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For Whom The Bell Tolls

Last week my husband started a new chemo regimen. The old regiment was not having the success that we wanted and the oncologist wanted to try something new.

The new chemotherapy drug they were going to introduce into. Mark had severe side effects that only manifested within the first three treatments. Ultimately, we were told, that, after those three, the side effects typically subside. But the initial effects could range from an all over body rash to severe gastric disturbances to difficulty breathing. To ensure safety and comfort, we were told, during the first three visits, we would have to stay for several hours afterward for observation.

When we arrived for the infusion, Mark received an IV of medication designed to block the side effects. Because of the precautionary steps, we were warned that the first visit could take up to 8 hours. We arrived in the infusion suite at 8am, but was not released until 4pm. The silver lining was that Mark did not exhibit even one of the side effects from the chemo. The dark cloud was that eight hours of just sitting is literally torture for me.

After a couple hours, I jumped up and went to get Mark a snack for which he was very appreciative. But it also got me up and walking. I learned the layout of the suite which was maze-like and initially quite confusing. When lunchtime arrived, I did the same thing. Mark was hungry and I had ants in my pants, so (win-win).

It was upon my return from getting us lunch, that I had the strangest experience. The waiting room outside of the infusion suites was packed with at least 50 people. I began to cross the room to enter the infusion suites, when all of a sudden, the entire room erupted in applause. I was so nonplussed. The jester in me wanted to take a bow and practice my acceptance speech for whatever award I just won. But a voice in my head said don’t you dare this is not about you.

I continue through the waiting room into the infusion suites with the applause still going on. As I entered the suites, I saw a middle-aged African-American lady, surrounded by nurses. She had no hair and no head covering, tears streaming down her face. At first, I was alarmed for her, and then I noticed that she was laughing and crying at the same time, and that the nurses were all hugging her.

Being the nosy-Parker that I am, I went to the nurse in our suite, and ask what had happened. Our nurse, Cecelia, asked, “didn’t you hear the bell?”

I hadn’t heard a bell and I told her that. Amused, Cecelia explained that it must’ve rang before I entered the waiting room. She further elaborated that the lady I had seen laughing and crying had rung the bell. The ringing of the bell signified she had just completed her last cancer treatment, and that her cancer was in remission.

And then, surprisingly, after hearing that information, I felt an immediate affinity with a woman I have never met before. I also wanted to go hug her.

And understanding of the audience applause slowly dawned on me.

Thinking back to when we first walked into the waiting room. I remembered looking around, (I am a people watcher), and took notice of the people in the room with me. Most of them were alone, reading on their phones, an air of sad resignation on most faces. In stark contrast, this same group, now applauded a stranger's outcome. but more than that, their countenance changed.

I realized, then, that the people in the waiting room were not just applauding for her. They were applauding for hope. They were applauding for the brief glimpse into a possible future that they all wanted so badly.

Cancer is an evil parasite that not only eats away at the body, but also tries to devour the soul. Today I saw 50 strangers fight back against the darkness.

With Hope.


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