Saturday, January 19, 2008

Chemo Angel

I had one of those experiences today that when you're going through it you just know that it's going to change you and be an important part of your life. It's one of those rare instances where you just feel so incredibly grateful for the moment.

A few years ago while I was reading People Magazine (a guilty pleasure of mine), I came across an article talking about a program called Chemo Angels. "Chemo Angels is a volunteer organization dedicated to adding a ray of sunshine to the lives of those undergoing IV chemo treatment." I thought this sounded very cool and tried to sign up. Because of an insane response to the People article, they were not taking any new volunteers at the time. So I kept visiting at the beginning of the month (when I remembered) and tried to get one of the spots. It wasn't until months and months later that it fell into place and I was assigned to my first chemo patient.

Towards the end of 2005, I received an email saying my assigned patient was a woman who had been diagnosed with stage four colon cancer which had metastasized to her liver. In other words, not great news.

My job was to send encouraging notes and small gifts at least once a week to brighten my patient's life while she was going through treatment. This was the easy part. I looked forward to communicating with my patient and took my job seriously. I knew what it was like to be going through chemo. I wasn't there while my mom was going through most of her treatments, but I knew that she was out of it for days at a time afterwards. I was actually studying in Los Angeles while my mom was going through her chemo and I would call to check in and send her notes and postcards just so she knew I was thinking about her. And I know they made her feel better. So I did just that for my patient.

I went long periods of time of not hearing anything. As part of Chemo Angels, the patient is expected to check-in with Admin once a month to give them an update, but they are not required to write back to you, the Chemo Angel. There were a couple of occasions when even Admin didn't hear anything from my patient. It made me anxious and sad. I remember coming back from a work trip about two years ago and I received a note from my patient's sister-in-law. The letter told me that my patient was in the hospital and things were not looking good. In fact, she had been in the hospital for a couple of months and had been in and out of the ICU.

A few months had gone by and I kept writing and sending small gifts and then one day out of the blue, I received a message from my patient's husband. Messages made me anxious. I was never sure if it was going to be good or bad news. But when I called back my patient answered the phone and when we first talked, I completely started crying out of happines and relief that she was alive and okay. She was doing okay, she was back at home and well on her way to some sort of a recovery. Things were still going slow, being taken one day at a time as she was not out of the woods. But it was wonderful to hear her voice.

It's been over a year since I talked with my patient for the first time. Almost a year since she stopped chemo (it'll be a year in March). We've kept in touch a little bit- certainly not as much as I had hoped. In fact, when Katie was working from Flagstaff, I almost got together with my patient. But it never worked out and since then (the fall), I haven't done a good job of keeping in touch.

Last Friday, after an exhausting work week, I received a call from my patient. She was going to be in Long Beach with her husband, his two sisters and one of their husbands, and wanted to get together. I was so touched and so excited. We made plans to get together today and it was simply amazing.

This woman was diagnosed with STAGE FOUR COLON CANCER WHICH HAD METASTASIZED TO HER LIVER and today I got to meet her. It was overwhelming and wonderful and I felt proud of myself for having touched this woman's life (and her family too) in such a powerful way. She's beautiful. She's remarkable and has changed my life by being the strong, brave woman that she is.

You know how people say things like "You just have to live your life for today?" Or "You can't take anything for granted?" She actually means it and live her life in a way that is completely in live with that line of thought. Listening to her talk today, it was so moving. She kept saying how she's healthy today, and she's not sure it'll stay that way, but that she can just live for today.

Being a Chemo Angel was a great experience, but I never thought I was going to be able to actually meet my patient. My patient's husband said that when she was in the hospital and was totally out of it and unconscious, that her machines would go crazy when her nieces would come and visit and when he read my letters to her. The entire family and my patient were so thankful and so loving and appreciative of my efforts and it just made me feel great.

I was moved and inspired today. And it was a great reminder that everyday really is a gift to be treasured. On top of all that, it was so great to see that among all the bullshit cancer stories of people dying too young and life not being fair type of things, that there was this woman who definitely beat all the odds. And I'm proud to have played a part in that...


Juliness January 20, 2008 at 11:37 AM  

Fantastic story! What a treasure you have given that woman. You have a gift for encouragement, my dear and it sounds as if you are using it wisely.

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