My Tuesday Breakfast Club
Many of you are familiar with the 1985 movie The Breakfast Club. It involves five high school students from different walks of life who must endure Saturday detention under the guidance of their principal.
Each of the five was a member of a clique, but they come to realize that they are all more than a typical stereotype while serving their discipline.
My ‘group’ meets at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesdays in a high tech office in Lewisburg. I’m not proud of the fact I’m usually the baby (youngest) of our entourage. We aren’t here to dance, sing, play cards or compare books. Rather, we gather for chemotherapy treatments. I hate that word. Can we call it minimal mutational maintenance?
In the movie, the cliques included the pretty and pampered, a superb jock, a bookworm, an outcast and a rebel. My group? Just as diverse! We rarely talk to each other, but I mentally note conversation and body language among everyone while we share the same floor space.
First off, one elderly gentleman I’ll call ‘George’ lights up the room with his sense of humor. At first, I said to myself how can someone be so chipper at that age and in the grips of cancer? He finds a way. ‘Honey, this isn’t my first rough rodeo,’ he tells a nurse. He’s a war veteran, a fighter. Tough as nails, but the comedian of the bunch. He makes everyone laugh; it helps lighten the load.
At the opposite end of the spectrum (and the room) is a gray haired woman who I will call ‘Abby.’ She always picks the far corner and stays to herself. She comes alone, and is quiet as a church mouse. She doesn’t read or watch television. Just sits and stares at the ground. I feel sorry for her, because even though she is only a few feet from the rest of us, she might as well be miles and miles away. We all deal with our condition the way we please.
Many people come with a spouse or ‘significant other’ to these treatment sessions, which can last, from 30 minutes to up to seven hours. I go it alone, just like playing a singles match in tennis, swimming laps at the pool, or walking a country road.
I listen to them converse about the drugs, the radiation, and of course, the nasty side effects which I fondly refer to as ‘kick back.’ Tuesday morning gripe sessions? Not really, as we are happy to be experiencing another sunrise! Going through hell to get to heaven is a catch phrase but pretty much sums up what we are striving for.
One woman, ‘Wanda,’ has lost all her hair and wears either a wig or a bandana to the weekly sessions. She often sits directly across from me. This is a huge fear factor for cancer patients; women don’t like giving up their locks just as men would despise giving up beer and wings during Monday night football. I faked them all out — shaved my head on purpose!
I hear the other patients call out their birth dates, 1947 for example. I think back to what was going on then. It passes time, and takes my mind off the drip, drip, drip of the IV infusion hooked to my port like an angry tentacle.
Another Tuesday groupie is a gal who comes dressed in orange but accompanied by men in blue. Her bright orange jumpsuit stands out among us. ‘Sadie’ is also adorned in stylish silver handcuffs and has her ankles in shackles. Cancer has no preference; it also effects the incarcerated. Our eyes have met a few times, but she always turns away. Embarrassed of having cancer? No. Of committing a crime against society? Probably.
In the Breakfast Club movie, the five students are assigned a 1,000 word essay in which each one must describe ‘who you think you are.’ Of course, we aren’t required to do this, but boy oh boy, would the notes be interesting.
Many of the folks who come and join me for treatment Tuesday are retired and dress casually. ‘Anita’ and ‘Robert’ let me borrow their Sunbury newspaper with the warning that I am only to read ‘good news.’ Good luck with that! Anyway, they probably make a beeline to Country Cupboard for a tasty lunch. For me, I am in work clothes and headed back to the time clock. No regrets.
One by one, we get unplugged. The needles are tossed, the blood work stowed away. The infusion machine turned off. Some have to wear a pump on them for a day or two. I have six more months of this routine (ritual?) to endure. With it, some patients will leave and new ones will come. Alas, my Tuesday group is like a fast food menu — ever changing.
The worst comes after Tuesday ends. Chemo treatments affect each person in a different way. For me, the final ‘push’ as they call it, involves two nurses who read the ingredients (the potent cocktail) back to each other like a nuclear missile launch code. If it matches we hit the button and detonate the poison into my system. If it doesn’t match, we find a new bag of juice to kill the enemy!
