A Hand to Hold by Dr. Denise E. Hall
In the middle of May 2009, I thought that I had my life all figured out! In my heart, I knew I was living my calling and purpose. I was the part-time intern minister at a local Unitarian Universalist congregation, studying for my master’s of divinity, running a part-time mobile veterinary practice, and part-time goat ranching. The upcoming summer of 2009 was filled with daydreams of working the farm in the wonderful sun, buying a real crusty, and bent up Jeep Wrangler with the idea of riding topless most of the time. Then, I would sport my tone, dark body, turn up the sounds, and laugh as the wind passed through my Sisterlocks! Whoops, well this did not happen!
By mid-May, my upper abdomen area started distending, night sweats were frequent, fatigue, loss of appetite, lymph nodes were swollen on the right side of my body, and I was weakening. As a wholistic veterinarian, over the years, I have shied away from tradition medical doctors as my first or primary care provider. For much of my adult life, I visited chiropractors for health support.Therefore, I dragged myself to see Dr. Jack. He offered some adjustments, along with some oils and supplements. I did the liver cleanse, took some whole food nutrition, and stayed home to rest for two weeks.
In some ways, there was improvement, yet I could palpate my enlarged spleen not improving. Needless to say, I ended up in the emergency room, then intensive care for two weeks without a diagnosis. The health care team gave me a preliminary diagnosis of cancer, with one intern whispering the words –‘cancer’ to me in a close face encounter. At this point, my poor body (my holiness) was being pumped with mega-fluids and drugs that were making my health status temporarily worse. I went into surgery to remove a lump in my right armpit, and the pathology confirmed a cancer diagnosis. My data were mixed and confusing to the health care team on the internal medicine floor, yet eventually received and acted upon by the Hematology Oncology team. For confirmation, my case was sent to the National Institute of Health (NIH) where the so-called “lymphoma goddess” receives samples and supports the pathology from hospitals across the country.
My health challenge knocked me off my feet for the rest of 2009. The diagnosis is Diffuse B-Cell Lymphoma and Acute Granulocytic Leukemia Stage IV. Of course, this is rare, no statistics of incidence or prevalence. Treat, treat, and treat. Chemotherapy began in early June 2009. My mother flew in from California, and has held my hand every since. Today, it is June 2010. One year later, I am at day#90 post allogenic bone marrow stem cell transplant with my mother by my side-holding my hands. For the past
year, my health care support is from the Hematological Oncology Team Eleventh Floor at Anschutz Inpatient Hospital in Denver, Colorado have been loving, supportive, and kind. They are the best. Upon preparation for the transplant early in 2010, I would need to have an extended hospital stay. Mom spent every night with me in the funky hotel hospital. She slept in the loud, uncomfortable hospital bed that I could not stand to hardly look. She slept like a rock on it. I slept on the small couch that is provided for family members. My mother scorned at the items I brought from home for our extended hospital stay, except for the Elmo. We have spent much time together over these months, watching countless of television (most news channels), she reads romance novels, and enjoying the view from the window of various mountains peaks just south of downtown Denver.
As the eldest child, while growing up, I was my mother’s right hand. I was helpful, supportive, and watched over my brother and sister. I’ve been a loving daughter. We’ve had our challenges when I entered undergraduate school, and more with graduate studies. Yet, we have been very supportive of each other through challenging times. My mom is twice divorced, and spent two years previous to my health challenge being the primary caregiver to a younger sister. Aunt Stella passed four months (February 2009) prior to my health challenge. My mother has been my caregiver ever since. She is a conservative Christian, and has strong faith in Jesus Christ. My spiritual leanings are more liberal and progressive. We’ve done well. Are there tensions? Yes. The power of the Creator’s love keeps us bound to each other holding hands in divine presence. My mother is my earth angel.
The health care team psychologist informed me that about fifty percent of the people who are treated on the eleventh floor have a person or someone who is present or a caregiver for them. This information I found so sad, and also quite humbling. As I ponder the blessing for my mother holding my hand from then until this day, I mourn for the other half of persons who are challenged with extensive hospital stays along the entire process without a consistent hand to hold and/or loving presence.
Through this writing, I wish to pay homage to my wonderful mother. In addition, I pay homage to all the caregivers out there – we love and appreciate all you do! Thank you so very much for sharing God’s love, your heart, and your presence. Peace & blessings!