In May of 1988, Rhinelander Medical Center called me. They had an opening in the second floor mini-lab for a phlebotomist. I started there part-time for the first two weeks, still working nights at Wausau Hospital. The lease on our small house in Merrill was up the end of June. I drove the hour from Merrill to Rhinelander and back every day for a month. I think we left Nick at my parents’ during the week, as it was just too many hours in the day.
The end of June we bought a mobile home in a trailer court in Tomahawk. It was nice to have our own place, small and dumpy as it was, and the best part was we were right across the road from my aunt.
At work, I drew blood on patients all day. Besides taking blood from surgery, internal medicine and occasion pediatric patients, I saw a lot of the oncology patients. I got to know quite a few of them, and sadly, I watched a lot of them deteriorate until their cancer won out.
There were two retired firemen, both life-long smokers. They had worked together in the fire department for years and within months of each other, they were diagnosed with lung cancer. They both fought hard and long. And then, within weeks of each other, they were gone.
The saddest story, though, was the teenage girl with a rare form of leukemia. She attended prom with a completely bald head, with a satin ribbon wrapped round it. The last time I saw her, she was telling me about the Fourth of July parade a few days before and how it had been rather chilly and so many moms had their babies out without having their heads covered. She almost started to tell me how she would dress her own baby, but she stopped herself, knowing she would never have any babies.
She was put in the hospital a few days later, but then sent home to die peacefully and surrounded by family.
It’s amazing the advancements in cancer treatment since then. But so many lives continue to be affected by it. It is still probably the most dreaded diagnosis a person can hear.
Ten years ago, I got involved with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life (how I got there in my life is another whole story). Go to: http://www.relayforlife.org/relay/findevent to learn about the event in your area this year.