Archive for Thursday, October 29, 2009

Crossing the finish line

October 29, 2009

We called my last chemotherapy treatment at the cancer center “crossing the finish line.” Nearly a year to the date when the treatments began in October, I sat down in a recliner in room 31 and began the process for what we hope is the last treatment.

The process is fairly routine at this point: check vital signs and take temperature, access the port — meaning insert a needle and apparatus into a surgically placed “port” that allows the chemotherapy drug to be installed without having to poke a vein during every treatment — take pre-treatment medication and wait for the chemotherapy meds to be mixed by the pharmacy.

This part of the process generally takes 30 to 45 minutes, allowing for ample time to chat with volunteers who pop in and out of the cubicle.

Wayne is one of the volunteers. He is a retired hospital administrator and has filled his retirement years with a number of volunteer jobs. Two days a week, he volunteers at the cancer center.

Wayne tells me his story.

Wayne is at high risk for breast cancer since his genetic studies are positive for breast cancer. Wayne, take note, is a man.

Men get breast cancer, too.

It is a small percentage of men who get breast cancer, but it does happen. In this month of breast cancer awareness, we think mostly about women. We encourage yearly mammograms, monthly self examinations, healthy diets, exercise, a smoke free lifestyle, reduced stress; a life lived with purpose and hope. We think of these things for women.

I now think about Wayne as well.

We laugh as he describes having a mammogram — not an easy trick for one with breasts so small. I later think about him, in his bright, blue shirt, standing in the door of my cubicle. It seemed so natural to have a discussion with him about breast cancer.

I think about Toni, a nurse in the surgical oncology department. We lost our hair about the same time. Her course has been more difficult than mine. Her treatment has included more surgery and will continue beyond mine. She has been a journey mate and a touchstone.

I am crossing the finish line and I feel like I am bolting out of the starting gate. My family and friends, those who have held me up and urged me onward, are there to meet me.

It is for them — and for Wayne and Toni, and others like them — that the race is run, the campaign waged for early diagnosis, aggressive treatment, and diligent follow-up.

We don’t run this race for ourselves alone; it could never be so. We run the race for others as well. It is what pushes us beyond our own capacities, buoys us up when we are sinking, challenges us forward when we are faltering. It is the look of lifted concern on the face of one you love when the finish line is crossed. For this we run; and run hard.

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