At the Center: Fire In Unexpected Places

At the Center, we have volunteers. In the summer is when you see the teenagers. Any other time, it’s typically the older folks. They are generally cheerful, and I feel like the day is improved because they are there.

Around the lunch time hour, the volunteers load up a big cart full of snacks, beverages, and small sack lunches to pass around. All of these things are free for patients.

Now, I understand that nutrition is important when fighting the Big C. I’ve heard of a wide array of diets. All raw foods. Veggies Only. Fish Only. Gluten-free. Etc. At the Center, we didn’t really offer any of those things. It’s snack chips, cookies, Coke, Juice…pretty much a 4th graders absolute dream of a snack cache. Yeah, you could argue that offering these things are counter-intuitive. We can’t really offer fresh fruits or veggies because it would all go to rot before it would get eaten. Gluten-free or the like are just plain gross and the patients want nothing to do with them. My general philosophy is this: if the only thing you can eat and manage to keep down is a bag of Doritos, eat as many of them as you like. Even shitty food is better than no food at all.

We also found out that when we switched over to name brand snacks and soda, patients didn’t seem to mind waiting as much. Coke Classic has magical properties!

A volunteer of ours, a diminutive man with white hair, was pushing the lunch cart around when he happened upon the room I was working in. I stopped whatever it was I was doing to allow him to peddle his wares. My patient perused the offerings and immediately laid into the poor guy about “giving crap to cancer patients”. The tirade lasted a good 2-3 minutes, all about the lack of fresh fruits, and the amount of preservatives and blah, blah, blah. I interjected when I could. It wasn’t like this volunteer was personally responsible for our snack purchases. Finally, the old guy just shrugged.

“I don’t care,” he said, preparing to move his cart to the next room. The patient snorted. I froze. You can always tell when a fight is going to erupt. “I really don’t care.” He repeated.

“You don’t care??” The patient was incredulous. “I’m sure all the people here fighting cancer care!”

Shit. How was I going to diffuse this???

“Well,” the volunteer replied, in his soft-spoke voice, “I have cancer. I still don’t care.”

With that, he moved on. The patient didn’t utter another peep.

It wasn’t until almost a year after I transferred to the center that I discovered that many of our adult volunteers are or were cancer patients themselves. Some were survivors, some were still getting treated. All just wanted an opportunity to give back. I have also discovered, and have warned people about, is that you never fuck around with a cancer patient/survivor. They have been baptized by fire, and no amount of bad shit that has happened in your life will ever, ever compare to what they have endured. They fight with everything they have because they have everything to lose. Mere words cannot describe the amount of respect I have for them. So, because they fight, I also fight.

To be honest, I didn’t even mind the patient having a nutritional axe to grind. It shows a fire in her belly, and a willingness to fight.

And that, is half the battle.

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