I was asked to go to the side of the Infusion center where the patients with blood cancers (as opposed to solid tumor cancers) were treated. One of the long-time patients, who, for the sake of simplicity I’ll call Sam, was receiving his monthly treatment for multiple myeloma, a cancer that starts with plasma cells and can be difficult to treat. He had his notebook out, and was writing, but was content to set it down to receive a gentle foot massage.
When working in the hospital, it is up to the patient to start the conversation, and generally, unless they wish to discuss it, it is not about their disease or treatment. It is about that person as a person; his or her likes/dislikes/passions/interests. Sam is a musician, and loves gospel and playing in his church band, so we discussed gospel and Mavis Staples and other gospel favorites.
As I was getting ready to finish up the massage, Sam asked me why I work in a cancer center. I replied, although I don’t heal anyone, I do feel that cancer massage makes a difference, even in a small way. It’s a way to make that time during treatment pass a little faster, make you feel a little better. He looked at me and said, “I want to make a difference.” I assured him his work and his music ministry DID in fact, make a difference in the world. But then he quietly said, “I really want to make a difference for my daughter. She’s 15.” Not having any children of my own, I had no response except to listen and nod. But in talking to the instructor, who had given many massages to Sam before, she was not even aware he had a daughter. I felt it was an important moment for Sam to be able to name his desire, and to open up and share it. When any of us is facing our mortality, often our goals and desires come more clearly into focus. I can’t be certain, but I suspect Sam will make that connection with his daughter, and she will feel the positive difference he has made in her life.