It is 12:35 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 3.
I am one of 21 people, young and old, men and women settled into tall chairs in a long, L-shaped room on the second floor at Northwest Medical Specialties in Puyallup.
We are tethered to machines that drip into us a chemical cocktail formulated to keep us alive — by poisoning cancer. What unites us at the most basic level is that we are human beings, and we all have frail bodies prone to sickness and disease.
As the liquid falls into us drop by drop, some people drift off to sleep, others read books, listen to music, lose themselves in thought, whatever to pass the time.
Moving among us deftly are nurses and other medical types who, with a practiced, carpeted calm more befitting attendants in a sanctuary than a treatment room, tend to our needs, quiet the beeping machines, refill bags of fluid.
For me, just being here is cause for celebration.
Because, unavoidably associated with fighting the good fight against the Big C or any other medical maladies, is a treatment regimen, and this chemotherapy drip is part of that.
For highly organized people, cleaving to such a program may not be a biggie. For me, it’s a special kind of hell.
What I’d hoped would not happen again, has. The cancer is back. Once again my life is a regimen of twice, sometimes three-times-a week, appointments, injections, blood draws, scans and a Disney-like, technicolored assortment of pills I have to swallow as part of the daily routine.
As my long-suffering wife, Ann, my brothers and my sisters and all my friends know, I am a disorganized person, and have been as far back as I can remember. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve gotten lost, or taken wrong turns, or misplaced important objects, or forgotten important appointments over the years.
I wish I could say that all the effort I’ve put into trying to organize myself in the last 61 worked. It hasn’t, much to the frustration of parents, teachers, employers. I remain myself, almost criminally absent-minded. Paperwork is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake up.
Seventeen years ago a counselor gave the spaghetti in my head a name: attention deficit disorder. The ADD has not been a benign devil in my life — it’s cost me. The Gregorc Learning Style pins me to the card as a specimen of the abstract-random type.
“Too much going on in your head, Robert,” has been a fairly constant comment.
Having ADD is not all bad. It allows one to hyper focus. For me, that means studying languages. Years ago, a psychiatrist informed me that he had treated numerous brain surgeons, and every one of them was afflicted with ADD. Doesn’t mean I’m a brain surgeon, but I know I am not alone.
I am trying to learn from the person I was when I first went through this in 2021. I do not like that person. Too impatient and grumpy. I am convinced by now that this sort of awful leads us to higher versions of ourselves, so I am doing my best to be thankful for the mess I now find myself in, and to learn from it.
I am reminded of the words of Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz in his online commentary on the biblical Book of Job. Job was a wealthy and God-fearing man with a comfortable life and a large family in the long ago. God, having asked the Satan (adversary) for his opinion of Job’s piety, decides to take away Job’s wealth, family, and material comforts, following Satan’s accusation that if Job were rendered penniless and without his family, he would turn away from God. He didn’t.
When it’s done, Job asks God, in effect, “What the hell?” He doesn’t get a direct answer to his question, but God assures him that he’d done nothing to deserve it, and what he’d lost he’d get back, and then some.
“There are a lot of things in life we don’t want,” said Breitowitz. “There are a lot of things in life that we would choose quite differently … I don’t know why God doesn’t give us what we want. But he gives us different things. He gives us the ability to cope, he gives us the ability to grow, to become a better person, through the difficulties we go through. That is also a gift.”
Robert Whale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.