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“Is your glass half-empty or half-full?” We’ve all heard the saying, and we all know that half-empty is the pessimistic view, while the half-full perspective is that of an optimist. The thing about cancer is that traditional rules don’t apply.
I’ve given hand massages to world travelers, war veterans, wedding planners, teachers, truckers, and Spanish-speakers. They all have one thing in common: they are receiving chemotherapy at the Mayo Clinic. Cancer has turned their lives, and their cups, upside down. These two patients are people that I will never forget.
Cancer patients have every right in the world to be down sometimes. In many cases, this disease is slowly taking their lives before their eyes. In one patient’s case, he was tired. He was tired not only from the treatment, but of what cancer had forced his life to become: completely dependent on others for care and transportation. It had been a long, tense day, and he looked up at the bag of IV medication and said, “Oh. It’s still halfway full.”
Irony and sadness washed over me in that moment. As it turns out, seeing the bag half-full was the most heart-wrenching expression I had ever heard.
Everyone has bad days, but it’s hard to keep our problems in perspective. It’s impossible to imagine what a cancer patient goes through every day. Some live paycheck-to-paycheck, but these patients are living bag-to-bag.
Somehow, though fighting a fatal illness day after day, some patients are able to see the silver lining. One of my favorite examples came during a conversation between two ladies receiving treatment. They were talking about the effects of the chemo on their hair.
“The most demeaning thing was losing my eyelashes. You don’t even think about that, but it’s so hard. You can’t pencil it in or wear a wig, they’re just gone. On the other hand, I never have to shave my legs!” one said.
That one sure put a smile on my face. It’s truly amazing to see someone in that situation have a sense of humor. In view of all she had lost, she found something that she was glad to be rid of. She’s a true inspiration. If she can find something to be happy about, there’s no reason for me to complain.
Volunteering has given me valuable perspective that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. It motivates me every week to dump out the stale water in my cup and let it be filled with the wisdom and perspective that these patients have gained from their illnesses. Sometimes, it takes a peek into other people’s lives to create a realistic view of our own circumstances.
By: Rachel Cohrs