I am venturing back in to my “cancer” memories today because of an Instagram picture I saw Stacey post awhile back. It was that of a doctor’s waiting room. She has shared her frustration in the past about pediatrician’s waiting rooms and how they always seem to be devoid of anything but a T.V. They have nothing for the kids to do or read. Seeing that picture reminded me of a waiting room that my friend and I spent a great deal of time in at what seems like both a life time ago and as if it were just yesterday. We were in the last leg of Kathy’s cancer treatment; radiation. Stacey’s Instagram query had me asking a similar question…Do people try to make waiting rooms sad and uncomfortable places to be, or do they just not care enough to make them better?
Life in this particular waiting room became part of our morning routine during the month of September and into October. The air outside was still warm and humid. The leaves were just starting to turn. The sun was rising later and later each day. Every morning we’d set out, each in our own car, to the hospital in the dark. Every morning we’d make our way to the hospital basement and wait to be called. And wait. And wait.
While we waited we had no choice but to look at our surroundings. They were bleak. Our waiting room forced its patients to sit and look at posters that reminded them every day that they had cancer by advertising wigs they could buy and support groups they could join. Along with the cancer posters, as we called them, we sat on broken down furniture and looked at ugly brown walls.
So, we decided to focus our attention on the people that inhabited our waiting room, instead of the things that inhabited our waiting room. These were people from all walks of life. Their commonality? They were all women, as this was the “women’s side.” They were different ages. Different ethnicities. Different cancers. The more we got to know these women the more disturbing it was for us to sit in such an ugly, sad waiting room.
One woman came every single day by herself. She said her family had, in essence, disowned her because she had lung cancer. They considered it to be her fault, that she brought it on her self. For those 6 weeks we became her family.
Another woman came with her sister every day. She was famous because she made her own maple syrup and she wrote a book about her experiences as a independent business woman, who had cancer. She gave us her book….and autographed it.
Yet another woman was from the very poor neighborhood that was just outside the hospital doors. She had a walker and always needed help getting her gown on and preparing for her treatment. Sometimes her son would come with her, but he couldn’t come to the women’s side. So we took her from him at the door. She was a joy to be around. We found that whether we said “Good Morning!” or asked her “How are you feeling today?” her answer always was “Alright, Alright.” We loved her consistency She made us smile.
These women were our friends. We were warriors that set out each day to battle cancer, determined to win. As we turned our focus to these fighters, we learned their stories and we shared ours. We looked at our surroundings in a new way…with even more determination that things HAD to change. We cared about these ladies now. They….WE….. deserved better.
About half way into our 6 week routine we brought in posters that we created with positive affirmations and sayings. Posters that were colorful and bright and placed strategically around our waiting room. We taped them up and we watched. Our ladies came in, one by one that morning and, as they approached the inner door that led to the changing room they stopped and stared. Then we heard them read the poster aloud – “My Day Got Better When YOU Arrived!” They’d say, “Huh” and a little smile appeared.
Then, those same wonderful ladies exited the changing room, sat down in the broken down furniture and read another poster, “Energy Creates Energy!” Another smile! This was the best feeling in the whole world! These broken down women who dragged themselves into this crappy room day in and day out were now smiling and laughing and looking at their surroundings with a new eye.
It’s been five years since Kathy and I were in that room on a daily basis. We still go back to the hospital for check ups but we only went back to the basement waiting room once. We wanted to see if our works of art were still hanging. And, they were! Some were a little worse for the wear, but every single one was hanging on with their edges (and middles) taped for what looked to be multiple times. We could tell that they were falling apart but someone – maybe many people – were taking care to make sure they stayed up. Our waiting room was transformed. Permanently. Just like our lives.