Person looking up at star filled milky way sky

I went to the oncologist’s office for lab work, and some of the patients in the lobby waiting area looked familiar… maybe. The receptionist behind the desk didn’t know my name until I told her… which was a nice change from the days that I was in active treatment, and almost everyone there had known my name. It’s a large practice with more than 40 doctors and goodness-knows how many of us patients on the roster, but in 2014 and 2015 I walked in there 2 or 3 days each week. So does that mean that this place was like Cheers, the place where everyone knew my name? Not by choice.

The ever-present TV set in the lobby was playing HGTV. And some woman, who was renovating a huge house on the show, was complaining about her limestone bricks of the fireplace and how they didn’t match the colors of the original brickwork. Looking around at the people seated in the waiting room with me, I was struck by how petty her complaints sounded. She just didn’t know.

When I got called back to the lab, I saw Donna and Marcy among the busy phlebotomists who were circling around the crowded room. They have taken my blood many times over the last few years, and they are two of the kindest people working there. Both of them still remember my name. “Miss ___! You look so good!” Thank you, I don’t feel so great and I pretty much slept in my clothes, got up & put shoes on, and came here; but thank you. It’s nice to at least be smiled at and greeted warmly when they are going to have to stab you with a needle.

Looking around at the group of patients who are seated in chairs, in various stages of having their blood drawn, I noticed that some of them seemed robust. Were they newbies? Or some-odd years post treatment, like myself? I was feeling a bit cranky that morning. Maybe it was related to the anxiety I felt about being off work while my arm was recovering from another surgery. I forgot my resolve that I had made in 2015, which was to make an effort to smile at my fellow patients. A girl with very long, straight hair smiled big at me from one of the chairs across the lab room. I tried to remember if I knew her from somewhere… or maybe she had made the same resolution with her treatment. Or possibly a newbie. I tried to smile back.

Filling several tubes with my deep-red blood, I asked Donna how she was doing. Going to Jamaica for her vacation that fall! It was going to be her 5th trip, and she loves it there, she said happily. When we were finished with my lab work, I stood up to leave and we shared a hug.*

Several other patients were entering and exiting the lobby as I walked out to the parking lot. I’m grateful that I see fewer speeding drivers in this lot than you see at the doctors’ other location. At the present time, I’m relatively mobile, but so many of my fellow oncology patients aren’t able to walk very fast. They need compassion from people who are driving through.

I got into my car and headed on my way, reflecting about the weeks & months that I left that office with 18,000,000 units of interferon alfa-2b coursing through my veins (and putting me to sleep as soon as I would arrive back home).

I waited at a No Turn on Red arrow. Within a millisecond of it changing to green, the driver behind me honked impatiently, as if we were at a DC intersection or something like that. As I moved forward, I reflected that they Just Don’t Know what other people are going through… only a few blocks to the east of our cars.

*originally wrote these thoughts in July 2019, pre-pandemic, when hugs were common.

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