Cancer World – Corridor at Smilow

Images and Feelings That Remain

You know, something I have been meaning to write about was how I feel sometimes when I am walking through Smilow Cancer Hospital, especially on the fourth floor corridor from the Air Rights parking garage to the Smilow elevators.  I have talked about the artwork on this corridor previously, but I want to address something else.

You have to walk down this long corridor and of necessity, you pass by different people.  You pass by surgeons and various types of doctors and nursing staff (I thought I saw some knowledge floating by), custodial staff, patients, families of patients, caregivers pushing patients in wheelchairs, the whole spectrum.

What I feel like sometimes, is that I have just walked into another world. I have. It is different from the outside world because most of the people you see in this place have been touched by cancer. It is a whole world of cancer related signs and symbols.

Sometimes it just makes my stomach twist around. Especially the children. I see patients that are obviously going through treatment. Some are obvious, some are subtle.

It could be the hair, the gaunt look, the eyes, the walk, the sense of how the person is carrying themselves, or the look of the person being wheeled, or the person doing the wheeling…. sometimes you see a smile, but more often you do not see many happy faces. You see a lot of anguish, and fatigue. And, there are bubbles of hope, too.

I think of the orchestra that is around me. The scales of emotions, up and down. The range of anguish that is floating by, the sea of pharmaceuticals that is swirling in little eddies and whirlpools. There is also the breeze of competency and knowledge in the various practitioners.

Sometimes I hear harmony of some sort, but more often than not I hear a type of discord. A clash of knowledge and treatment rubbing up against human flesh, and the clashing is causing a cloying screech akin to a nail on a blackboard.

Sometimes I just hear a hum of the machine going on and on and on. I see moving through the air a sea of diagnoses, treatment regimens, a panoply of side effects and agony and people dying and also hope and sometimes success and healing and cures and NED’s (no evidence of further disease, ie, remission or cure or hopefully cured).

I also see business, and dollar signs tossed onto peoples clothes, stuck to their heads and shoulders, some collected or grouped at the check-in areas for the various clinics. A mirage of dollars floating this way and that way in a map of creeks, streams, rivers, and finally the sea.

Most of the dollars are leaking out of the patients and into the hospital, and from the hospital to the pharmaceutical companies. That flow is more like a river, like all the trinkling, trickling, tributaries are joining together to form a swift current.

I see an orchestra, a mass of people, an enormous industry, a huge symphony of emotion, and of profit. And I wonder what would happen if so many less people were suffering. What would happen if the treatments were suddenly exponentially more effective?

What then? What would happen to this massive industry that anyone with any type of cancer, is a part of? What if, all of a sudden, there was a magic bullet that blitzkrieged cancer to kingdom come. What would happen to this whole infrastructure devoted to cancer care? I certainly don’t know the answer.

But I have thought about the question…. As I am walking down the corridor, listening to this symphony (or cacophony, which is probably a more accurate term). I am marveling at the intricacies of the many gears in this machine and how they connect and intertwine with each affecting a multitude of others.

Most of the time this sea of people makes me feel sad. I am sad that sooooo many people are affected by cancer. I am sad that this is such a big business.

Yes, I am glad that so many people are being helped and are living longer than they used to. Yes, I wonder about the quality of life for many of these people, but I am moved by the mass of human spirits that will do almost anything to have more time on this earth.

For many, it is quality time. For most, it is this, or death. And for many, it is this,…and death. And, yes, I know we all die one way or another. Cancer is just one of the more despicable ways.

But, whatever it is, when I am walking down the corridor, it is a sea of movement, an ocean of diversity, an awe and anguish filled world that continues to amaze me and haunt me.

Neal Klein
Life After Emilee, on the loss of my wife to pancreatic cancer. I’m not accepting comments right now but please feel free to get in touch via my Contact page.