Today, at work, I did something that no one ever wants to do. I went to visit a co-worker who was just diagnosed with cancer. Being ill is never a good thing but the "c"-word seems to carry with it a certain understanding that we are all mortal. Sometime, someday, we will have to face the reality of what we choose (or chose) to deem as important in life.
I've watched Laura regularly. My office sits at the end of the long hallway all employees travel down at least twice a day--once to punch in and once to punch out on the time clock. My view from the office window grants me the perspective into these two moments of their day. For the early birds, I see their determination, positive energy, and potential they are ready to encounter that day. For others, their hurried stress, minds elsewhere on what comes next, or a frustrated defeatedness, an all-knowingly prediction of the work before them. Still others make the dazed casual saunter on the way in, no urgency beyond any movement. All these workers have a story. Sometimes I get to engage in brief conversation with them. Oftentimes it is a ritualistic exchange of pleasantries, "hellos", "good-mornings", and "how are yous" that don't stand a chance of delving beyond the surface. Nevertheless, I can identify with all of those countless forms of walks down the hallway.
Laura's walk has progressively changed the past few months. Her pace has slowed and so has her spirit. Her gait has become shorter. She used to smile before she punched in. Sometimes she would stop to talk. Lately, taking the extra few steps over to the office door after entering her number into the time clock have required such energy that she barely smiles an acknowledgement that I'm there. Her walk had turned into a limp, a hobble, a slow painstakingly effort-filled job that should require little thought.
Friday I didn't see her walk toward me to punch in. I saw her at the other end of the hallway, ready to round the corner toward the exit. She had stopped at an office doorway. Even though I didn't see her face, I knew she was upset. Crying.
Soon I learned she had already left for the day, even though it was still morning. I heard that she was headed to the hospital. Doctors had been running some tests. The news was not good.
That was Friday. This morning, the second-hand knowledge I had was that Laura had bone cancer. So I circulated a "we're thinking of you" card and arranged to have a bouquet made. Then later in the afternoon I drove to the hospital where I knew she was staying for further testing.
I arrived at the hospital to a closed door and empty bed. She was having an MRI done on her brain. But when Laura returned she was in good spirits given her situation. She tried not to cry, though a few tears were able to get through. The prognosis was not as bad as previously thought. Rather than bone cancer, a carcinoma was discovered in her left hip. How one cancer can be perceived as good news over another is amazing. Within the span of a couple of days, one's view of what is favorable can be shaped so dramatically.
Laura stated she had been doing a lot of crying lately. She is using a week of vacation instead of short-term disability because she needs the full-weeks pay for bills--loans, house payments, the daily living obligations we're all required to meet. Her daughter who is working on completing a doctoral dissertation left, reluctantly, to prepare for her final stages at school. Laura is still-future oriented, wanting the best for the daughter she has raised, urging her to go back to what is best for her. Her sacrificial love for her daughter reminded me of the spry woman with the loud laugh who used to excitedly walk down the hallway at work every morning.
I will check in on Laura regularly while she is away from work and when she returns, simultaneously undergoing chemotherapy.
Her day has made an impact on my day. It has reminded me of that ever-so-cliche-saying: don't take a day for granted.
As I walked out of the garage to enter my home today after work, Charlie (and his friend Ollie who is visiting our house) was excitedly anticipating my return home. Charlie never takes my existence for granted. He is always excited to see me.