By Amy Kalman, RN
I totally overslept. Rushed to get myself out the door, sure I’d leave something essential behind. Somehow I made it to the Light Rail station early. I wanted the chance to sit down for a moment so I could write my To Do list for the day — it always makes me feel more organized and prevents distraction from things I want to accomplish. The outdoor station is on a quiet, tree-lined corner; a perfect spot for observing the beauty of the sunrise; empty now, but it would be filled with teenagers on their way to school momentarily.
I sat down on a bench, waiting for the sun to start warming me up a little. Next to me sat an older man in a deep sweat, wearing tattered clothing with swollen, sore-covered feet stuffed into a pair of shoes that appeared to be at least a size too small. A cane rested on his left side, held by his worn left hand, and on his right, all his worldly belongings in just a couple of bags covered with his blanket.
He immediately introduced himself and asked me to call him Blue. In the 10 minutes we sat together I heard the story of his three tours in Vietnam serving as a Navy Seal. His wife left him, kids grown, and no friends to speak of. He told me he was in pain, though I didn’t understand where on his body he ached — I imagine it was likely his heart, but I never got the chance to ask. When the train pulled up, he thanked me for listening, and though it pained me to get up and walk away without helping him, I gave him exactly what he needed in that moment: someone to just listen. And amazingly, in that brief period of time I spent with Blue, there were no thoughts of my own life stressors.
During your time as an oncology patient, it’s easy to get caught up in blood counts, cancer progression or remission, remembering to take medications, and wondering if you’ll have enough pain medication to make it to your next doctor’s visit. There are plenty of excuses to avoid contributing, especially during treatment. But in my own experience, there is no pill that cures pain, sadness, and moments of desperation the way changing your focus and giving does. I’d recommend a starting dose of at least two hours once a month; you’ll start to feel how fortunate you are for having another day with a beating heart, lungs that expand and contract, and a brain that sends messages that make you want to give again.
Giving gives you the gift of opportunity to put away thoughts of personal concern and focus on others. Giving without gain or benefit can work like a life jacket, especially during moments you’re trying to keep from drowning in your own thoughts. So start giving and let me know what you receive in return!