The sordid ‘kick backs’? It may be nausea, hair loss, diarrhea, loss of appetite, metallic aftertaste, reflux, sensitivity to cold drinks or conditions, fatigue. Nobody ever said fighting a war was fun. Some of us really struggle for days after. We compare notes as misery sometimes seeks company.
I leave the room waving to my breakfast buddies. I get thumbs up from these warriors. Not in my wildest dreams the place to meet new people or make friends. They acknowledge me and say… ‘See you next week.’ My tennis partners used to make that remark.
I look (read) into their faces and it’s evident. I know what they are thinking without even asking. God supposedly doesn’t give any of us more than we can handle. But sometimes, man, he comes pretty damn close.
Youth Will Be Served
With all the negative press these days revolving around our “untamed youth,” it sounded like a good idea to interview someone who stands out among her generation and has a bright future.
Gillian Mitchell is a senior at Montoursville High School and is ranked number two academically in her class. She was captain of their soccer team, which went 21-1 this past season and also is a member of the National Honor Society, track and basketball teams. She also works part time at the Williamsport Country Club. One busy and dedicated gal!
G: If I told you the world was going to end tomorrow, what would you do with it? The day, not the world!
Gillian: First, assuming I had the resources, I’d fly to Haiti and spend eight hours helping them recover from the flood and doing services. I’d do this so I could fully absorb how lucky I was in life and how truly privileged my situation was. I’d want to spend that portion giving back and getting the opportunity to be truly touched.
Then with the remainder of my time I’d want to be with the entirety of my family and my closest friend at the beach. I’d want to soak in the moments of my whole family together and possibly try a slew of new things while there.
G: The best things about being a senior in high school? And the worst?
Gillian: Best are experiencing everything for the last time and treasuring that! Also, valuing my time with people more and making sure I have my priorities straight so I don’t waste the short time I have left in this town.
Worst are experiencing everything for the last time and knowing I won’t be able to see my parents at my leisure and I won’t have the comfort of my normal routines and situation.
Last thing is in the middle—the aspect of change. It’s exciting to get to experience a new area and a new atmosphere and meet new people, but it’s also a tad scary. Change takes time to adjust to and it could go any way and the uncertainty of change makes me a tad nervous!
G: How have your parents influenced you with goals (no pun intended) in life?
Gillian: My mom and dad are both very successful and happy with their careers so they have inspired me to find something I love to do and embrace it. My mom beat breast cancer and through that process she influenced me to live life to the fullest and really opened up my eyes to a lot of things and to strive to find my own happiness in life.
My father is the most generous, kind-hearted person I know and has influenced me to live my life for others, to give back, and to always appreciate what I have.
G: Your choice of an afternoon with the Easter Rabbit or Santa Claus? Who gets the nod and why?
Gillian: Um, do I have to pick?
G: Any pro athletes or celebrities or local mentors who you look up to? That motivate you?
Gillian: Not really athletes or celebrities. Maybe a few of my favorite scientists, and my parents.
G: Do you know how to bake and sew? Or is this a thing of the past for young women your age?
Gillian: I know how to bake, but not sew. I think sewing is somewhat a thing of the past.
G: Where do you envision yourself a decade from now?
Gillian: The future isn’t a given and it could go a number of ways, so I’m not sure I can answer that.
G: Your advice to boys or girls in middle school who are getting bullied.
Gillian: To speak up and not be afraid to ask for help. That they are the victim and didn’t do any wrong. That there are always people who love and will support them and that they’re not alone in their fight.
Gillian is interested in attending the University of Connecticut, is still kicking a soccer ball this fall, and is always anxious to put hours in at her part time job! Good luck to this area standout who strives to make a difference in this world!
Dealing With a New (and Demanding) Foe
Whoever says lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place hasn’t met me. It was bad enough having a fluke stroke in January of 2015. Dealt with it, recovered pretty nicely and got back into the main scheme of things.
Now, everyone, drum roll please, I have colon cancer.
