The Power of Prayer
It’s week five and I am still hanging in there. My brother Danny came up from Texas to take me to chemo and radiation. We left the house at about 4 a.m. and drove downtown. The last time he took me to such sessions, I was still waiting in the long line for the elevator at 7 a.m. Now, with inside info obtained from my cancer buddies, we went to the information desk and were assigned a number for radiation and received passes that got us into a special elevator five minutes ahead of the crowd. At 6:55 a.m. I was number two for radiation. When we hit the elevators I went to radiation and Danny went to sign me in for chemo. I was number two for both treatments.
Radiation came first this week. I was the first to be treated on the machine to which I am assigned. I was done at 7:30 a.m. Then I joined Danny in the chemo lab to wait for my session. My nurse was absent again–forced to use or lose vacation days. This time I was assigned to Melba, who called me at about 10 a.m. for my 8 a.m. appointment. We went back. She weighed me–down six pounds. Nothing much tastes good any longer. I plan my calories and spread them out over five to six small meals.
The first order of business was clean-up. I noticed that the floor was wet. An entire bag of IV solution had leaked all over the floor. Melba can’t just call for maintenance help. She had to mop up the liter of liquid with paper towels, then scrub and begin with me. Even when you try to streamline the process you end up waiting.
The department was short two nurses. Melba sat me next to Cherry’s group of patients as Cherry had treated me in week four and knew about my drug reactions. We started with the Benadryl, which left me loopy. Then she started the Taxol at 50 ml./hour–no reaction. We built to 450 ml./hour without any adverse reactions–so much better than my usual experience.
Near the end of my Taxol dosage, when I was feeling tired and was in pain from side-effects of radiation, Cherry seated Joe next to me. Joe has lung cancer and COPD. It turns out he is also a country singer and songwriter. We had spoken in the morning about his life. He is divorced, unemployed (he also worked as a Metra train line walker, which means he walked the tracks all day), and lives with his dog Puddles. Puddles is a Pekingnese. He had a second dog, but the dog recently died shortly after having been struck by a car. The driver nearly did not stop after sending the dog flying. When Joe stopped her, the driver said, “What did you expect me to do? It’s just a dog.” Joe admitted that it was karma when the same driver was involved in a car accident in the same neighborhood and her car burned. He is not a forgiving man. His description of the woman included some language I don’t use. If you’ve ever opened your family to include a pet, then you may understand his feelings.
Joe is the same patient who coached me through last week’s adverse reaction to Taxol and who flagged down the nurse for me.
He sings well. I know because he and another chemo patient had a singing “smackdown.” The other patient has been in the waiting room with me in the past. She is loud, obnoxious, and appears to have some drug issues. Her nose runs like a kid’s. She shows up late for chemo then aggressively demands that “someone” give her their seat. I did give her my seat back when I was new to this and feeling much stronger. In week five I ignored her demand. She tried to take the seat beside me while one of my cancer buddies was standing at the clerk’s desk to sign a consent form. The buddy’s belongings were on the seat, but this patient was about to dump them on the floor when I said, “The chair is taken.” I said it authoritatively. She backed down. My cancer buddy professed she was ready to fight “that bitch for it.” We avoided that rumble.
Back in the chemo room the same woman was loud and bossy. Joe told her “to stop eating the paint chips because the purple chips do not taste like grapes.” The woman did not get the joke. He then told her to “let go of the crack pipe when it gets hot enough to burn your fingers.” She missed the implication. When she kept up with her complaints, Joe sang a Hank Williams tune. The Benadryl keeps me from recalling the words, but there was a challenge there. When Joe finished, the woman broke out with a song that called for peace and acceptance. Joe responded with an Elvis tune and a hard look. She gave him back a rap song about loving your enemy. She sang it earnestly then raised her eyebrow and stared at him. This went on for several exchanges. Their voices were different. Their choices of songs reflected different musical taste; yet there was something happening on both sides of the room.
The bystanders, including our nurses, were reacting with applause to each new salvo. It ended when everyone had gone silent to listen. Joe and the other patient seemed aware of what they had in common–rich voices and deep catalogues of remembered songs. They also both had cancer. They had resolved their dispute with a method that squeezed out the vitriol and left everyone floating on a haze of good will. There was some grudging respect for someone with a contrary view. Some of us engage in this battle with grace and humor, some with anger and grit–all of us are doing the best we can.
I finished my Carboplatin dose without incident.
Danny took me to my apartment and installed for me a handheld showerhead. My oncologist has recommended spraying burnt parts five to six times a day with lukewarm water. I need some kind of relief from radiation burns–internal and external. The external burns are odd spots of red, raw skin. In another lifetime I’d be carrying on about them. Now the pain is ignored. The internal pain is much worse. This week it is the urinary tract that reduces me to tears numerous times a day. I feel like I have been cast in the movie Saw. I am the only one who doesn’t know it’s a movie. Each time I head for the bathroom I imagine I hear the saw, smell the blood, and taste the fear. I wonder if I will live through the pain I am about to endure. Survival may be desirable, but what happens in the bathroom is traumatic. I will never want to go through this again even though I can survive it.
Today, December 17th I finished my last class before the holidays using the power of prayer. It was the worst day yet, but somehow I did not cry in agony. I did not end class early. I did my best to fulfill my obligations to others. My sister, her entire family, and my friends–they prayed for me to finish and I did. I am sincere when I say that, absent their prayers, I am certain I would have gone home early. I could barely sit for most of the day. When I sat, it felt like things inside of me had splintered. When things came out of me they pierced and rent and burned. But I did what I said I would–thanks to strength drawn from prayer.
Faith is faith. I am a lawyer, trained in argumentation. I cannot prove the existence of God. But I know that the thought of Him is a source of immeasurable comfort. And, even if I turn out to be wrong, there is a God that got me through this ordeal. A real God or something like a placebo . . . does it matter if I am comforted by my beliefs? I think He is real and He is. A power greater than my own has delivered me from a trial I do not think I could weather alone. I did not imagine Him alone. I did not make Him. I needed my sister Kathy, my nieces Maureen and Lisa, my brother-in-law Jeff, my mom, my friend Barb and everyone else who prayed for me to give me the strength to get through the day. Does it matter that He manifests through others? I don’t think so.
I’m thinking of the woman at the hospital whose rent was paid for three months by a stranger while she cared for her mom who had cancer. I once walked into a religious gift store and bought a pen with an inscription on it that said God was there. I gave it to the firm’s receptionist. I don’t know why, but her eyes teared up when I gave it to her. She was waiting for a message. On Friday I spoke with Tom. Last week he went on dialysis. His doctor said he had signed his own death sentence. Tom recovered. He no longer needs dialysis. The doctor said this never happens. Is it a miracle? If he thinks so, does it matter?
I have four more external radiation sessions, two days of internal radiation, and one chemo session to go. I started this process believing I could do anything for six weeks. I have gotten through this so far because of the power of prayer. My own will has needed the infusion of others’ will to carry on. I am going to call it a miracle. If you challenge me, then I will sing a verse of Amazing Grace. Have you ever heard me sing? Better to give in now. This faith rings true even to my tone deaf ears.