November 06, 2014
The faces of cancer
BY Michele Longabaugh
My husband Jerry and I left on a Sunday to drive to MD Anderson for yet another anal cancer checkup. The weather was forecasted to be balmy, so we packed our shorts. The drive was beautiful. As we cruised south, I watched the fall colors fading back to green closer to Houston.
Observations from an MD Anderson waiting room
I knew the next day would be big: it would be only the second time ever that I was going to receive my scan and results on the same day. I was excited about that. No waiting. It was a treat of sorts, really.
I arrived at the Mays Clinic for my blood draw and made my way through the crowded waiting room to sign in before taking a seat.
From my perch, I was able to observe the entire waiting area.
I played "who's the patient" in my mind for a little while, but then I found myself just looking at all the faces. The faces of cancer and those of the people who love and care for them. Young and old. Pale and tan. Smiling and sad. A worldwide representation of people -- some looking so tired and others, like me, their plight virtually undetectable on the surface. Hair in various stages of growth, wigs, caps or just embraced baldness. So many faces.
My face, the face of a cancer warrior
I wondered what they were thinking as they looked at me. I feel like an Olympic athlete in this sea of people. I look pretty good, even with being completely out of shape. I am not wheelchair dependent, I walk without help, my hair has grown back, and with the pallor of treatment no longer evident on my complexion, it's impossible to tell what I've been through.
My identifier as a patient was the telltale bracelet around my left wrist. My comrades in arms in the battle against cancer know where I've been. They understand that no matter how someone might appear in this moment, a battle has taken place. We are all gladiators.
Looking around the waiting room, you can tell some are in the throes of the rumble, while others are panting, having just finished their match. There are contenders, like me, that have risen from their most recent round, hoping the beast doesn't rise again.
I was roused from my reverie by a lab technician calling my name. I stood and saw all eyes turn on me as I made my way to the lab doors. I smiled at the people and gave a little greeting to those whose eyes met my own. A knowing nod, warrior to warrior. The faces of cancer. My face.
No matter how someone might appear in this moment, a battle has taken place. We are all gladiators.