Elephants and Ladders

Elephant and Elephant-Made Ladder, by PrajaktaPradhanAnd just like that, seven weeks have passed. Seven weeks that began as One, stumpingly segued to Four-and-a-Half, and curiously culminated as Seven-that-Felt-Like-Four. Tomorrow, Friday, October 12, marks my last day of radiation, and Saturday, 10/13 will be my first day without it. Again with the Lucky Number.

On my first radiation center visit, I argued with my husband in the car on the drive over and cried the rest of the way, then spent 45 minutes lying alone in a room on a CT table thinking about this: every day for the next seven weeks, I will be forced to wake up in the morning, acknowledge that I have cancer, and drive myself nine minutes down the road for treatment from strangers. The radiation part? No biggie. The acknowledgement part? Biggie.

And so it went that I drove myself alone for the first treatment on the first day and put myself in the hands of four strangers in gray scrubs who would become my morning companions for the next seven weeks of my life. I can’t tell you how much I’m going to miss them.

Years ago, after a particularly shaking experience with someone I cared about, I headed out the door for a walk. I was in a strange city and knew no one, with a map folded into my back pocket. After about 45 minutes of emotions-in-a-twist-staring-at-the-pavement under my mindlessly-moving feet, I looked up and across the narrow road straight into a tea room with its doors flung open to the day. Inside, a woman paused, looked out, and smiled at me. I smiled back. And in that instant, that moment-with-a-stranger, I was fine.

And this has been much like that.

I’ve always been fascinated by the connections we form in life. Some of the people I remember most vividly are those with whom I’ve spent the least time, but with the most intensity. Some taught me life lessons, some gave me a nudge back onto the path, others showed me new ways of being, some simply showed compassion — but almost consistently without a surplus of words — and often with no words at all. And then they were gone — but only — only — in a physical way. Those that impact us in times of need are with us forever.

And I think about this: it’s so easy to be kind. It’s so easy to give a nod, a smile, a touch. I count myself at the top of the list for too often being too afraid, too shy, too sure my words are cheesy or my interest suspect, and I need to change that.

And so to Rick, whose curls bounce every morning when he nods and his eyes twinkle hello: Thank You. To James, who fetched me gently from the waiting room alone on that first day and always tries to make me laugh: Thank You. To Betty, whose mega-watt smile and cheeriness always calm me: Thank You. To Will, who didn’t flinch when I sulked up to him on Day 1 and put my hand on his chest to turn over his name tag because I didn’t want to be treated by a man whose name I didn’t know, and who looked in my eyes to keep me steady: Thank You.

Thank you all for bringing me from this to this to this.

Breast Cancer Biopsy, Radiation Registration Lines, Almost Done Breast Cancer Biopsy Bruise, Radiation Registration Lines, Almost Done

Oh! The title for this post was provided by my daughter, of Ashinine, quite randomly, with no knowledge of the post content. Ever a lover of Metaphors for Life, I’ll give you this: We are all at times large and clumsy, unaccustomed and often ill-equipped and, certainly in my case, articulate only in an alien-ish sort of way when we encounter the unexpected. Thank You All for being the Ladder to my Elephant, giving me something and often someone to hold on to, a leg up, access to a broader view, and a steady hand. I’ll never forget. Hugs and Kisses.

Presbyterian Radiation Oncology

26 thoughts on “Elephants and Ladders

  1. I almost didn’t leave a comment because, like you describe , I’m one of those people who is always awkward with words but thank you for writing this. I think it’s beautiful and proves a little kindness can go a long , long way…and that people never forget it. Best wishes for your future health.


  2. Your forthrightness has just convinced me in a slap-upside-the-head way that it’s OK to share my personal horror right beside my artistic self.

    Not try to present myself as “I’m *only* an artist” and that the last 8 months of my life don’t need to be mentioned. Because if I did mention this time, it might reflect badly on me as an artist. Whatthehell *have* I been thinking?!

    Thank you thank you for being bold and brave and honest. You have given a gift to this stranger. I will now be sure to reciprocate to the Universe.

