S.R.O.

Monday at the Cancer Clinic—I’ve never experienced so much cancer on display, never witnessed so many visible signs of it.

It starts in the parking garage at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I am in space D353, and the couple in D352 walk with me to the elevators. She is chemo-bald. Straight to the lab services waiting room we three go, I for my quarterly blood draw.

While waiting to be called, I notice another chemo-bald woman, and then another, and still another. Highly unusual. So I begin surveying the crowded waiting area — it’s standing room only (“I’ve never seen it this busy,” one regular declares) — and start counting the women without hair: five, six, seven, eight, nine…I’m distracted by four people sharing their stories of stem cell transplants…”he’s 59 days out and, see, his hair’s growing back”…10. Finally, number 11 takes her place in the queue for check-in.

Behind 11 is a young boy, probably about 10 years old, in a wheelchair. His father is reviewing the day’s schedule of appointments; it spills across two pages. The boy’s pre-pubescent alto voice, loud with excitement, abruptly calls hello! to the phlebotomists. They return the greeting; they’re all — and how many appointments does this take? — on a first-name basis. The obvious glee among them torques a round of laughter from the serious and silent rest of us.

My turn. My blood is drawn so quickly (or my mind is so elsewhere), it is over before I even sense the prick of the needle’s entry into the crook of my right arm. As I leave for the quarterly appointment with my oncologist, chemo-bald woman number — no, wait, I can’t count this person as woman #12: This person is so young, so hairless, I can, on passing, discern no identifiers of gender.

I’m in a snow globe of despair, but instead of flakes, it’s cancer swirling around me.

***

Upstairs, two weeks into the seventh year of my cancer journey, I report for my check-up; my PSA is once again undetectable. I remain no evidence of disease (NED). But my oncologist and I talk not about a cure but about how much longer I can go before my prostate cancer comes back. (I did, after all, have cancer in two lymph nodes at surgery.) He tosses out markers: another year, three years, five, and why each increment is better than the previous.

It was a hopeful discussion about an uncertain and unknowable future. Very much unlike my April 2012 check-up, which brought the despairing, hollowing out news of possible recurrence. With that came a sense of futility we cancerians know all too well: No matter what I do, I can’t get a break. It’s the point in your disease where you think you’ve hit bottom, and then someone shows you to a door leading down.

But today, my oncologist — who cautioned me a year ago not to read too much into those disappointing test results — actually sees me as NED since January of last year: Despite the scant and receding traces of PSA measured in April and July of 2012, I’m 15 months no evidence of disease.

From despair to hope — what a difference a year makes.

***

My visits to the cancer ward tend to be emotionally uneventful, but this time, I knew both despair and hope, raw and in full measure: despair that so many lives are marked by cancer; but hope that the wizardry of modern medicine can, if not save, at least meaningfully extend our lives. And that is why we were all there on the morning of Monday, April 8, 2013.

Each of us had an appointment with the doctors of hope, standing room only.

About Bill Curry

Stage 4 prostate cancer

13 Responses to “S.R.O.”

  1. Hi Bill, I am in Ohio at my sister-in-law’s house -a “Waiting Room of Hope.” She is on her way home from the Cleveland Clinic (stage 4 breast cancer.) I can see your smiling face on the treadmill just the other day. Has it been seven years??! Keep writing and inspiring us Bill. We need you. Sue

  2. An evocative, cinematic piece, Bill. And, “The snow globe of despair” says it all. Your beautiful writing is a gift for those of us who know the pathos of a cancer waiting room all too well.
    –Craig

  3. As always, moving an insightful. While I really wish you didn’t have a reason to write this blog, I always learn something new. So glad to hear you are doing so well.

  4. Such happy and hopeful news for you, Bill. The Cast/Franklin family wishes you a wonderful spring. We send our love and continued hopes for great health.
    Love, Jen

  5. As always, I appreciate your insghtful writing. This post I will personally use as a reminder to not sweat the small stuff and to be grateful for my health each and every day that I have it. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Bill,

    So beautifully written. Maybe we should start calling you “Ned,” instead of Bill.

    Thanks for the update. I’ll relay info to Kaye.

    Cheers,

  7. So happy to hear your good news — both the test results & how you are feeling about where you are on this challenging journey. Looking forward to seeing you & Becky in a few months.

  8. Very powerful read Bill. Hope you are feeling well and very busy with only the best life has to offer.

    Celeste

  9. Barbara Lauterbach Ruxton Reply April 14, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Bill, Your words are so meaningful, I just wish I had the ability to say it the way you do. What you write about is so relevant since I was just “there”. The ups and downs sometimes take a toll . Seeing and being with others suffering , and yet being so upbeat, always amazes me. So thankful that you received such good news. Like we have said before we just have to keep fighting the fight.
    My very Best to You.

  10. Well written, touching, hopeful and sad. Glad the news for you is positive. Happy traveling and hi to Rebecca, Ellen

  11. Bill. Heart-wrenching and heart-warming post. Thanks for sharing. Best, Greg Hoffman

  12. Teary-eyed read. Happy for you.

  13. Bill, glad to hear things are going well. Keep it up. Hazel

    Sent from my iPad

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