I am a counterfeit cancer patient. Not by choice, but by chance. And it's illuminated my idea of Thanksgiving.
As I’ve mentioned in some of my previous blog posts, my wife is a breast cancer survivor of 15 years. Each month, she and I visit Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan for a few days of appointments, during which time we are accommodated at Hope Lodge.
Hope Lodge is a truly wonderful endeavor of the American Cancer Society–and largely run by volunteers. The ACS maintains 31 of these free, hotel-like accommodations in cities across the nation for patients and their caregivers who must travel long distances from home when their best hope for effective treatment is in another city. Not having to worry about where to stay or how to pay for lodging enables patients to focus on getting well.
At New York City’s Hope Lodge, a significant portion of the patients are recovering from bone marrow transplants–a regimen typically lasting some 100 days, when extreme precautions must be taken to protect severely compromised immune systems.
Of course, these patients--both men and women--have lost all their hair. In addition, almost all the other patients at Hope Lodge are undergoing some measure of chemotherapy, which has stolen their hair as well.
My wife’s medication is hormonal. So she still has her thick crop of blonde hair. I, on the other hand, have a shaved head. When we meet people in the corridors or the lobby or the dining room, they invariably acknowledge us with the unvarying greeting of cancer survivors who have learned to take life one day at a time: “How is it going today?”
Except–when they ask this--they are looking at me, not my wife.
At first I thought this was funny, that they think I’m the one with cancer.
Not anymore. Especially not with Thanksgiving upon us next week. In fact, I cringe when I think of how little gratitude I offer heavenward that I am not the one bound up in the struggle against the scourge of cancer.
The bald men and women at Hope Lodge who are our new friends are thankful every day. In the dining room or the lounge, it’s not uncommon for them to join in applause for a fellow patient who is having a “good day,” or has announced some fragment of positive news about their progress.
What is most shocking to me is that so many of these are young people:
- Tom, a bone marrow transplant patient, with four small children at home near Boston
- Maria from upstate New York, anxious about properly caring for her thirty-something husband, just out of three days in ICU following his transplant
- Chris, a Long Island metastatic breast cancer survivor herself, serving as caregiver for her husband, Michael, who is frightened about undergoing yet another facial surgery
To make a tax-deductible donation to Hope Lodge:
In my next blog, "Bic Generation"