When you go to the Moffitt Cancer Center website you see the faces of Moffitt. The providers, the patients, the families…and right away your see Patty’s face. She’s the one with the purple (the color of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness) scarf and the giant smile…right on their home page (www.moffitt.org):
When you go to the ACTUAL Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa for Chemo you see many faces as well…Patty walks directly to the lab to get her blood work done and then goes to wait for an exam room.
Rebecca has been there each time I’ve been there…she wears these awesome medical clogs that are striped and shiny and blue…and they perfectly match her cobalt blue scrubs. Rebecca is a nurse. She listens intently and asks Patty how she is. Patty faces her and responds, “I’ve got nothing to complain about.” And that’s what we expect from Patty.
Rebecca checks blood pressure and makes notes for the Physician Assistant. That’s why we’re here. Prior to chemo Patty has an appointment with her P.A.
But first Nawreen. Nawreen enters Patty’s exam room w her clipboard. Her name tag says “Nawreen” and it says RESEARCH beneath that. Patty thinks this is about a clinical trial and is alert and ready, but its not a clinical trial. It’s more behavioral/social. Nawreen describes a study she’d like to have Patty join. “We are hoping to learn more about the partners of people in treatment.” She asks if Patty has a spouse. “Yes? Well we’d like to see how you interact with your spouse.” This strikes all four of us (Jane, Jean, Patty and me) as absolutely the funniest thing we’ve ever heard. Only Nawreen seems to misunderstand the hilarity. Patty asks her if she’s married. She’s not. And we laugh all the more!
“Well, you see, as part of the study we come to your house. We put a blood pressure cuff on your husband for twenty four hours…and we also watch the two of you have two ten minute conversations. We would like to record those.” The four of us begin to laugh again…only louder this time.
“Can I pick another spouse?” laughs Patty.
and Jean feels the need to add, “You can have mine!” which is helpful and obviously hilarious…but poor Nawreen doesn’t know what to make of us now. “Well…the thing is…we don’t talk for ten minutes…EVER” says our Patty. (More laughter!) And Nawreen, who has been raised on the usual twenty-something diet of romantic comedies and love stories looks a bit uncomfortable. She pauses and launches into the next aspects of the study. “Your spouse wears the blood pressure cuff all day and then comes home and takes it ALL OFF.” All four of us hoot and holler! “Woo Hoo!….” And Nawreen raises a white flag in surrender and joins in the debauchery…we laugh and laugh…
“I’ve been here since 7am. You guys have made my day so much better…” She says.
Patty shares a story with Nawreen and the rest of us lean in to hear as well…”The other day I was making poems to put inside the plastic easter eggs for all the little cousins in our extended family’s Easter Egg Hunt. My husband teared up, and I asked him why.”
He said, “because it’s so nice.”
An image of his face surfaces in my mind. He’s very nice too.
Jean’s face has tears.
The P.A’s face:
Patty’s Physician Assistant (P.A.) is pretty and tiny and wears high heels. She’s not just a pretty face. Usually she approaches the exam room from the end of the hall, and the clicking of her heels announces her arrival long before her smile arrives. This time she comes from the exam room next door, “Was there a party going on in here?” She smiles.
There is an underlying tension in the room and a silence that is heavy and thick as we await for her keyboard clicks to reveal what the blood work will tell us. If the cancer marker numbers go DOWN that means the chemo is working, and the regimen of treatments will continue.
At first the results are not available. The room feels small. I look at Jane because I feel that I will know what to do from watching her. She looks stiff and uneasy. Patty chats with her P.A., and I do NOT look at Jean. Jean jokingly calls herself a “crier,” but really it’s more than that…she feels everything so quickly and so deeply…I do not look at Jean.
The PA clicks on the keyboard again searching for results just as Rebecca enters the room with a small piece of paper. The results. The cancer markers show that the chemo is working. The numbers are DOWN! The numbers are DOWN!
Jean’s face has tears.
We leave Moffitt to go to one of the satellite infusion centers. I fumble to find my valet ticket so I can retrieve my car…
The Strangers’ Faces:
At the valet stand two women sit next to one another on the bench outside of Moffitt Cancer Center. I walk up to the podium nearby and hand over my valet ticket. I am thankful for the convenience. I step back to wait and begin to watch the two women on the bench. They are obviously strangers to one another but have begun to speak softly together. I guess that they are joined in their common challenge and in their shared language. Life is now a series of cancer treatments and scans and blood work. Prior to this, life had been easier. Now it is harder. One of the women wears a wig and has a cane. The other has a hat pulled down firmly over her thinning hair. A car pulls up. One of the ladies gets up and glances down at the other. “We’re going to beat this Janet…” she says. And she walks to her car.
The nurses’ faces:
At the infusion center the nurses show us pictures of their young children. Young faces. Capable moms. Patty’s IV is one of the longer drips.
Six hours drip by…Jean and I take turns rubbing Patty’s shoulders and massaging her hands. Patty mostly sleeps in the recliner next to the IV pole. We look at our phones. We read books. And Jean looked out the window and saw a cloud that looked like a face. It turned toward her and smiled.
We are usually one of the last cars to leave at the end of the day.
The last hour of our day is the ride home. Patty always sleeps. We navigate the rush hour traffic back to Patty’s house.
Patty’s husband met us in the driveway this Tuesday. He looked anxious. Patty walked slowly into her house and went straight to her bed. We gave her husband, Guy, details of the day. He gave us hugs. Patty’s sister Jane would spend the night to help. Patty’s Aunt Margie would come over the next morning…Round Five of this twelve-round regimen is in the books.
Jean and I pulled away. I turned to face Jean.
Whenever I see your smiling face, I have to smile myself because I love you, yes I do.
And when you give me that pretty little pout, it turns me inside out.
There’s something about you baby, I don’t know.
Isn’t it amazing a man like me can feel this way?
Tell me how much longer, it could grow stronger every day. Oh how much longer?
I thought I was in love a couple of times before with the girl next door,
but that was long before I met you, now I’m sure that I won’t forget you.
And I thank my lucky stars that you are who you are,
and not just another lovely lady set out to break my heart….
by James Taylor
On a cubicle at Moffitt: