Thursday, April 4, 2013

The White Carnation Story

I've been shy about it for four years, but now I'll tell you I'm a cancer survivor who was cured but must visit the cancer center quarterly to get checked up on. It's a lovely building but the waiting room is soccer-field size and always jam-packed with cancer patients, all kinds, all stages (except kids) and their families. Our number always appalls me. In the elevator there I have been surprised to meet friends who were coming or going. In the waiting area a nurse rings a brass bell when somebody goes into remission, and we all applaud and cheer.

But the hundreds of people, just the number, depresses and grieves me, and it's not a happy place, and I'm always alone when most people aren't, and the water cooler is always empty, and although I like the staff (they saved my life) I dread going there. Did you know there's a national magazine just for cancer patients? They've got lots of copies in case you want to take one home (I don't).

My appointment was March 14. There was no room for me to sit. I was standing with my back to a wall when a group of very young women came in, all giggling and whatnot. They were college girls. "We're such-and-such sorority," one of them said, and they shouldered through the crowd handing everyone a white carnation. I got one too.

Very surprised, I said, "Thanks.  Do you want a donation, a dollar for your club or something?"

"Oh no," said the girl. "We're just handing out flowers."

"Why?" I asked, because this had never happened before.

"To cheer you up," she said.

I had to turn away because I about burst into tears right there.

Carefully I brought the carnation home and although its edges are brown now I keep it because it reminds me: No kindness is ever wasted. As Scouts we had to go sing Christmas carols in nursing homes, and in school collect for clothing drives, and in college serve at soup kitchens, and do things for other people not so fortunate as we. I used to think it was useless and embarrassing, and that sending cards or visiting was tedious, and couldn't see the point of calling to say hi, and very often I have thought my kindness and good intentions wasted, that I had cheated myself, that nothing had been achieved. I bet those sorority girls thought "Now this is such a stupid idea. I'm soooo embarrassed. This can't help anybody." Now that I'm on the other side, I see: Oh no; none of that is true at all.


gaye g.p said...

The unrequested kindnesses are the very best, aren't they?
Thanks for coming out as a survivor. Such a truth opens one to community, strength, understanding, and yes, to kindness. We who dance with cancer need all of those.

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...