When a novice complained to St. Therese about some aches and pains she was having, she told her: "It's because no one knows about these pains that you feel them so acutely." It's human nature, I think, to want to share our misery with others, whether out of a desire for sympathy or empathy, I'm not entirely sure. At the risk of negating whatever spiritual profit I may derive from the way I spent my day, I wanted to talk about it a little anyway because of the many people I encountered.
A woman I know from church was crying last week because she had gotten a terrible prognosis from her doctor. She had an appointment at another cancer center, but no means of getting there as the hospital is a considerable distance from where we live. I don't know what came over me, but I volunteered to take her, knowing I had to work. I managed to be able to get the day off and all I'll say is that it was a very long day that involved a lot of waiting, very little food, and a considerable bit of hope.
As I sat in the waiting room for my friend, I didn't know where to look. Everywhere were signs of human misery and suffering. The worst part was seeing young people having to be pushed in wheelchairs because the cancer or treatment or maybe both had severely debilitated them. I was struck in particular by one young woman. Clearly, she had lost all her hair, and despite the fact that she was bald and very sick, she was very beautiful. She was walking the halls and had a visitor holding either arm to support her as they walked. I could tell that she had a Port-a-cath by the dressing that peeked out of her shirt. She was listening intently as one of the visitors recounted to her the activities of a young child, who, after eavesdropping on this conversation for awhile, I surmised was the patient's young daughter. The visitor was trying to fill her in on all that she was missing, down to the last detail, and the patient would just smile as she listened. I thought she looked at peace and as a nurse, I couldn't help but wonder what type of cancer she had and how I hoped she'd be home with her child for Christmas. I like to pray for people by name, but the Lord and His holy Mother will know who I mean when I pray for the young mother from Fox Chase Cancer Center.
There were a lot of married couples, some older, some not so old. Some people appeared to be "regulars" and exchanged stories about their treatments with others who waited with them. Some people seemed to be taking their trials in stride while others were clearly upset, bewildered and maybe even a little angry. I thought of something Fulton Sheen once said as he passed a hospital. "There is so much wasted suffering in there." Not today at least, as I offered the inconvenience of spending 6 hours in a waiting room for the intention of all those who waited with me and their families, that God may give them His unsurpassed peace to accept whatever He had willed for them.
I have been praying for this woman and another man with cancer who I know from daily Mass. Every time I see the man, he tells me the cancer has spread to a new place in his body. Yet every morning at 6am, there he is. "They tell me it's everywhere, but I don't feel a thing. In fact, I feel pretty good." I couldn't help but think that perhaps this is how God has chosen to answer prayers for this man. He may not be cured, but he certainly doesn't appear to be suffering. Riddled with cancer as he is, he still manages to get to Mass every morning, in all kinds of weather. I ask God to accept his effort on behalf of all those who can't manage an hour a week on Sundays, that they may come to realize the precious treasure they are squandering.