    (I found your blog because I was looking at mosaic artists’ blogs for inspiration. Boy-howdy, I am inspired now! Have i said thank you yet?)



    • Thank you so much Laurel! In truth, not everyone wants to know the many sides of us. But I love to write about them — the good, the bad, the boring, the ugly, the ethereal. It’s a beautiful thing to relate to each other as people rather than cardboard cutouts ๐Ÿ™‚ Loving your blog, by the way!


      • Pamela–that is perfect–cardboard cutouts! I’m no good at being that even if I want to be!

        You’re right that not everyone wants to know our many sides. I figure that it’s going to have to be like those times job-hunting when I have sent a slightly weird resume–if the person reading it doesn’t get anything good out of it, we’re a horrible match, so it’s not big deal if they don’t respond.

        So pleased you’re having a good time over on my blog. We really do have fun there, even with the bitter and bad stuff I write about. I have met people from all over the world and I get a daily charge out of THAT!


  3. Congratulations on completing a journey and I wish you continued health. Such a moving inspirational post! Keep writing! You are awesome! And thanks for checking out my blog…I appreciate it so much!


  4. Yes, it is easy to be kind. But it isn’t easy to allow yourself to be kind, as you pointed out. We over think it and the chance passes us by. The trick is to just follow the kindness impulse and not let yourself think, I think.

    This post is certainly a kindness, because you let yourself be vulnerable as you wrote about something close to your heart. I felt it and was touched by it. Thank you.


  5. pamela, thank you for reading my recent post. looking at your choice, you have read the wrong one! look at “cancer, he said”. you are a creator, and you can create the rest of your life.


  6. Mrs. Goode, This was so beautifully written. I really wish I would have had a chance to read it before you left the clinic today just to hug you one more time. I was so happy to see you complete your treatment and ring the bell that I just did not focus on the gift you said you had left for us. A few minutes after I said good bye to you I had a chance to sit and read your beautiful blog. You had me and several others in tears for such kind words. I am so thankful to have met you because your strong and positive personality really shined on us everyday as much as we did on you. I wish you nothing but the best and just know that we will miss you as well!!!


    • Oh Betty, thank you so much for writing! I’m always a little hesitant to express myself, but I think it’s hugely important to let people know when their words and actions make a difference. You are one of those rare people that just exude sunshine, and it makes everyone around you feel good. You’ve found the perfect calling, because I know those smiles can heal. Don’t ever doubt the good that you’re doing. And call me Pam ๐Ÿ™‚ xxooxx


  7. This is so beautifully written by such a beautiful lady. Kindness spreads from the recipient to the giver and all those around. Thank you, Pam.


  8. Thank you for the morning tears Pam!! :o) Today is my mom’s birthday. When she was in her 20’s, she had breast cancer. She found out she had it when only 3% of women survived it. 25 years later she found out that she had lung cancer. We went to see if her original oncologist for her first consultation and as we walked through the door to his office he caught a glimpse of her from the hall and boomed, “There’s my miracle!”

    Janet said it so perfectly… “you ARE sunshine!” to me as well!! Thanks for sharing your journey, strength and hope, and for provoking some warm memories of my mom on her birthday! :o)

    Hugs to you!!


  9. Beautiful, Pam. Just like you. I embrace and admire your outlook on life. I’m certain you have made an impact on many by a simple welcoming glance and the open arms of optimism (even when you don’t “feel” it, it’s there, isn’t it?)… I am one. Always love your posts. xo


  10. Congrats on the end of your radiating journey ๐Ÿ™‚
    I love the part about random people making such an impact. I still remember how much it meant to me when I was in a support meeting out of town and mentioned how my cousin was always the pretty one and a kind stranger said that she wasn’t the only pretty one in my family. That was almost 20 years ago and with those simple words all my anxieties about the upcoming family visit were swept away and I had a nice time.
    You are one of the kindest people I know and I bet your kind words have resonated with people everywhere and for a long time. xoxoxo


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