I step into the spacious waiting of the radiation oncology building. Over in one corner, a full size mannequin sits, dressed as an old-fashioned lady. During Christmas, it was an elf, with a Christmas tree next to it.
“Good morning,” I say to the receptionist. “Hi, Susan,” she replies, with a smile. I push open the inner door and head for the dressing rooms, stopping briefly at the drinking fountain—we’re supposed to drink 8 glasses of water a day. Next a stop at the restroom—to be expected, when drinking all that water. I grab a pair of gowns and choose one of the dressing rooms, change from the waist up, and stick my things in the locker provided.
Then on to the inner waiting room. Although an occasional parent or spouse may venture in, this room is primarily for patients. Chairs and a couch line the walls. Small tables hold magazines and a book on nutrition for cancer patients. On a larger table, a partially done jigsaw puzzle sits, surrounded by puzzle pieces. I pull up a chair and begin working on the puzzle.
Other patients enter. Some greet me; others sit in silence. I hear talk of breast cancer, lung cancer, bone cancer, brain cancer. “They give me 4-6 months to live,” a middle-aged man with a long mustache says, “but I’m not giving up.”
The room feels like a sanctuary of sorts, a safe place where others understand what I feel. It can be a scary place, too, because none of us ever expected to be here, facing the dread beast of cancer. And yet it’s also, we hope, a place of healing and comfort.
A young lady calls my name and leads me back to the big room where radiation is done. I lie on a sheet-covered metal table, where the technicians pull this way and that on the sheet until I am lined up perfectly. (Don’t want the radiation going the wrong place!) A big machine zaps me from the right side, then rotates over me and zaps me from the left. Then I am done for the day, quick and easy. “See you tomorrow,” the technician says, or “Have a good weekend,” if it’s Friday.
I pass through the inner sanctum on my way back to the dressing room. And I pray that, for all who enter here, it will be a place of healing–even as I know that, for some, only eternity will bring healing.