Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Unexpected grief, reliable joy

Early in 2007, before Steve and I had ever heard the word "glioblastoma," I had some health issues that required I spend a lot of time at the UT-Southwestern Simmons Cancer Center.

I was experiencing debilitating breast pain that required multiple imaging appointments and a biopsy. By early fall, I had a clean biopsy, and I pursued pain relief through acupuncture. (I was extremely skeptical about the treatment but was willing to try anything. It worked.)

Steve and I thought we were through with that building for good.

We were terribly wrong.

I can't begin to count the number of times we made trips to the cancer center from January 2008 until summer 2009. It's where we visited his neuro-oncologist, Dr. Maher. It's where he received radiation therapy treatments every weekday for a month (with huge thanks to our team of volunteer drivers who ferried him when I couldn't). It's where we'd go for MRIs and chest X-rays and blood draws and  chemotherapy infusion appointments.

Our time there wasn't always awful. We would visit, share snippets from whatever we were reading that day, watch movies during chemo, laugh at the absurdity of our situation.

We worked with incredibly dedicated, smart, helpful, kind people in that building.

And our time there represented more time for Steve to live. The treatment he received there allowed him to enjoy life a little longer.

This morning I had an appointment for my 40-year-old baseline mammogram -- back at the cancer center. I never considered that I would have difficulty walking back into the building, until I pulled into the driveway and neared the valet parking awning.

How many times had I pulled into that same spot, with Steve in the passenger seat? More than I could count. Even though it's been more than three years since his death and even longer since I drove him to that very spot, I couldn't control the tears as I put the minivan in park, received a claim ticket from the valet and walked through the automatic doors into the lobby.

What's the instant salve for such unexpected grief? A giant, vibrant tower of blown glass.

In the entryway of the building is Dale Chihuly's piece titled "Southwestern Seay Tower." Steve loved the joyful sculpture long before we knew we'd be seeing it so often.

When you're headed to an infusion room to have poison pumped into your body or when you're headed to an appointment to hear if the tumor in your head has grown in the past six weeks, you need all the love and joy you can find.

Even when you're perfectly healthy and just headed to a routine exam, that burst of joy acts as a warm welcome. It's even known to arrest unexpected tears.

Chihuly's work was installed at UT-SW in 1999. I took this photo today.

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