Saturday, January 13, 2024

A Great Way to Show Love

It seemed  like an assembly line where receptionists checked people in, phlebotomists drew labs, and nurses took vitals. At the melanoma unit in this particular cancer center, most of these things take place where patients and staff can hear each other. 


As I sat waiting for almost an hour, something really surprised me. Each patient would go back and talk about their journey with cancer. At first, I found it quite beautiful that they could talk there. One man in particular seemed so bottled up. I wondered if he'd ever talked with anyone about his struggles with cancer before, yet there he sat, telling everything to the phlebotomist. Another patient said they'd be getting surgery later that day. I shook inside because I've had so many surgeries over the years. I can't fathom having another one. Doctors talk about knowing where my "hard stop" will be. Is it when I'll need radiation again? Or is it brain surgery?


I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but it's hard not to listen in, especially when it helps me feel like I'm not alone. It had been difficult getting to the cancer center that day because I needed both cancer treatments and bone infusions. These make me feel especially unwell for weeks (if not months), and it can be tough dragging myself to the cancer center for all of this. 


Thinking about my own plight and hearing fellow patients talk about theirs, at some point, I realized that no one had asked how the staff members were doing. The main receptionist bubbled with exuberance while helping patients, but when she didn't think anyone was looking, she seemed beyond tired. Same for the phlebotomists and nurses who had their own worries. That's when I vowed to solely ask staff members about themselves. I felt grateful patients could talk with them about everything—after all, that is their job—but for just a moment, I wanted to be the respite in the day.


"Elisa?" a phlebotomist called.


"I'm here." I stood and went to get my blood drawn. Although they couldn't see everything, I knew fellow patients could hear the conversation, and I momentarily wondered if anyone else in the waiting area was listening.


"How are you today?" the phlebotomist asked, looking genuinely concerned.


"Well, the only thing wrong with me is cancer. That's it! The real question," I turned to him, "is how you're doing. I want to know how you are?"


This opened up the most beautiful conversation. Instead of talking about my problems for the millionth time, I got to hear about the goodness of humanity. "This is just part-time?" I asked as he prepared to draw my blood. 


"I'm usually a firefighter."


"And that's your passion?" I asked.


"For sure," he said, then gave me a conspiratorial smile. "I'll tell you something most people here don't even know about me."




"Well, I made national news a little while ago." 


"For saving someone from a fire?" I guessed.


"No," he said and almost smiled. "My team and I have saved quite a few people and barely even made local news. But when I saved a couple of kittens from a fire, that's when I made national news."


"Were they in a house that was on fire?"


"Nope. They were under it. I had to climb under a house that was on fire."


"You are so brave. That's absolutely amazing!"


That night when I got home, I told Mike and the kids about my day at the cancer center. "I really didn't want to go because treatments are brutal, but then I decided to try making the day better for everyone around me. Whether they were facing cancer or working at the center, I asked about their lives, their days, and how they're doing. It ended up being the most incredible day. Sure, I don’t feel well, but my heart is full of the most amazing stories. I even met a man who saved kittens from under a house while it was on fire." My family thought that was pretty great.


Anyway, there are times when I want to share my story, but there are other moments when it's much more important to listen. I'm so glad I got to hear everyone's stories and talk with the people I came across at the cancer center. I heard some pretty wonderful things that I'll never forget.


My grandma once told me something, and I think she was right. She said, "One of the greatest ways to show love is by asking people about themselves." My last trip to the cancer center really proved her point.


  1. This is beautiful. I think we all get into our own heads about our own lives and we need to tell others about it to get it out, but we never take the time to ask others about themselves. One thing I do love is to hear what others have been through and they way they think because of that. Everyone has a story and that story is why they are the way they are. I think it’s fascinating.

  2. You are such a beautiful person within and without. You have inspired me to try to be a better person. I wish I could could give you some of my strength to fight this terrible disease.