Chapter 93: “Pay it Forward”
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As busy as I had proved to be, I wanted to do more to help others who were currently fighting their own cancer battles. It was another reason for my existence beyond those four colorless walls, and yes, it satiated my Survivor’s Guilt– but I personally wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for my visitor, Mitch. And sure enough there was only one thing holding me back; I thought that oh too toxic thought: “I don’t know how.”
Luckily, I was asked by one of my former nurses to speak to a patient that was upstairs combating the children’s version of Leukemia, ALL. I had a brief moment of pause, not because she asked me to do it, but I wondered how I would navigate such a conversation with a fifteen-year-old. I was almost twenty-five, and I felt too far removed from my childhood. Then I thought of Tori, the girl in the hospital that was from Presque Isle. I seemed to talk with her just fine, and she was only fifteen then, so I decided to keep it simple. After my lapse in judgment, I said, “Yes, I’ll meet David.”
I was working that day (as I was wont to do), and deep into my bi-weekly six-day stretch workweek. I really didn’t feel like I’d be the right person to cheer up a fifteen-year-old – and I didn’t have much to show for my survival – but I put my best “happy face” on and walked upstairs. Yes, I walked the six flights. Why wouldn’t I? I’m alive after all, and a little exercise goes a long way.
Naturally, my portly frame struggled to stomp up the final steps. I stood on the landing just outside the stairway door and regained my composure. I didn’t want to run into David’s room, gasping for air, exclaiming, “Look, this is what living looks like! I’m twenty-five, can’t walk six flights of stairs, and work a dead-end job! Isn’t life great?!”
Once my erratic breathing returned to normal, I approached another nurse and told her that I was going to meet David. She quietly knocked on David’s, door and his parents hollered, “Come on in!”
Oh no, his PARENTS are there too?! Great.
I awkwardly introduced myself to the lot, and we began chatting. The conversation actually came out rather easily. David was what we called in “The County”** a “hick.” He loved snowmobiles, ATVs, and his pick-up truck. He wore a truck manufacturer hat (I’m not going to besmirch his name by trying to guess WHICH here), and I felt right at home. I grew up with these people.
His family proudly showed me photos of David with his pick-up, and he and I swapped our Leukemia-related stories. He had already been through a few months of his two-year treatment.
We all conversed for roughly an hour before I could tell that David needed some rest. One of the perks (if you could call them that) about being in his shoes is that I knew when it was time to head on out. David and his parents thanked me for visiting him.
“It’s my pleasure. Really. Anytime you need to talk, I’m here for you.”
I left that room reeling in goodwill and positivity. I had never felt so good about something that I had done. I had only hoped that they appreciated my visit, and it helped them as much as Mitch’s visits helped me. I wanted to honor Mitch and pay it forward.
I went home and told Deirdre of my experience. She could tell that I had enjoyed myself and assured me that David appreciated it also. Deirdre and I had had our fair share of arguments recently. They were often steeped in my own insecurities. My mind had a knack for dissecting life looking for patterns. I had to look it up, but the condition (a common, HUMAN one) was called pareidolia, where the human mind actively LOOKS for patterns. It’s the same notion of seeing faces in the clouds. We look for familiarity because we want something recognizable. God, what did that mean for me? Did I WANT us to break up? Or was I simply reading into things a little too intently?
At any rate, I tried not to let the current low of our relationship take away from such a high. The next day, I went upstairs after work and reached out to the same nurse who initially inquired of my services for other patients, and to see if David wanted another visit.
She told me that David might like another visit soon, but for other patients, I would have to go to the social worker on the floor. How exciting! David and his family DIDN’T hate me!
“Great! Thanks, I’ll do just that! Please let me know what works for David too. I can see him again this week.”
The nurse offered, “How about Thursday? He won’t be having any tests that day.”
“Perfect! I’m off work so anytime works for me.”
We set the time for ten, and off I went to introduce myself to the new social worker. The previous one – my social worker – had moved into a new position doing the same thing with the children of the Pediatric Sedation office.
The new lady, Helen, was a delight to talk to, but I felt a sense of unfamiliarity, not in my perception, but of her read of me. I got the feeling that she didn’t care for me or that I had ulterior motives to visiting kids, such as using this as a resume booster or something. Still, I offered my services to her as well and told her how passionate I was about being that “poster boy of the other side of treatment” for the kids now. I gabbed about how wonderful it felt to reach out to David, and this is where her look soured slightly more. Maybe she didn’t like me going above her head in the process of visitations? Regardless, she thanked me for offering my help and off I went.
