In June, Christy Little and her family traveled to MD Anderson from Birmingham, Ala., for treatment for her stepfather. What could have been an overwhelming and confusing experience became a journey of surprising joy and hope as the family encountered generous and resilient fellow patients and encouraging staff members. This is the second part of a reminiscence Little sent to Cancerwise.
We arrived bright and early on the day of my stepdad's first appointment to insure enough time to find our way around.
But MD Anderson was like no other hospital we'd encountered.
In the vast lobby, we were greeted by a concierge who asked for our schedule to see where we were going. She explained where we were heading, then walked us there, talking to us and giving us information as we went.
With a knowing smile, she told us that even though we'd been told to take elevator B, Elevator A was faster, so we'd take a little shortcut. She walked us all the way to the registration desk, hugged us and said goodbye.
We already felt comfortable.
We made many friends as we moved through the process.
Could we all go back to the exam room with my stepdad? Of course.
Not only was the staff kind and helpful -- the patients were, too. Instead of vast waiting rooms that stretched forever, these waiting rooms were smaller, more conducive to interaction. They were comfortable, with cushiony chairs and recliners, and beautiful, with water walls and scenic views.
Patients, families share hope and laughter
Filling the waiting rooms were families of every age, race and religion. Despite all the differences, one thing prevailed -- an air of hope and determination.
People were open to sharing their experiences. A common theme was that we were all in the best place we could be.
Everyone was relaxed and, to our astonishment, happy and upbeat.
I'd been concerned about my 14-year-old daughter, who'd lost her paternal grandmother to lung cancer less than two years ago.
Seeing all the angst and worry on the patients and families' faces -- what effect would it have on her?
But there was no angst. There was laughter and joking, sweet stories and reminiscing.
The common denominator was cancer, yet I didn't see the sorrow and pain I'd expected.
Then we met our physician's assistant and our doctor, Rachna Shroff, M.D. Both knew every detail of my stepdad's cancer and assured us this was nothing new to them; in fact, they had patients in far worse condition who'd had positive outcomes.
They told us that his cancer was not curable without surgery, which was not an option in our case, but for the first time we heard "treatable" and "remission."
We were given a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C.
Our medical team was the real deal. They understood, and more than that, truly cared. We were not a chart number. We were a patient and his family.
They and MD Anderson volunteers offered warm blankets and hot coffee, snacks and mementos of our visit in the form of MD Anderson pins. But above all, they offered hope.
A crisis, then a breakthrough
That's why Jean and her husband drove several times a year to Houston...all the way from their small town outside Atlanta.
That's why John the LSU fan (yes, I gave him a resounding War Eagle) drove from Baton Rouge to receive his lymphoma treatments.
And that's why we'll make the journey back to Houston every two months.
We do it because this place, these people, give us what we longed for...hope.
One day, after my stepdad had undergone lots of testing, I ended up alone in the waiting room.
I sat there, processing the experience. I was feeling the effects, both mentally and physically. I closed my eyes, put my head in my hands and started to cry.
Not because I was particularly sad, for we'd received good news -- but because I felt so overwhelmed.
Had we made the right decision, coming here?
Then I noticed a John Grisham novel on the table beside me. I'd seen several novels lying around in the waiting rooms.
At first I'd thought someone had accidentally left them behind.
Then it hit me.
Instead of magazines, these waiting rooms offered ... novels.
These books, stamped "Property of MD Anderson Cancer Center...Return to any waiting room," were a symbol.
Magazines are for quick reads, but novels are for the duration.
Cancer is never a quick fix.
Fighting it means putting in the time, effort and patience, for as long it takes.
Going the distance, like reading a novel.
It's just another way MD Anderson shows its patients they're there for them and their families...for the long haul.