Tag Archives: survivorship

The Quiet Room

7 Mar

The room is lovely; serene & conducive to quiet speculation or whispered communication. The swirls in the mint green carpet complement the upholstery on the chairs, the hardwood sections of the floor & the paintings that adorn the walls. Even with the obvious hand of a decorator, it remains a nondescript room for waiting but adds some of the comforts of home like fresh coffee in a coffee maker, a small refrigerator stocked with canned drinks & little baskets filled with cheese crackers & various other cracker snacks.  A large flat screen TV hangs on the wall, its audio kept at a somewhat subdued level for those who are inclined to watch. Significantly, there is a box of tissues on the coffee table.

This morning there are 12 of us filling most of the seats. It is quiet & we don’t immediately speak; faces lost in thought; eyes seeing some far away image of a life well lived or a child waiting to be loved. Most of all there is sadness; not only in the eyes of those sitting & waiting, but it seems to hang on the well-appointed wallpaper, left there from years of women who have gone before us this morning & waiting to be brought to life by some memory or word that has been said there far too many times before.

We’re all wearing the same thing – our uniform; a long hospital gown made of the same fabric tied in the front….except for the elderly woman to my right who has tied her gown in the back in the usual way unable to understand that here we wear them differently. We tied them in the front for easy access & there’s something sad about that, too.

We’re all sharing space in this room together because of a similar condition. This is the Breast Imaging Center & it’s not the place most women go to get their annual mammograms.  On the contrary … this is where we go to get follow-up mammograms when the original one we got is somehow defective or irregular or abnormal. This is why we share the silence today & the hollow-eyed vacancy of a stare with tears & fear just rippling under the surface.

Some of us are here for the first time. Some of us are repeat attenders … we’ve gone down that breast cancer road & from that day forward we have come & will continue coming to this place for our annual mammograms because we are survivors hoping to continue to be just that – survivors. We are somehow forever different & we gather here annually to check & recheck our status, hoping for the best.

Because this is soon to be my 9th. year of survivorship, I break the palpable silence. This isn’t my first rodeo but I can look around the room & almost guess whose it is. Even more women have entered the room & taken a seat wearing our uniform. The eyes are a bit more frightened, a bit more haunted, a bit more filled with longing & sadness. I know what’s going on in the minds behind the eyes. I’ve been there… but today I say, “There couldn’t be any women in Lynchburg today because we’re all here.” There’s laughter & even gratitude in some of the faces … gratitude for hearing one of us speak & leading the way to conversation.

We all have such unique stories about how & why we’ve ended up here this morning together & some of us begin to share them … to break the ice … to reach out to our sisters because that is who these women & I have become. Sisters in the fight against breast cancer. One woman observes, “Women really have a lot to deal with” & we all agree….because we’re HERE.

In time some of us begin to tell our stories or ask to hear someone else’s. There’s comfort in numbers, whether sharing a similar experience or learning from listening to the telling of one by others.

Our circle, like our numbers is fluid. We begin with 12, then 15, then 9 as we are called individually to have our mammograms. Some are annual mammograms like me who are there because we are survivors & regular mammogram centers don’t process us anymore. Others are first-timers; there to follow-up on a suspicious mammogram with another mammogram & possibly an ultrasound that will change their lives forever.

I remember being at that stage & I say a prayer that today’s mammogram will be unchanged. I say additional prayers for my new found sisters who will receive life-changing news this afternoon, regardless whether it is positive or negative. Just crossing the threshold of this room today for the first-timers is a life changing experience. For those with bad news, that life changing news will catapult them into another realm where they will be tested as to strength & durability as they tentatively begin their journey down the breast cancer road. For those who are negative & have only experienced a scare, life at mammogram time will forever be tainted with more fear … fear of the “what ifs” & the unknown.

Today I am relieved that my annual mammogram is unchanged. I’ve been here so many times that the staff is more like friends than ‘staff & patient.’ I am hugged by one of the mammography doctors. She is my friend after these many years & she knows, like I know that she & I are sisters & part of that sisterhood of women threatened by breast cancer. As we hug we silently rejoice in the knowledge that today we are both free of that darkest of passengers.

My husband is waiting for me, his brow creased with worry until he sees me & I smile. He tells me how worried he’s been & he kisses me. He gives me a yellow dandelion he’s picked for me because he doesn’t have real flowers. I take it gratefully because it is a treasure & a symbol of the goodness of the day.

On the way out of the building a woman rushes up to me smiling. She & I sat side by side in the waiting room, sharing stories of our illness, which resulted in sharing stories of our courage with a sister who understands.

