“It started in my tonsils,” he stated matter-of-factly. “The doctor took those out then a knot came up here on my neck. He said it was too close to serious things to do surgery, so I’ve been doing chemo and radiation.”
“How long have you been in treatment?” I asked softly.
“It all started around Derby Day; yeah, the first of May was when it all started. Now, here I am and I’m bleedin’ inside, but they don’t know from where, so I’ve gotta get blood today.” He fingered a red band that had been placed on his left wrist and gazed off into space. Then he looked back at me and I saw vulnerability, something each one of us feels when we sit waiting for treatment.
“And somethin’ about my liver don’t look right, so that can’t be good. I mean, I’m 78 years old; I’m an old man, and Annie is older than me. She don’t deserve this – having to do all this extra stuff. It seems like we ought to be able to live out our days with some peace, you know? (Pause) I’ve worked hard all my life – my daddy trained me well, how to work, you know, but…I guess somethin’s gonna get you, huh? Between heart disease on one side and cancer on the other…”
Then he began to share with me about his maternal grandfather, who had been a hard-working man, a good man whom he had loved very much. He had died from cancer, as did his mother, an uncle, and several cousins.
The radiation technician had to call him three times before the gentleman stopped talking to me, turned, and walked toward the treatment room. It was as though a spigot had been turned on and he didn’t want to turn it off. I touched him lightly on the shoulder and spoke a few brief words of blessing as he turned away…and realized immediately that God had graced us with His presence.
I had seen this man and his wife in the waiting room several times. She has a quick smile that lights her eyes. He is usually quiet or chatting with one of the other men about cars, lawnmowers, and other ‘man things.’ I have heard her discuss the fresh vegetables she purees for her husband so that he can have “his vitamins,” despite the fact that his throat is burned from radiation and nothing tastes very good to him. (He and a man being treated for throat cancer discussed that yesterday.) She even puts his meat in a food processor for him.
I wonder if he has told her that he hates the extra work he is causing her? I wonder if he knows that it helps her feel useful, as though she is part of the fight for his life? My mom and dad experienced similar feelings when dad had cancer all those years ago – dad hated to be so much trouble; mom went over and above to do everything she could do for him so that she could be part of the battle.
It all started with me asking on my way by him from the treatment room, “How are you doing?”
In light of yesterday’s blog, I don’t have to type in bold letters that this was a kairos moment. For once, clock time wasn’t tugging on my arm to rush past this gentleman headlong into the rest of my day. I didn’t feel pressured to look at my watch. Neither impatience or boredom entered my thoughts. There wasn’t a sense of urgency to hurry him along when the technician called his name. Those few moments in time were carved out for this man to have someone to listen to his story.
I am so grateful God prepared my heart so that, this time, it could be me.