By Marianna Crane
In spite of mostly negative consequences of living as a “cancer survivor” there were a few positive occurrences. For example, I met special people I would have never encountered under normal circumstances.
A month after my mastectomy, I joined a cancer support group hosted by a woman with lymphoma in her large Victorian home with a wrap around porch in Chevy Chase, Maryland, not far from where I had worked at the National Institutes of Health. Three of the seven regular members had had breast cancer. The other four had a variety of other cancers.
At the start of each meeting we held hands in a circle while Gregorian chants played in the background, the music soaring up to the ten-foot ceilings and swirling about the large elegant living room. The leader asked we pray for those present and not present that were still struggling with treatment, suffering with pain or hoping for remission. Then in silence we made our own supplication. Invariably, as I stepped on the polished hardwood floors to take a seat, I felt a peace settle over me.
Besides the seven group members, other women sporadically attended our meetings. Once, a young woman sat along side of me on the flowered sofa. In front of us, on the glass and chrome coffee table, a snow-white amaryllis sprouting from a bulb set in a deep blue planter. Young, thin, with long dark hair, the woman spoke about the aggressive breast cancer that would soon end her life. She had a husband, pre-school children and a hunger to live.
She mesmerized me with her research to find a cure. Depleting resources in the area, she found a practitioner in another state and made plans to drive to see him later that week. As she spoke of her hope to halt the cancer’s progression, she stopped mid-sentence. Noticing my rapt attention, or my agonized expression as I listened to her frantic search for a cure, she reached over and clutched my hand. “Don’t worry, your cancer is not as bad as mine.” I squeezed her hand back, unable to speak for I was so touched by her gesture.
Afterwards, I walked down the porch steps and into the winter chill, feeling a bit of survivor’s guilt that my cancer was not fulminating. Eventually, I dropped out of the group.
Each time I see a white amaryllis, I recall the women in that group and their strength, especially the young mother. Her generous comment and concern for me even as she frantically detailed her quest for a cure still overwhelms me.
I never did find out what happened to her. I want to believe on the out-of-state trip she found a curative regime and is now enjoying her grandchildren, putting all the trauma of her cancer behind her.
This post first appeared here.
Marianna Crane’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Eno River Literary Journal, Examined Life Journal, Hospital Drive, Stories That Need to be Told: A Tulip Tree Anthology, and Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine. A retired nurse practitioner, her memoir, Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Remembers, was recently released. She lives with her husband in Raleigh, North Carolina. Follow her on her web site: www.nursingstories.org.