Elephants and Ladders

by Pamela Goode

Elephant and Elephant-Made Ladder, by PrajaktaPradhanAnd just like that, seven weeks have passed. Seven weeks that began as One, stumpingly segued to Four-and-a-Half, and curiously culminated as Seven-that-Felt-Like-Four. Tomorrow, Friday, October 12, marks my last day of radiation, and Saturday, 10/13 will be my first day without it. Again with the Lucky Number.

On my first radiation center visit, I argued with my husband in the car on the drive over and cried the rest of the way, then spent 45 minutes lying alone in a room on a CT table thinking about this: every day for the next seven weeks, I will be forced to wake up in the morning, acknowledge that I have cancer, and drive myself nine minutes down the road for treatment from strangers. The radiation part? No biggie. The acknowledgement part? Biggie.

And so it went that I drove myself alone for the first treatment on the first day and put myself in the hands of four strangers in gray scrubs who would become my morning companions for the next seven weeks of my life. I can’t tell you how much I’m going to miss them.

Years ago, after a particularly shaking experience with someone I cared about, I headed out the door for a walk. I was in a strange city and knew no one, with a map folded into my back pocket. After about 45 minutes of emotions-in-a-twist-staring-at-the-pavement under my mindlessly-moving feet, I looked up and across the narrow road straight into a tea room with its doors flung open to the day. Inside, a woman paused, looked out, and smiled at me. I smiled back. And in that instant, that moment-with-a-stranger, I was fine.

And this has been much like that.

I’ve always been fascinated by the connections we form in life. Some of the people I remember most vividly are those with whom I’ve spent the least time, but with the most intensity. Some taught me life lessons, some gave me a nudge back onto the path, others showed me new ways of being, some simply showed compassion — but almost consistently without a surplus of words — and often with no words at all. And then they were gone — but only — only — in a physical way. Those that impact us in times of need are with us forever.

And I think about this: it’s so easy to be kind. It’s so easy to give a nod, a smile, a touch. I count myself at the top of the list for too often being too afraid, too shy, too sure my words are cheesy or my interest suspect, and I need to change that.

And so to Rick, whose curls bounce every morning when he nods and his eyes twinkle hello: Thank You. To James, who fetched me gently from the waiting room alone on that first day and always tries to make me laugh: Thank You. To Betty, whose mega-watt smile and cheeriness always calm me: Thank You. To Will, who didn’t flinch when I sulked up to him on Day 1 and put my hand on his chest to turn over his name tag because I didn’t want to be treated by a man whose name I didn’t know, and who looked in my eyes to keep me steady: Thank You.

Thank you all for bringing me from this to this to this.

Breast Cancer Biopsy, Radiation Registration Lines, Almost Done

Breast Cancer Biopsy Bruise, Radiation Registration Lines, Almost Done

Oh! The title for this post was provided by my daughter, of Ashinine, quite randomly, with no knowledge of the post content. Ever a lover of Metaphors for Life, I’ll give you this: We are all at times large and clumsy, unaccustomed and often ill-equipped and, certainly in my case, articulate only in an alien-ish sort of way when we encounter the unexpected. Thank You All for being the Ladder to my Elephant, giving me something and often someone to hold on to, a leg up, access to a broader view, and a steady hand. I’ll never forget. Hugs and Kisses.

Presbyterian Radiation Oncology