Tag Archives: cancer journey

Welcome to Cancer

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, in homage to Cindy Sherman, and inspired by a friend newly diagnosed with cancer, photoshops cancer as a cranky old aunt.Dear J.,

For days, in response to your request for cheerful cards, I’ve been wondering what I could possibly say to “cheer you up” as you embark on your affair with cancer. I call what happens after a diagnosis an ‘affair,’ even though most people call it a ‘journey,’ one’s ‘cancer journey.’ People typically fall or jump into an affair, while journeys are usually anticipated and planned for. Instead, you got swiftly swept away into strange territory. An unusual and engaging and possibly hazardous experience—that is an affair or possibly an adventure. I’m wishing you luck.

From my own past experience as a caregiver, I compare cancer to having a controlling, cantankerous old aunt move into the house. She disrupts all your routines and plans, demanding your attention constantly. She bullies you. Every time you wake she whacks you. Cancer. It’s a shaking-up, a re-thinking of everything you thought you knew and could depend on. It’s a whole new relationship. It is not a fight. The worst of it — the recovering from surgeries, reactions to treatments, and the times you just want to be knocked unconscious — I call the Wilds of Cancer. That’s when the old aunt goes on a rampage, callously gutting you of kidneys and lungs, tearing your world apart. She whips you. She invades your dreams and re-colors every waking moment. She keeps you humble, keeps you ever on the lookout for a respite, and then gets you dreading her return. But she does quiet down here and there, and that is when you can hear your own breath again, feel your heart still beating. That is when you find your whole world is amazingly rich. Even robbed of your energy and well-being, life appears to be beautiful.

I hope you find ways to make peace with cancer. Don’t take her aggressive advances too personally. So many people are living with cancer. Maybe the “cheering up” is in knowing you are not alone. And in learning you can do this — you can do a slow-dance with cancer. Each new morning is a gift. And she may just loosen her grip and ditch you one day, leaving you wiser and more grateful and more respectful of everything in the universe.

I hereby add my best cheer and encouragement to your community of support.


What do you say to a newly diagnosed cancer patient? What can you do to ‘cheer’ them up?


Grateful to Nurses

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, restores a photograph of her daugher with two oncology nurses at Strong Memorial Hospital.“You can have all the ice cream cups you want,” the nurses at the oncology unit told me, back at the beginning of the journey through the wilds of cancer with my daughter. They knew I wasn’t hungry so much as in need of kindness. But even more than kindness, I desperately needed to know Marika was in good hands, that the people around her cared. Over the course of her cancer, hundreds of nurses would come to look into Marika’s eyes, check her vitals, listen as she scored her pain on scales of 1 to 10, and treat her like a princess. And even when I hollered at the nurses, the time they barred me from her room (as per the princess’s request), I was thoroughly grateful for all their caring.

National Nurses Week, an opportunity to honor the hard work and dedication of nurses, is May 6th through 12th. From the bottom of my broken heart I’m sending out my warmest wishes to nurses everywhere. And many thanks, especially, to the ones who carried sweet light into our nightmare.

Cheers to the nurses who showed me the secret shower in the hospital mop closet. To the nurses who let Marika sneak her puppy into the hospital room and brought doggie treats. Thanks to the nurse who gently washed my daughter’s hair as she lay unconscious in the ICU. And to the one who sang to her. Hugs to the two nurses who, when Marika ran out of underpants and I bought her Jockey briefs, used their lunch break to go buy her bikinis and thongs. When Marika had to miss her senior prom, those same nurses decorated an empty room with balloons and crepe paper, added a boom-box with favorite tunes, propped Marika up in bed with prom dress hiding catheters and IV tubes, and invited her boyfriend over for a private prom-night. Nurses brought Marika books and CDs, stuffed animals, an electric keyboard, and restaurant-takeout recommendations. They made her chocolate ice cream milkshakes.

One day I found Marika flushing out her own vein-access port under the careful guidance of an oncology nurse. Beaming with pride, Marika announced, “Mom, I got accepted into the nursing program at University of Technology Sydney.” Inspired by the people who had kept her going with their kindness and skills, Marika had decided to become a nurse herself.

Two weeks after that though, the princess’s situation had changed. Her journey was ending. Nurses from the three units Marika had frequented over the almost-three years of cancer came by in pairs to see her. They silently stood over their princess one last time. There were no words. They left me with hugs. And a feeling of having been taken care of and held in warmest kindness.


What is your nurse story?