This is a nasty beast; with abdomen pain so crippling it stops you in your tracks and takes your breath away. Add to that fatigue, which makes you want to curl up in a ball to the point of never wanting to get up. Many times, it even took my voice away to just a mere whisper. But I can still write. In fact, I prepare “press releases” at night and have a nurse call my parents because I cannot get words out of my mouth.
Unlike an accident, where supposedly your life “flashes before your very eyes,” this colon cancer ordeal makes everything unravel in slow motion. Too much time to ponder all the whys and hows. Fortunately, it does its work much slower than pancreatic cancer.
My symptoms began in January of this year. After visits to a few different doctors, they thought it could be diverticulitis, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, or the onset of Chron’s disease. For most of these, the symptoms can overlap, which make things hard to peg down a definite diagnosis.
I suffered from sharp abdominal pain (mainly on the left side), constipation, fatigue. There was no blood in my stools, but there was shortness of breath. We had no family history of any of the above. I carried on with daily work responsibilities and working out the best I possibly could.
Then, things got harder and harder, as I started to lose my appetite and my motivation. Started to lose weight. More visits to the emergency room and to doctors’ offices. In the first time in over 35 years, I had to leave work, which disturbed me. CT scans, pelvic X-rays, vital signs showed nothing more than inflammation in my bowel. There was some type of obstruction going on.
Nearly two weeks ago, on a Friday evening, I could barely move or breathe. Anyone who saw me that night knew I looked like death warmed over. Many people offered to drive me to the hospital or call 911. My parents hauled me to Geisinger Medical Center, where I have remained since. The day before the colonoscopy I prayed it wasn’t cancer, but it was. My sincere thank you to the expert who took fours hours to perform the colonoscopy and endoscopy – he scraped enough tissue to give a solid biopsy. Then I met with surgeons. For me, the unrelenting pain meant I was willing to go under the knife and have an operation done. This wasn’t going to go away on its own.
Readers, the surgeons at Geisinger took out a mass that was bigger than a squeeze ball but smaller than a child’s baseball, along with 10 to 11″ of bad colon. Obstruction? No wonder I had lost over 25 pounds! Two ends of good colon had to be reattached together. Doctor Long was the lead performer; I liked his solid, aggressive, direct communication approach. But an entire team of people were overlooking me, including aides, nurses and dieticians. God bless them all! Just be careful of my Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker nurse named Lou. His enemas were not exactly gentle to the point of wanting several per day!
Then again, he can be a pussycat. When I begin to tremble, shake or stall, I can hold onto him or anyone else for moral and physical support. I need a personal touch like anyone else in a situation of this type.
I beg everyone of proper age and lifestyle to get a colonoscopy, to do a stool test, to have a rectal exam. When detected early enough, this type of cancer can be treated! This healthy, active, love of life guy was reduced to a crumpled mess on a bed sheet that resembled a prisoner of war camp survivor. Skin and bones. Tube down my throat to rid the stomach of toxins and reduce acid reflux, catheter attached to help the kidneys not retain urine, at one point on several IVs for nutrition and pain. Pills, injections, scans, stool softeners. Repeat as necessary. Hard to eat, hard to sleep.
I’m alive. For the second time in as many years, a survivor of another major ailment. Thus far, it looks as though we caught it early enough that it has not spread. No major complications, and the staff says everything will improve as time goes on. I am working hard and battling through this the best I possibly can.
If I ever needed reader encouragement, it’s now. You can email me at email@example.com or send letters or notes or words of wisdom to my parents address: Gerry Ayers Jr., 2410 Sheridan Street, Williamsport, PA., 17701. Your smiles, stories and happiness will go a long way in my journey to heal.
To the Webb Weekly staff, my employers and coworkers at Fairfield Auto Group and the Williamsport Country Club, I miss all of you. So bear with me, as I didn’t ask for it. Who does? I want to get back soon!
Mom and Dad, your incredible love and support go beyond the norm. Remember, at this stage in life, I’m supposed to be taking care of you, not the other way around…