SPACIOUS is about community and opening up our hearts, so when Cary spoke to me last year about guest blogs, what came to mind was the almost magical sharing that went on between people who surrounded me during the time I was in treatment for oral cancer in 2012 and 2013. With my family far from the DC area and living on my own, in large part I was making treatment decisions and going to radiation, surgeries, and other medical appointments by myself. It turned out I wasn’t really alone.
Here is my truth, without romanticizing what was a scary and difficult experience. Let’s start with one of the surprising spaces of community and caring: Each day, when I opened the door of the waiting room of the George Washington University Hospital radiation center, I entered a sacred space. The four radiation technicians were kind souls who understood and witnessed the wide range of responses faced by those laid out on the treatment beds. Even more comforting, the people who were getting radiation for their own specific cancers, all the while fighting their personal demons (like fear, pain, and anger), came together for the short time we met in that transitional space to acknowledge our shared trauma and to comfort each other however we could. One man, viewed by many of us as a sage, dispensed wise advice, in his slow Southern drawl, about making the most of life and being patient as we navigated our cancer treatments. He said he felt cancer was teaching him about life. Others in the waiting room would say “Good luck” or would murmur other comforting phrases as we were called for our sessions.
After my very last treatment, I entered the radiation oncologist’s office for an appointment and encountered a very special woman, a fellow patient being treated for breast cancer. She was tall and majestic, draped in a long colorful dress. When I shared with her the news that my sessions were ending, she told me, “Rejoice! Rejoice in your victory!” Her presence and words inspired a poem about being grateful for my survival and for life itself.
Along with bonding with the waiting room patients, I met others in cancer workshops and support groups and had help from two mentors matched for me by two cancer groups. My DC friends brought over soups, sat with me, and made me laugh. Several came with me to different medical appointments and accompanied me when I went for surgery. One work friend met me for coffee before some radiation treatments to comfort and distract me.
And another blessing that came to me was that six friends from my adopted home town of Boston, as well as my sister from New York, came to stay with me in DC during my radiation and surgery – without my asking, they just showed up. I don’t know if they coordinated with each other, but for the six weeks of my treatment and the two weeks of my surgery recovery, I had visits every few days. I was more or less able to get around during the different visits, and we did what we could together.
What could have been the worst time of my life – and for those who know anything about oral cancer treatment, it’s pretty awful – became infused with the glow of friendship and caring. And recently, during a trip to Seattle, I got to meet one of my cancer mentors, a young woman whose phone calls got me through surgery.
Could we do this for each other more often?! Crisis can be a time when the best of all of us can conquer the worst that life can deal us.
Stacie and some of her “team” are pictured above. She’s in the middle in mauve. We got the chance to meet Stacie at several of our SPACIOUS events. She’s a fun, upbeat, cool woman.
I (Cary) also found that in the crisis of my own cancer years ago, the support of community and friends was critical and life-giving. Often when we don’t know what to offer someone else, presence is enough. Don’t hold back just cause you aren’t sure what to do. Thanks for sharing your experience, Stacie.