Tuesday, December 1, 2015


I belong . . .

BY VERNE STRICKLAND  December 1, 2015

I belong in this place. With these people.
There are not many times in our lives when any of us can say this with assurance.
Here I belong.
We are bound together by one common thread that brought us together – cancer.
Our meeting place is the chemo suite at the Cape Fear Cancer facility in Wilmington.

This is not designed as a social center. Its purpose is to treat cancer victims with sophisticated, individually designed chemotherapy treatments administered intravenously. These high-tech drugs kill cancer. Boost survival rates. Offer more precious time to patients.
There are usually twenty or more patients here at any one time. I am one of them. We sit in comfortable padded recliners, as registered nurses circulate about, hooking us up to IV units that drip measured amounts of cancer-fighting drugs into our bodies.
Some read, some sleep, others may chat quietly with those in neighboring chairs.
There is not a sense of urgency here. Or a sense doom or fear. We know why we are here. We know this is the serum of life that is poured drop by drop into our veins. And it is this that kindles the spirit of togetherness we seem to feel as a group. We are all on a mission of life or death.
Patients with a wide array of cancers in various stages are in this room. I have a bone and blood cancer – multiple myeloma – diagnosed by highly-respected oncologist, William McNulty. I have endured a lot of pain, and a lot of fatigue, weight loss, and other side effects from the treatments.
But I am one of the lucky ones.
The kind and gentle registered nurses move with efficiency and purpose throughout the room. Each may care for three or four patients. Using their computers, they monitor the cancer-fighting fluids going into each individual. This is the stuff of life and survival they administer. It is comforting to note their dedication, professionalism, and caring attitude. To us they are guardian angels.
I will spend about two hours once a week in chemotherapy. People with more serious illness may spend as much as eight hours in treatment. It’s a sacrifice they are willing to make for the benefits of the powerful medicines that kill cancer.
Today I strike up a conversation with a pleasant well-spoken cancer patient seated beside me. Bob is about sixty, a retired U.S. Naval officer. He has lung cancer. Compared to him I have a garden variety malignancy. But my cancer can also kill.
There is no bitterness in this wonderful man. It cannot be said that he is resigned to his fate, because he fights with courage and tenacity. But he knows that, short of a miracle, he may prolong the fight, but is not likely to win it.
“Do you have a faith that is helping you through this?” I ask. He looks at me with a steady, alert gaze. “Of course. God watches over me.”
I discover references to the Almighty throughout this Wilmington cancer ward. Earlier, as I conversed with a sweet lady of about seventy, she confided that she had been healed by one of those miracles Bob was talking about. She is back with another threat – pancreatic cancer. I believe in miracles – I have had my own -- and told her I would pray fervently for her. She inspired me greatly. But this may be a tall order. Then I think of Lazarus.
On a previous session in the chemotherapy suite, I met a seemingly robust gentleman with a jovial spirit. He looked tanned and fit. He lives here on the coast, retired from a successful career with his own chemical company. He likes boating, fishing, and enjoying his family. He has esophageal cancer, but evidences no outward concern or burden with his illness. It is like this at every turn with these people – a special breed in every way.
But back to my Navy pal Bob. He was good company, and I think each of us bolstered the mood of the other as we got acquainted.
He said, “You know this is actually a wonderful thing we share here. All of us are struggling with similar problems. It just helps to gather like this, knowing that the person next to us understands. I think we gather strength from this, even when we don’t talk. We’ve all been brought here. We all belong here. It’s a path we have to take.”
It was a profound statement. And I feel it too. In the midst of the sickness, the pain, the unknown destinies each of us face, there is a special camaraderie that is palpable.
It’s a feeling of hope, understanding, tenderness toward others, resignation, love. God gives us that along with the suffering, which, incidentally, we are each promised. The experience strengthens us, focused our attention on the important things in this life. It somehow seems a fair trade.
Thank you, Lord.