Saturday, May 26, 2007

One True Thing

I imagine sometimes that the talk among cancer patients and penitentiary inmates isn't much different.

"Whatcha' in for?" (What's your diagnosis?)
"How long ya' been servin'?" (When did you get your diagnosis?)
"Whatcha' doin' now?" (What treatment are you receiving?)
"Whatcha' doin' later?" (What treatments are scheduled for the future?)

I've had many different versions of this same conversation since I became a patient at the City of Hope. But for more in-depth conversation, I've discovered that you must head straight for the transfusion/infusion room - the social hub of the hematology department.

Imagine a half-dozen streamlined Lazy-Boy recliners lined up side by side. Each one has its own television equipped with cable access and headphones, but I've seldom seen one turned on. Patients, who are captive audiences for multi-hour transfusions or infusions, jump (or recline) at the chance to talk with other patients.

When I went in for a hemoglobin (not the anticipated platelet) transfusion yesterday, I met Joel, a 37-year-old recently diagnosed with leukemia, in a nearby reclining chair.

His wife soon joined him and launched into such a thorough script critique of "Studio 60" that I assumed she was a writer for the show. (For non-So. Cal. readers, you can't drop a pencil in this town without it rolling under someone in the entertainment industry.) It turns out that she's not in "the biz." She and her husband just aren't afraid to admit that they're television fans, especially since Joel has had to endure six-week stretches as an in-patient since he was diagnosed in January.

For the next 30 minutes, we talked television. We lamented how characters on Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives diagnosed with leukemia and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma are depriving us of the "escapism" value of our favorite shows. We ragged on Martha and her "poor cancer" attitude. We compared notes about nurses and concluded that the most well meaning but irritating ones were what Joel called the "Teletubbies" with their chirpy, high-pitched voices. A nurse chimed in about the irony of the “Food Network” playing endlessly in the rooms of the nauseous, upchucking patients in the bone marrow transplant wing.

Before long, John, a multiple-myeloma patient who I’ve seen many times at CoH, joined the group and the conversation. By coincidence, he's as short and round and good-natured as a Teletubby.

By the time Joel was finished with his transfusion, we had learned that he's the father of three boys (ages 8, 5 and 2); has a mother-in-law who took a leave of absence from her job and moved in to help as soon as he received his diagnosis; and that he's scheduled for a donor bone marrow transplant on June 13.

As Joel and his wife left the transfusion room, the nurses and we patients shouted together, "Good luck!" I know we all hoped the same thing. That our wish didn't sound either too lame or too "Teletubbish." That Joel knew that it was shorthand for our admiration for his spirit, for smooth sailing through what we all know is a rough journey ahead, for strength for his wife and family, for remission after the transplant.

After Joel left, the conversation suddenly turned to horse racing and Santa Anita. John (the one with multiple myeloma) and his 20-something daughter lit up when she explained that she’s betting on “One True Thing” just so that she can have the ticket for a souvenir. It turns out that her dad’s the owner and they're both looking forward to the mare running on Memorial Day.

We continued the obligatory “inmate” questions (John is also preparing for a stem cell transplant) before his infusion was complete.

As he left, I shouted out, “Good luck with ‘One True Thing.’”

“Thanks,” he said and then turned and reminded us, “Yes, at this point, it is all about luck, isn’t it?"


Janet Aird said...

Same as almost everything. There are some things we have no control over, but we can still influence the outcome in all kinds of ways - in your case, finding a great doctor/hospital, keeping up your strength, etc, all of which you're doing fabulously.

On another note - I really think these experiences are shaping up into something - the amazing conversations (especially with the inmate parallel), the pole dancing. You could really do something with it. Can you imagine how great it would be as a one-woman show?

Karen said...

Wow, Susan. Another amazing post. You are an extraordinary observer, outstanding writer, and astonishing spirit. This blog is truly the reading highlight of my day, and I read a lot. Your perspective on life is so open and curious, and you are so articulate, that your writing constantly broadens, deepens, enlivens and enlightens my inner world. You lead your readiers to insights and inspiration we'd never stumble upon on our own, and for that I deeply grateful. I just wish you could have started your blog under more pleasant circumstances. Please don't stop writing it ever! For all of us who have never been daily Bible readers or consumers of "inspiration a day" calendars, your blog provides an invaluable service. And it's WAYYYY better than any inspirational books or calendars I've ever read (excluding the Bible, of course!).

Piper Robert said...

Cool. Where do you come up with all this? If only we could channel James's ability to spin a yarn.

Hey, how did the performance go?