He speaks with an intensity and conviction that makes me want to listen.
“No one knows I have cancer.”
“Really?” I am surprised.
“I will go to work tomorrow at 9 am,” he pauses, “And I no longer have hair, so maybe they wonder, but no one but my family knows I have cancer.”
I nod. Usually patients find blogs or mass emails to update their latest progress or setbacks. They feel it simplifies responding to the concerned masses. I guess support can be as overwhelming as it is comforting.
“Why do you withhold it?” I inquire.
He looks at me sternly.
“If I tell people they will feel bad for me, sympathesize, treat me differently. I do not want to feel like I have cancer. I do not want to believe I am sick. I want to go on with my life, doing what I love.”
This is a nice change of pace for me, working in an environment where my patients can go home after treatment, or back to work the next day. They can live a life between chemo cycles.
“I see,” I mutter as I think about the psychology factor at play here.
He does not want cancer to define him.
“So, as long as I have no fevers, I can still work.”
Fevers are an emergency in the oncology world. Fevers likely indicate a foreign attacker invading the patients body. With a weakened immune system, due to the cancer and chemotherapy, the fight against a foreign attacker is much weaker. This could lead to a massive attack, spreading throughout the body, and at its worst to the organs. If intravenous antibiotics are not initiated immediately, fevers, for an oncology patient, could be life threatening.
“I hope for no fever this round.” He states as I hang his chemotherapy.
“I hope not either.” I respond, meekly. He is older, at an age where studies are inconclusive on whether the geriatric body can tolerate the compromising effects of chemotherapy.
I remind myself of this man’s spunk. He carries an unrelenting passion for his work. A passion that is not folding in the face of cancer.
In time I come to learn from my peers he is a master of his speciality. As much so as a Hall of Famer, a well renowned surgeon, or a Noble prize writer is a master in theirs. Our subject matter shifts from his cancer to his career. I think I like hearing about him as much as he likes telling me. But he is humble in his conveyance, honing in on his history of setbacks and powerful teachers.
Cancer can not define him, I think to myself.
When his treatment finishes, he invites me to his upcoming performance in town. I am excited for the new opportunity, I’ve never experienced this type of show before, but am most eager to witness him performing. It is something new, experiencing a patient detached from an IV pole and engaged in a life between chemo cycles.
We exchange goodbye’s as he gathers his belongings and exits eagerly. His passion awaits him.
As I sit, eagerly awaiting his performance. I hear my patients name in an annoucement. He is taken ill by a fever. He will not be able to perform. I am in the small population that knows it is his cancer.
The show proceeds with his backup as I oscillate between the melody and sadness. Thoughts of fevers and relapses monopolize my mind. Eventually the melody works its way through my meloncholy. Eventually the music captures and moves me beyond thought. Eventually I am lost in a beautiful performance that just makes me want to listen.
As I walk towards my car, I think about my evening. It was not the glimpse of a life between chemo cycles I envisioned, but it was still something special. It was a new experience, a dose of greatness.
For me, greatness is more than a list of accolades. Greatness is in our path of setbacks. Greatness is in our passions shining through those we have touched, even in our absence.
Greatness is in our teammates, our teachers, our inspirations. Greatness is in doing something with real fervor, even if the outcome is a loss, an unacclaimed title, a fever.
Tonight, I experienced a performance that just made me want to listen. Perhaps because it was a glimpse into life between chemo cycles afterall.