For the past two weeks, I’ve been traveling back and forth three and a half hours each way to Houston. MD Anderson has been my destination and in that short time, has literally become like my second home which is the biggest surprise for me.
When my oncologist told me he was referring me to MD Anderson, he might as well have said he was sending me to Auschwitz for all I cared. I thought to myself, “MD Anderson?! That place is all cancery and sad!” I knew for sure it was going to be depressing, smelling like a hospital, and white-washed walls and floors from top to bottom. There would be mean nurses with squeaky white shoes and way too many sad patients with bald heads and sunken faces. I knew this for sure. It was definitely gonna be horrible.
My first contact with anybody from MD Anderson was by phone. She called me to schedule my first appointment with my new specialist. To my surprise she was super sweet and super helpful. She was the one to break the news to me that I’d be spending at least a week or more in Houston for my initial evaluation. “WHAT?!,” I exclaimed. “Are you serious? Why?!,” I asked her. Turns out, I’d be going through a variety of lovely medical tests so my new doctor could make a more informed decision on how to proceed with the best treatment and the results would take at least that long to come back. They basically needed me at their beckon call so I needed to stay in Houston. Fast forward two weeks later and I’m still not done with tests but at least they prepared me for the wait.
I received an email shortly after that call with all the information I would need to get to MD Anderson and my medical record number which I have found out since is basically your second name at the center. They always ask me to verify it and I can never remember it. Go figure. I then received a call from a nice young woman from Patient Services to let me know she’d be the first person I’d be meeting face to face when I arrived at the center. Upon arriving at MD Anderson with no problems because of the excellent driving directions, the valet greeted us with a smiling face and happy attitude. To my father’s pleasant surprise, they all spoke Spanish. As I stepped foot for the first time into MD Anderson, I instantly noted the feel and the atmosphere in the lobby.
There was a cheerful lady directing everyone to the right elevator and floor and she immediately came to my aid after seeing the big question mark I so obviously was wearing on my face. She asked me what area I was looking for and she knew without hesitation where to direct me. The lobby smelled of fresh gourmet coffee from the cute, little cafe and smelled nothing like a hospital. It smelled of mouth-watering food and I later found out it was the Starbucks and Chik-Fil-A located right down the hallway. There was not a white wall or floor in sight. Instead calming shades of blue and aqua colored the walls, lush plants adorned the lobby, and there were sofas everywhere dotted with cushy, inviting chairs. There were huge, beautiful aquariums filled with silly tropical fish entertaining the children. Most of all, I noticed the people, the patients sitting and walking around. These people were LAUGHING. Smiling faces, no frowns, nobody sad. Sure, lots of them were bald as I expected, but they wore their baldness loud and proud; a symbol of their fight and determination. Letting their freak flags fly, so to speak. Right on. I instantly felt a unique sense of belonging and comfort I hadn’t felt since I started this battle. Suddenly being among so many people who knew what cancer “feels” like made me feel proud to be a part of this club.
I took my designated elevator up to the sixth floor: next stop, the Lymphoma/Myeloma Center. More aquariums, cushy chairs, and smiling people. I made my way to the reception desk to check in and I heard him first. I heard a man loudly singing a jolly little tune and I think my mouth dropped when I saw him. I hope it didn’t but I think it did. My mouth dropped because this bald, older man sitting in a wheelchair, with the frailest frame I’d ever seen was SINGING. His skin was a sickly shade of green and he had a few lone white hairs sporadically sticking out of his head here and there yet his giddy attitude and presence put a huge smile on my face. I smiled one of those stupid, mouth-open, toothy smiles that you smile when you see a cute baby or something. He was patiently waiting for his turn in the line to speak to the receptionist and had no idea what an impression he’d just made on me. I realized this was the place I’d been looking for and I’d finally arrived.
They didn’t take half as long to call me back as I’d expected and my dad barely had a chance to try his hand at one of the many half-started puzzles on the coffee tables. My doctor’s nurse was not mean and did not have squeaky, white shoes. She was a breath of fresh air with a warm smile and a very infectious laugh. It was apparent that she genuinely loves her job and was happy to be there. My doctor’s assistant was the next person to meet and he was equally as pleasant. He asked me all kinds of questions and took notes furiously like he was studying for his final exam. Everyone from the receptionist, to the nurse and the physician’s assistant repeated to me how amazingly talented my doctor is. I took comfort in the fact that, apparently, my doctor is not only the head of the lymphoma department but he’s the head of the lymphoma department of the best cancer treatment center in the world and that makes him a pretty big deal. I had the best oncologist in my hometown and now I had the best lymphoma doctor in the world. God had provided me with only His best. My doctor turned out to be just as intelligent as they’d all made him out to be. He was genuinely concerned with my well-being and spoke to me with all the honesty and clarity I so desperately needed to hear. The biggest plus was he also spoke fluent Spanish and was able to answer all of my father’s questions with ease. This was huge for me since its hard enough for me to understand what’s happening let alone translate all the medical jargon for my parents to understand. Amazing.
I left that day with a completely new outlook on MD Anderson. Not only had I been completely wrong about what it would be like, I found myself liking being there. I was actually looking forward to the next time I’d get to visit. I was looking forward to being among “my people.” Looking forward to having Starbucks and Chik-Fil-A at my disposal. Looking forward to the beautiful outdoor patios and gardens on every floor that need exploring. This was definitely a very far cry from Auschwitz. Its turned out to be my safe haven away from home.
Did I mention the free, high-speed wi-fi great for blogging on the go?! I heart MD Anderson.