Yesterday was one of those chemo days. The routine is simple enough: give a blood sample an hour before seeing the doctor, visit with the doctor, and go off to chemo. It happens every three weeks. This week we had taken pictures (as I call the CTs) and they showed some return of the tumor. Oh well, there’s medicine for that, and we’ll try it. And so I went on to the infusion center, somewhat sobered, but determined to keep my spirits up.
The infusion center is a difficult place that puts on a cheerful face. Stanford must spend a lot of time interviewing people for these jobs. Abby, the receptionist, does her homework: she greets each of us by name when we walk in, and gives us a thoroughly genuine, warm, and compassionate smile. I forget that some people see this disease more seriously than I do, who am living it. I habitually find ways of transcending that part of it, and live as willfully and fully in the present with as much hope and joy as I can honestly claim—which is much: the garden, Sam the dog (who is next to me now as I type this), dear friends with their prayers, and so much love—enough to give away to others a hundredfold.
Finally, I was inside the infusion room. Jackie, a delightful Filipina nurse, treated me again. We always hit it off, and there are peals of laughter from our corner of the room as we trade stories and small talk. Occasionally our light moments are a bit embarrassing, as I can see that some families are in deep distress. Yet each time I visit, I meet new people, and get a bit of a glimpse into the drama affecting so many lives as a result of cancer.
Yesterday my eyes were drawn across the room to the young man facing me, in his twenties, I’d wager. He had dark hair, pale skin; his eyes were closed, an cast of distress over his face. Sitting next to him was a middle-aged woman rifling through magazines, as if to distract herself. I surmised that she must be his mother. After a few moments I ventured forth, as gently as could, “Your son?” She nodded silently, and I could see that she was trying to keep the tears from flowing. She looked so pained, as only a mother could. All I could do was smile toward her with compassion, wishing I could do anything to help—give her a hug, whatever. Her pain was almost unimaginable to me. All I could see was that young man, once vibrant and smiling, giving her so much joy.
It is a strangely grace-filled experience to feel so much compassion, yet to find oneself so helpless to know what to do with it. I think that is the experience of most of us toward one another at times like these—good times to recall that it doesn’t depend on us, and that we all fall within the ambit of God’s ultimately healing love.