A conversation in my doctor’s clinic

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By Nina S. Custodio

Doc@XXLarge

Saturday, January 25, 2014


ONE day, during my chemo days, I sat and patiently waited for my turn in my oncologist’s clinic. I was then going through six months of chemotherapy way back then and had developed the habit of coming for checks up. Since my chemotherapy sessions were scheduled every two weeks, I would go to her office after the effects of my previous treatment had almost subsided. That day, I was feeling better than usual and was upbeat. I smiled a lot in the clinic but I kept quiet, just observing the other patients in the room. I would have enjoyed the ‘anonymity,’ if not for my doctor’s secretary who kept on addressing me as ‘Doc’. There were curious stares and some whispers but I didn’t really pay attention to it. After all, I was just a patient like them.

I was lost in reverie when suddenly, a woman sat beside me and tapped me on the knee.

“Doc, why are you here?”

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“I’m not a doctor today, I’m a patient just like you.”

She looks at me intently, either trying to figure out whether I was telling the truth or carefully trying to choose the right words to say. She looks around the room, at the secretary and then back at me:

“Hmmm. Ano cancer mo (What cancer do you have?)”

“Colon.”

“Ako, breast. Ano stage ka, 1 (I have breast cancer. What stage are you, 1)?”

“Hindi, stage 3A ako. May lymph nodes na kasi.(No, Stage 3A. I already have affected lymph nodes).”

Her eyes became round in surprise. I just smiled.

“Hindi halata (it doesn’t show)!”

I laughed.

“Siempre di natin ipahalata kung pwede di ba (We try not to show it, right)?”

“But you look happy!”

“I am very thankful!”

Then, silence. I guess we both got caught up in our own thoughts. All the reasons why I was thankful despite being sick just flowed like water. There was a lot to be thankful and it was keeping me from plunging into that dark pool of depression and fear.

“Tama ka gud, there’s lot to be thankful for..(You are right, there is a lot a to be thankful for).”

“Opo, madami. Basta alam mo lang saan hanapin (Yes, there’s a lot when you know where to look).”

We talked about our cancer experiences. Like how we discovered it, what were the signs of the illness. We talked about surgeries, difficulties in finding good intravenous sites every chemo session. I showed my portacath (implanted intravenous line for patients who need frequent tests or chemotherapy) and she showed me her arms and hands. We were exchanging stories and experiences--dealing with worries and fears, the fatigue, weakness, bouts of helplessness and sadness. In no time, it felt like we had been friends for a long time. We were rolling our eyes at some of our shared awful experiences and giggling at the funny and amusing ones. It felt good to know that someone understood exactly what being tired from a chemotherapy session meant. It was encouraging to know that we both knew how “cardboard” tasted. Hehe :) We were bound by our life as cancer patients and somehow it felt good that I was not alone.

“Grayish na yung skin natin (Our skin has turned gray).” I told her.

We both looked at our sullen skin matching our grayish nails.

“Oo nga. Tama ka (Yes, you are right).”

Silence again.

“Tapos ka na ba mag-chemo (Are you done with chemo)?” She asked.

“Nope.”

Then she turns to face me, gives me a once over and sighs. I asked her why.

“Bakit may buhok ka pa (Why do you still have your hair)?”

I told her that my medications did not have that much effect on hair follicles the way her medications did. But I assured her that I was losing some hair too. She didn’t seem to believe me.

“Hindi halata (It doesn’t show).”

I did not say anything.

For the very first time since we started talking, I realized that she was bald and that her head had uneven patches of hair. I felt my heart sink. :/

“Dati ang kapal ng buhok ko..maganda sya. Maitim at makintab. Mahaba (I had thick, shiny black hair. It was long and beautiful).” Her voice trailed off… pained. I had no words. Early in my chemotherapy, I actually had my hair cut so short that I was almost a skinhead. I did it because I was anticipating that all my hair would fall off and so I asked that it be cut that way. It really did not bother me that I would lose all my hair.

“I miss my hair. It was darker and thicker than yours.”

My heart sank deeper. I really did not know what to say. She was teary-eyed as she recounted how it was her crowning glory. Her hair was her pride and now the cancer has taken it all away. I felt her pain. I saw it in her eyes, too.

“Don’t worry, it will come back thicker and more beautiful after your chemo.”

Her eyes lit up.

“Really?”

“Yes. So, don’t feel so sad!”

She smiled and then our conversation was happy again.

Sometimes ordinary things become extraordinary because of our experiences. Importance can be bestowed on mundane things. We may find this surprising, even absurd, but it happens. It took cancer for me to see that there is beauty in all things and that each creation has its own significance in this world. The threat of losing everything, including my own life taught me to see the world through more appreciative eyes. It made me more sensitive to other people’s situations and more mindful of their feelings. I do not wish for anyone to experience being in my shoes; but I hope for people to be aware and to respect that we all have our own sensitivities. All of us go through different things as we go through life. Our lives can change in a blink of an eye. Unexpected events can leave us reeling from its unfortunate effects and it is important to find our balance so that we stand a better chance at surviving the surges and ebbs of life. Try and be considerate of other people’s feelings. Acts of kindness and encouragement may just be the thing they need to survive a terrible ordeal. It may also be what you need to feel good about yourself and renew hope for the future.

Happy Sunday! :)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on January 26, 2014.

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