My Humbling, Non-Medical Journey...
On the non-medical side of things, my experience at MD Anderson and the people of Houston, as well as MSTI here locally and the national support system through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) has been mind blowing. When Jody and I arrived in Houston Sunday, we were met by a "ground angel" which is a non-profit organization that transports patients for free; no reimbursement for them, no gas allowance or mileage, no tips allowed, no payment. This is their Mission and they do it out of their own desire to serve.
Kathy was our driver Sunday, and when I got in the car she handed me a beautiful hand-quilted lap blanket; made by her friend Beth and Beth's church group to hand out to people just like me. It brought me to tears and I was already choked up by Kathy picking Jody and I up at the airport, an otherwise a $65.00 taxi ride. I used that quilt during my chemo on Monday and I felt the love and comfort of that group who made it.
While having my Rituxan infusion, a couple of volunteers came by from the "beauty" program within MD Anderson. They offer beauty services while a person is going through treatment. They will wash you hair, or shave your hair when/if needed, they will help you with tips to feel beautiful (make up tips, head dress ideas, etc.). These two volunteers had a cart with them and offered me any item that I wanted, as a service from them to me. I explained to them that I obviously still had my hair and would for a while. With a knowing, gentle smile, volunteer Bernadette said to me, "I understand, but you will likely need this at some point." Of course she was right. I chose my first sleeping cap and scarf. We had some good laughs while she showed me using a mannequin head, how to put that scarf on my head and make it look good. Of note, all of these services again, are a service offered as a thank you and a pay it forward by the volunteers, born out of stories like Bernadette's whose young husband had a rare cancer and MD Anderson saved his life where others said it wasn't possible.
We have also met people who travel to MD Anderson to serve. As Jody and I were waiting to get off the plane in Houston, I noticed that the elderly gentleman in front of me had an MD Anderson "no" cancer luggage tag on his bag. I simply asked if one of them were a patient there; he looked to his frail wife and lovingly said to her, "why don't you tell them why we are here." Her story was like so many others, she was given a few months to live, came to MD Anderson 11 years ago where they proved everyone else wrong, and is now flying in when possible to volunteer for a week at a time, sitting with patients during their in-patient stays. It was truly inspirational to know that this elderly couple (obviously in their 80's) spent their free time traveling back to their Mecca to help others.
But it is not just the free services or gifts that are humbling, it is the genuine caring and the personal touch, literally the physical touch that is so needed and so comforting. In our current state of don't touch and be PC at all times, to have a medical provider or a citizen on the street tell you they will pray for you, to receive a hug from a stranger who is moved to do so because you need it, and to have someone take the time to listen to your inner most fears without judgment all in a hospital setting is unheard of in our sterile environment of making sure not to offend.
I have been so Blessed by the people during this journey, nearly every one of them strangers, that I become awestruck and cannot find the words to explain to others how it makes me feel. But I also know that these types of Blessings should not be kept a secret and that I should share them; maybe it will make the rest of us reach out the next time we see a person in pain, or actually help when we recognize a need rather than feel moved and think twice because it isn't socially acceptable in today's world. Through this most horrible time in my life, I have had some of the most humbling and inspiring moments of my life. While I would never have asked for this journey I am grateful to be experiencing it.