It was almost eleven years ago when I found out I had cancer for the first time. That is hard for me to fathom. Eleven years is a long time, and I hardly feel old enough to remember anything that happened that long ago.
But I remember it like it was yesterday.
I was 14. It was my first time being admitted to a hospital. The unit I was admitted to was called 4 Tower. I didn’t know on that first night that my life was changing course. I didn’t see the road laid out before me. But looking back, I can see it now.
Children’s Hospital, 4 Tower especially, became home to me. I spent countless hours in clinic and numerous days inpatient on “the Tower”. For nearly five years, I was in and out of that place, so how could it not feel like home to me? The people I met there became my family.
The halls were always filled with laughter. Some child was always racing fearlessly around the nurses station on a tricycle. The staff worked together as a team. There was always some fun mischief to get into.
I fought my darkest battles in those hallways, in those rooms. I walked to death’s door and back again. So when it was time to say goodbye, when my treatment was finally over, it was hard to walk away and not look back.
That’s why four years later, I did look back. I took a job working on that same unit. It was like going home. I had a thousand memories of myself in those rooms and saw a little piece of myself in every child there.
So when the hospital expanded and our unit moved to a new building, it was hard for me. The day of the big move as I walked away from 4 Tower, it was like walking away from a ten year relationship.
Then immediately I was forced to adapt to our new unit. Everything was different. The atmosphere changed and our unit became something I could hardly recognize. The kids stopped coming out in the hallways. Why should they come out when there is an Xbox in every room and a big screen TV and the internet? We no longer have a central nurses desk. Instead there are “touchdown” stations with room enough for two people to sit and chart. More often than not, I sit alone.
Not everything is bad, but it is all very different. And for someone like me, who remembers the way things used to be, it is disheartening at times.
There are days, though, that I catch a glimpse of the old 4 Tower spirit. When a kid runs laughing down the hallway or when we all gather at the big window to eat lunch together.
Yesterday I was amazed to see that spirit of 4 Tower rise again. We were filming a music video for Childhood Cancer Awareness month in September. All of the nurses danced and made fools of themselves and all the kids had a blast. For several hours we were directed as the scenes were set.
I danced in the hallway with a little girl and her American Girl doll. I do not dance. EVER. This was a big step for me.
YouTube stardom, here I come!
It is days like yesterday that remind me of why I do what I do. I know better than most people that my time on this Earth is limited. Life is too short to take it so seriously. It is too short to not dance like an idiot in the hallway with Kit the American Girl doll.