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Don's Journey

I was sitting in the waiting area of the infusion room as I do every Friday morning at two week intervals. We were getting a late start that day, which meant that we would be at the hospital until around 8:30 pm. I don’t particularly like starting this late. There’s something a bit depressing about being in the cubicle while nearly everyone else goes home and it gets so quiet. But, it’s all part of the long-term chemo scene. Sometimes you get in early, sometimes late.

Gail had been invited back to get her dual port accessed so that the infusion could begin when the order came back from the pharmacy. On this day, we would wait a until a doctor could see Gail before infusion began. The day before, glands in her neck had swollen and they wanted to make certain nothing was wrong enough to hold chemotherapy. Funny, both of us would have been depressed if the doctor decided to hold this poison from being administered to her cancer. Truly, the lesser of two evils. Fortunately, it was nothing serious, so therapy proceeded.

Back to my story. I was the only one in the waiting area at the time. Chip and Joanna were remodeling a house on the television screen at the end of the room, and I was checking email. It is good to check email in the waiting area, because you go down to one “bar” back in the recesses of the infusion area. All of a sudden, it came to me. “We’ve been in this hospital at least a month and a half in 2017.” A full forty-five or fifty days of our lives have been experienced in this place. Wow! I don’t know why I never thought of it before, but when it dawned upon me, it was quite a revelation.

Can I tell you what other things we could have been doing in this month and a half? Well, a beach in Florida would have been nice, but we did get to go there this year so we’ve got that going for us. We could have painted tired rooms in our twenty-four-year-old home. But, we did that too. We could have worked in the yard; yukky for me, but Gail would have thoroughly enjoyed that. One of my major complaints about cancer is that Gail could no longer mow the lawn, which she loves to do, so I’m stuck with it. We long since switched roles about those things. I clean inside and she works outside. Those days are past. We could have worked forty more days I suppose. Gail would like to be working any days, but that cannot happen. I already work plenty I think.

So, there are lots of things we could have done besides sit at Hershey Medical Center. But you know, we’ve done some things there that would not have happened otherwise.

Most Fridays, we have company in our little cubicle. At the very least, one of our daughters spends most of the day with us. Many times, all of our daughters have joined us and, quite frankly, it was a party! Hamilton gatherings are a party waiting to happen, even in a chemotherapy infusion area. We’ve spent many quality hours together in 2017. Allow me to say that again. We’ve spent many quality hours in the chemo infusion area with our family and friends.

Gail’s sisters have faithfully joined us for many hours this year. So often I think, “You guys don’t have to do this. You’ve got plenty of other things to do on Friday afternoons.” But, they show up nevertheless. I know and love them more than any time in our lives. (And I already loved them!) Several friends drop by on many weeks. We chat and enjoy company we would otherwise miss.

And, there are the other patients. Several of their families have become close friends. Friends born of tragedy are friends indeed. Last Friday evening, we spent a joyous time around a camp fire with pancreatic cancer patients and their families. They are the best!

One friend spends her lunch hour from lab work at Hershey talking with Gail. We’ve known her for many years, but now we’re closer than ever. Another Hershey employee who attends our church always stops by if she is working her shift.

Amazingly, several hundred friends all over the country and world respond almost immediately to our bi-weekly posts for prayer on Gail’s Facebook page, as does our church family. My amazing Vibrant Church staff have stood by us every step of this difficult journey, picking up the slack when their “boss” is with his wife.

l cannot forget the nurses and other medical personnel who have become good friends as they cheerfully minister to my wife week after week. They read this Blog, and some have even joined the effort for Gail’s Girls. There’s also volunteer – Joe - who loves my wife and comes to visit even though he does not volunteer on Fridays. He tells his wife that he has to go visit his “girlfriend.” There’s the funny little fellow who brings juice and crackers. He has the best jokes and I’ve once again fallen in love with peanut butter crackers. And, there’s Sam, the special young man that refills the rubber glove boxes and brings a smile to your face virtually every time he starts down the hallway.

In addition, we've forged a friendship with Gail’s trainer for her clinical trial. We’ve spent many hours laughing and “being real” about pancreatic cancer while she teaches Gail how to handle this terrible malady more effectively. She’s a gift from God. What a joy to see her in church recently. She was so surprised that the “walls did not fall down!” They would have fallen down around me long ago if God did not love us all unconditionally.

None of this – NONE of this – would have happened had we not spent forty-five days of 2017 at Hershey Medical Center, most of it at the chemotherapy infusion center. Certainly, Gail and I would never have wished this disease to enter our lives. But God has enriched our lives through relationships that we will enjoy forever, and will never forget in this life, no matter what happens. The conversations we’ve experienced with our children, relatives, friends and new friends have enriched all of our lives.

The Lord tries to teach us that no matter what happens in life, personal relationships are the most important part of our existence. He is right. I’ve learned much about relationships through this trial, and if I could impose: don’t ever let anything get between you and your relationships. Don’t miss the daily opportunities to create new relationships. Don’t somehow think that work, or hobbies, or sports, or anything else, is more important than your husband, wife, children, family and friends. Love your friends and spend time with them. Care for people in need. You will probably be there one day, but even if you’re not, it’s the best use of your time. You will be enriched because of it.

I guess this is the conundrum of bad things happening to us. So much good is born of so much bad. I’ll be glad when we get to heaven and this is not a method used to grow closer to God and to one another. But meanwhile, Gail and I are ready for whomever God will send across our path next Friday at Hershey Cancer Center.

So much thanks to all of you who have entered our world through this blog, on Facebook, and in person. We continue this journey because of you, and those yet to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus. And, we continue because of Gail’s Girls in Southern Asia who have now met Gail personally through the miracle of Zoom. We share a deep relationship with these young women who are changing the world through the power of God. Don’t waste your pain. Deeper relationships happen through pain.

It is time to be quiet . . . thanks for listening.