The days in the Cancer Society accommodation go predictably. We’re in* what used to be a motel unit, my mother’s base for two weeks, with a very comfortable set-up – a tiny kitchen, separate bedroom and bathroom, dining table, and comfortable couch and chairs and TV for relaxing with the afternoon sun coming in the window. On one of the city’s busiest roads, it is still quiet and peaceful, yet well located for supermarkets and restaurants and Hell’s Pizza. My sister took the first shift, and I’ve taken the second, and my other sister visited today with my niece, and another niece and her son visited earlier this week, concerned and loving and patient towards their grandmother, and taking a bit of the load off me as the caregiver for a few hours.
We take a Cancer Society shuttle to the hospital every day, walk the daffodil-marked yellow line through the corridors to the oncology unit, past the always crowded chemotherapy waiting room, and downstairs to the radiation waiting room, where I cajole my mother into drinking her compulsory four glasses of water before her treatment. If we have time we might fit another piece to the giant jigsaw puzzle on the table, or knit another row on the knitting-for-charity squares in the basket, but mostly we’re called in quickly, and we wait outside the treatment room. My mother doesn’t 100% understand everything that’s going on, but is accepting and cheerful, and that is worth a lot in the circumstances. Then, whilst she’s getting treatment, I might chat to the next patient waiting in line, hearing about the weeks of treatment they’re undergoing, the fact they had hours of chemo in the morning before heading downstairs in the afternoon for radiation, their boredom at being stuck in a city that isn’t their home, their delight that an early Friday appointment and a late Monday appointment means they can go home for the weekend.
It is inspiring to see the care and protectiveness of the Cancer Society shuttle driver towards her charges, the pride and dignity of the patients, some sprightly and strong and keen to show that they’re still strong and capable, others clearly struggling after a long battle, but everyone friendly and polite and ready for a laugh – anything for a touch of normality. Sitting in that shuttle, as we drive to the hospital, broken people (and their carers) travelling through a broken city, it is the only time of my day that I feel tearful, humbled, and (so far) very very lucky. Yes, my mother is ill and vulnerable and we don’t know how long she will have. But she had this cancer 28 years ago, and we had 28 years with her we might otherwise not have had, and she had 28 pretty wonderful years, 19 of those with my father. Some of the patients I am talking to or smiling at or laughing with will not be so lucky.
* Written last week