When I was in the early stages of being diagnosed with cancer, I couldn’t have told you what I needed. If someone had asked me to make a list and put into words what would help me, I would have been confounded.
That is not to say that I didn’t need help or that I didn’t ask for it. Just ask my husband. The problem was that sometimes I didn’t know what to ask for or how to ask for it. I just knew I needed something. Often, I didn’t know until after the fact.
We had to take my daughter to get an x-ray in a lab located inside the hospital where I was admitted and diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t know until we got there that the smell of the place and the sight of the place would lay me out. I felt like I’d been tackled. I needed help preparing for that, but I didn’t know I that did.
I’m grateful that people around me did know that I needed help and were able to give it to me. Among the traumatic and painful and frightening memories that occupy my mind some days are moments that I will always treasure. Help given to me that I didn’t expect. Help that I could never have asked for.
Before I switched out of my HMO, my general practitioner was located in a factory that the Advocate Health Care system calls a clinic. There is about as much “health” and “care” in this office as there is at a bank. I liked my doctor there, but getting to her was a series of hoops that robbed me of hope. One afternoon I called to get an appointment with her because another doctor wanted me to have a bone scan to rule out metastases. His request terrified me. When the receptionist told me that my doc didn’t have an appointment for two weeks, I collapsed into tears, said “thank you” and hung up. Half an hour later the receptionist called back and told me she’d talked to my doc’s nurse and had found a 15-minute window of time the next day. I never got her name.
Maybe this is an old fashioned word. I don’t know what title is given to the guys who wheel you in a hospital bed from the ER to a room. I know that the experience is pretty awkward. You’re in a thin gown in a bed next to a guy you’ve never met who is wheeling you deeper and deeper into a cold and scary place. I know I was scared and angry after waiting four hours to be seen by a doc. I had an IV in my arm and no idea what was happening to me. But this guy cut right through all of that. He said, “You know I’ve been in and out of the hospital for the past six months. It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever dealt with. Hang in there, and stand up for yourself. If I can do it, so can you.”
The CT tech.
When I was in the hospital, I had several tests, all of them new to me. The CT was a bizarre experience because dye is put into your veins and you can feel it spreading throughout your body. I could tell that they saw something. The CT tech pushed my bed outside into the hall and someone told her to wait. They started talking about the scan and she quickly shut the door. It was obvious that something was up. I wanted to ask her what was going on, but she turned the conversation to another topic. “I’ve never known anyone who spells their name the same way as you.” I told her my theory that “Kerri” has the most variety of spellings of any common name. She said, “Really? OK, I have a pen, start listing them.” And she wrote, “Carrie.” “Kerri.” “Kerry.” “Cary.” “Carey.” “Keri.”
These are not the greatest kindnesses I’ve received over the past year. Many people have provided support and help. From family to friends, from bosses to students, the world has been very, very generous.
These three people are linked in my mind and heart because I don’t know their names and I never expected the help they gave me. Solving a problem. Imagining courage. Offering distraction. They knew I needed help and they gave me help I couldn’t have asked for.
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