conversation, as she was not physically well and unable to communicate effectively.

Until…as I was leaving and finished saying, “See you next time, Grandma,” she responded with, “You could write to me more often.” At the same time, I swear I saw a grin come across her face. Those were her last words to me.

Last Monday evening, I paid a semi-regular visit to the folks in the Bone Marrow unit where I was treated in 2009. They always are happy to see me (or at least do a good job of acting like it). They never fail to say, “You look great!” They say that, but if George Clooney was standing next to me, they wouldn’t notice whether I looked great or not. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I take them treats when I do visit them.

During the visit, one of the nurses told me that very few patients ever come back to visit. I asked what their opinion was as to why most patients do not return. I think it may be due to the fact that many of their patients are from out of town and would have to make a two hour round trip to visit. However, they said that once most patients are done with the process, they want no reminders of it. 

I understand completely. When I am on the floor of the unit, I can look down the hallway and see the room that I was in when I was a patient there. However, I really have no desire to step back in that room just for old times’ sake. I will, however, step into any other room on the floor to talk to a patient who wants to talk to someone else who has “been there, done that.”

Regarding going back to see the nursing staff every so often, it seems unnatural to me not to do it. They have spoken that it reinforces their commitment to their careers when a patient who is doing well comes back to visit. It is a physical manifestation of, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Even if that patient is the physical specimen that is myself.

I go back because it is fun to see them. I go back because it is a reminder to me that there are glimpses into heaven on THIS earth.

I go back because I never want to hear them say, “You could visit with US more often.”