Thursday came by fast, and just like when I went to the hospital to write after work, I was there again – of my own volition – and off the clock, ready to visit David.
This visit went over just as well as before. This time we focused more on my personal experiences of issues during treatment, I shared my tips on how to combat boredom, and as I left this time, we hugged.
Wow, what a feeling! I drove home with this awestruck expression on my face, and as I got home, I found that he had added me on Facebook. I was so proud of this young man that I had felt like a father who watched his son go off to college!
The next week, David went home in between his treatments and not long after, the social worker called me. She had wanted me to visit another kid who was only twelve at the time. This guy was Aaron, and he had wanted to talk to someone who had been through what he was going through.
I quickly jumped on the opportunity, happy to be the embodiment of a healthy survivor for these kids. When I went to visit Aaron, it was more awkward than with David, but we soon found common ground in our shared joy of television. We discussed his favorite shows, and I told him what I used to do when I was sitting in the bed all day. I told him about the early hour Futurama binges and chocolate milk comas and playing Gamecube for hours on end.
Aaron loved playing the Playstation 3 they now had on the floor. I still didn’t have that system, so I couldn’t really speak on what games I preferred there. I did use what comprehension I had from living with Kyle and his PS3 and my countless hours listening to Podcast Beyond, and it helped bridge the gap.
We spoke for about an hour, and off I went. I went to thank Helen, and she seemed to be warming up to me. Aaron too added me on Facebook, but he didn’t seem to use it that often.
Weeks went by, and I didn’t hear a peep from either one of the boys or their caregivers, and I wondered what was going on. I wanted to stay in touch with both of them as well as any other kids I could meet. If I could brighten their days even only for that hour, then I knew it would help their healing.
I called Helen, and she said that she would keep me informed of any other people that requested visitors. I asked about David and Aaron, but she said they David was still home and Aaron was going through a rough patch. I felt something was wrong. Did I piss Aaron’s parents or Helen off, or was I reading into this too much again? Maybe it was the fact that I was much older than the majority of their clientele on the pediatric ward?
I messaged both of the boys and asked how they were doing. I didn’t get any response of which to speak. Maybe they didn’t see them? I began to worry about what I did to these families. My intention was never to cause offense.
As I tried to make sense of the issues here, I had been planning on righting the relationship at home, and I had used my student loans on something that wasn’t school-related… I found this amazing ornate teardrop-shaped engagement ring on eBay that was only five hundred dollars. It was a size six, and I knew that we may need to reshape it and that it was a risk getting a ring without the woman choosing it herself– but I knew Deirdre wasn’t the materialistic type.
I cooked a wonderful dinner for us on Valentine’s Day, and after we finished the main course, I went to get dessert (and along with it), I pulled out the ring box.
I got down on one knee and proposed to her right there. Kaitlyn wasn’t home to see it, unfortunately, but I contemplated all of the possible outcomes of this proposal (the way my mind always worked), and she said, “Yes!”
And with that, we were engaged. We recreated the event for Kaitlyn the next day so she could share in the joy.
Holy Shit, I was going to get married. Would this resolve our my issues? And what would that mean for my career?
**”The County” is a term represents the northern-most county in Maine, Aroostook County. The moniker could be perceived as either a compliment or a disparaging remark, depending on the context. For example, hard workers are usually from “The County,” yet “The County” doesn’t have running water or electricity, so they have to work harder to live up there. The latter isn’t real, but it’s a running gag in Maine.
This is an ongoing story of my personal battle with Cancer. My hope is that it helps others who are currently experiencing their own battles (whether it be for themselves or a loved one) or to help with early detection.
The way I’m doing it is terrifying for a writer. I’m writing a publically available first-draft outline for an eventual book, chapter by chapter in weekly form. The only reason I’m doing it this way is to get the story out as soon as possible for someone out there who needs a survivor to visit them during their own treatment. If you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, tweet at me and I’ll give you a call. No questions asked. This story is for you and I’ll help any way that I can.
Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new chapter every Monday until the story is complete.
And remember if you experience any Anemic symptoms– get checked for Leukemia as well.