Three machines whirred as intravenous fluids and medications pumped into her blood system, trying to quell a life-threatening infection.
Sam had received news six weeks before that her cancer had returned with avengeance, and the only option for treatment was experimental chemotherapy. Her oncologist said it would be a long shot, but having young kids made it mandatory to try. The infection had set in just a few days after her second chemotherapy.
Sam's large brown eyes welcomed me with a smile when I entered her hospital room. Sunshine poured in through the eighth floor window with its view of the mountains, and illuminated the yellow liquid encased in plastic, poised overhead on the IV pole.
“Hey, Janie,” she said, as I leaned over for a hug. I have perfected the in-bed, reach around multiple tubes, gentle embrace to someone in a hospital bed, momentarily closing the physical distance between two people that illness often dictates.
“Hi, love. Long time no see.” It was a couple of years since I had seen her, and we had exchanged the occasional e-mail, with good news, mostly.
“This is scary,’ she said. “I have so much infection in me, and it was touch and go for a few days. I can’t even remember how I got here.”
“Really scary how infection can take hold so fast,” I said putting my hand on the warm clammy skin of her forearm. “How’s everyone else doing?” I asked.
“The kids come after school. I get tired when they visit, but I need to see them. What's bothering me most are the reactions of my friends,” she said.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“They keep telling me I need to think away this cancer, mind over matter.” Her brow furrowed. “I wish!”
“I wish the mind was that powerful too,” I said. “If we could think cancer away, there wouldn’t be much of it around, would there?”
“Why do my friends say that? I feel like such a failure. When I die, will they think I didn’t try hard enough?” Sam reached for her ice water and took a long sip from a straw.
“They say it because they’re frightened. They want you to control the uncontrollable,” I said. “None of this is your fault. Getting cancer is random. I’ve seen too many people who eat right, think right, and feel right, and they get cancer.”
A large teardrop rolled down Sam's face to her chin and dropped off on to the pale pink cotton blanket.
“Tell them you’re doing your best, that you need to feel their love, not hear that you're not doing this right,” I said.
“Yes, that’s what I need most, their love. I want them to know I’m doing my best.”