I tell her I am OK & she tells me she is, too. We hug as though we’ve known each other for ever, but that’s what sisters do. I introduce her to my husband & they shake hands. She is beaming.

We exchange names & promise to keep in touch through Facebook.

She leaves before we do & there’s a spring in her step … a good news spring & I wonder if I have that same step … but I’m sure I do.

This morning the size of my family has increased & that both makes me glad & saddens me. I’m glad to have shared a moment in time with a waiting room full of special woman but my heart aches for every one of us who has ever or will ever hear those words, “You have breast cancer.”

Before my new friend leaves, I tell her I hope all the women we shared the morning with are cancer free & she agrees, even though we both know that is unlikely. We HOPE because our family circle has increased & we want the best for all of them … our new sisters.

And so we HOPE ….



Floating an Idea

7 Jan

Since 1991, with the exception of several years of bad weather, my club, Heimdal Science Fiction has built & entered a float in the local Christmas Parade. In 2006 our chapter actually won the trophy for Best Depiction of the Parade Theme.

In September of 2015 our club began kicking around ideas & plans for our float entry in the parade on December 4.

The parade theme was Oh, What a Miracle! At the September Heimdal meeting a member mentioned that he should be a float all by himself for having survived open heart surgery as an infant, which was truly a miracle. Someone picked that up & everybody ran with it, pointing out the members of our club who have survived not only major illnesses, but life-altering events as well. And the theme of our float was born … Survivors, Oh What a Miracle!

A member offered his Star Trek adapted, Galileo-styled shuttle van to pull the float, his trailer FOR the float & his huge shed & yard to build the float. And we were off again & running … or floating.

We had a sign professionally made that stated our theme; Survivors: Oh, What a Miracle! Members volunteered to be on the float holding signs that told of their survivorship; for example – breast cancer, uterine cancer, bi-polar disorder, workplace violence, congenital heart defect, diabetes, stroke; 10 members in all.

I got together with 2 other artistically inclined members at my home & we made signs for each survivor to hold on the float. The signs depicted Christmas gifts with the name of what the person survived written on the package. The bows on each package were the actual Awareness Ribbons that signify the disorder & were the color of those Awareness Ribbons. It took the 3 of us all day long, with a pleasant stop for lunch at a local restaurant, to make most of the signs. I finished up what we didn’t get done several days later.

The last weekend in November, a number of our members met at the Davis home & constructed the float; covering parts & hand rails with cedar & lights. A Christmas tree was set up at one end of the float, decorated & later, on parade evening at the parade site, each package being held by a survivor was connected to the well-lit Christmas tree by a ribbon the color of the individual Awareness Ribbons. All survivors on the float wore Star Trek: Next Generation uniforms because part of our float message was to point out that there are “survivors” in every group of people, every organization & area of life. Truly a miracle.

17 of us came out on parade night & helped with our float. 2 people walked ahead of the float carrying the banner for our parent organization, Starfleet, followed by 3 members carrying our recently acquired Heimdal banner. All our members walking & carrying banners wore Santa hats, which was cool & added a bit of humor to our presentation. One of our members was dressed as an elf & walked beside the float handing out candy canes to those watching the parade along the parade route. Carl drove his van that pulled the float & the 10 of us on the float holding our significant Christmas packages.

All along the parade route people cheered when we went by & called out, “Star Trek.”  Many gave us the Vulcan salute & one woman walked closer to the float, looked up at me holding the Breast Cancer “package” & said to me, “Keep on fighting …” I almost cried. It became obvious at that moment that people not only understood that we were the local science fiction club, but most of them actually “got” the message we were attempting to convey with our float. And somehow, that was HUGE.

It was 34 degrees the night of the Christmas Parade & our folks were so cold at the end of the parade route that most of us could no longer feel our toes.  That’s pretty cold. But everyone was very proud that we had made an excellent original contribution to the parade, especially after seeing the reaction of those lining the parade route. We realized that we were there for a multitude of reasons.

Did our float win any trophies? Not this year. It’s difficult to compete in a county parade with churches, kids & animals, but often, winning is not the most important thing. What we decided is that as a club we ARE winners. Our float theme was significant & made a statement that is timeless & putting the float together was an excellent example of team work & what you can do if you work together & try. And it was just plain fun being in the parade, carrying Starfleet & Heimdal banners, waving to the crowd that recognized & obviously LIKED us & sharing an evening with friends.

Will we do another Christmas Parade float? Some of our members are already kicking around float ideas for THIS year’s Christmas parade, even though it’s a long way off.

In the end, though, enthusiasm & friendship are what drives the float …