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I had been to Roswell Park Cancer Institute only once before -- about two years ago -- to donate blood platelets for a friend who had leukemia. That was an experience I did not enjoy, and afterward I remarked that I would never go that route again.

I don't mean the donation procedure itself. Once I got into the room where I could relax, read and enjoy a beverage and a snack with a cordial and attentive group of nurse technicians, I was fine. The problem was with the route and the building itself.

To begin with, I made the mistake of traveling on the Kensington Expressway. Although this is the quickest route, it's not my style. I was alone in my car and had to fend for myself amid the speeding and weaving cars. By the time I reached the exit, I was a wreck.

After taking a wrong turn and having to stop for directions, I finally parked and made my way into the old building. By that time, I was regretting my decision to be a donor. I never liked hospitals, with their cream-colored walls, dark woodwork and mysterious, never-ending hallways. I was glad when I finally left, though I dreaded the return on that awful expressway.

But a short time ago, a dear friend of mine asked me to take her to Roswell Park to have a lump in her breast checked. I couldn't refuse. This time, I decided that I would not travel on the expressway. Instead, we took the long route and enjoyed a leisurely drive, chatting all the way.

In my mind, I envisioned that cavernous, dark building. But as we approached, I was surprised to see that I was going to experience a new facility -- one that left me that day with a feeling of hope and inspiration.

Making our way through the entrance, I was instantly embraced by the openness and brightness of the lobby, with its welcoming gift shop, information desks and visible and cordial personnel. The comfortable-looking cluster of easy chairs and couches with toss pillows felt inviting as I settled in for the long wait.

Though I had hoped to do some reading that morning, I was taken up with the drama that played out before me.

Women with stylish hats or turbans; men in wheelchairs and using walkers; children, some being carried by parents whose faces bore the lines of worry, stood in line to register. Prospective patients carried suitcases, hopeful that the stay would be brief. The pathos of it all made me reflect on the blessing of good health.

I noticed an elderly lady who had leaned over, and then sat down to rest on a couch. She was alone, and my heart went out to her. She was so frail, and the paleness of her face told me that the road had been long and hard for her.

Later on, there was a commotion near the elevator behind me. Turning, I saw where she had obviously fallen on her way to the restrooms. I was amazed with the speed at which the personnel came to her aid, gently and lovingly getting her into a wheelchair and attending to her needs. I got the sense of a familial attitude. This woman was one of their own. Love was definitely spoken here.

To my left I saw a refreshment cart, a welcome change from the pop machines so evident in lobbies elsewhere. A kindly volunteer graciously served coffee, tea or juice to everyone around. I was delighted when she handed me a cup and then invited me to take a cinnamon-flavored graham cracker from a doily-covered plate. Talk about comfort food.

I noticed a woman going around to the end tables, straightening out the reading material there, replacing newspapers with daily issues. "Just like home," I mused.

Looking beyond this lobby with its large windows, which let in the promise of a new day, I reflected on the message that Roswell Park gives to each and every person who walks through its doors. Whatever path you might take along the labyrinth of its corridors, you will find someone who really cares; someone who will wrap their arms around your fearful heart and offer you the comfort food of human love.

Traveling back home that memorable day, I felt peaceful and very grateful that I had experienced a different route to Roswell Park.

DELPHINE LEVESQUE, a retired elementary school teacher, is now a free-lance writer living in Lockport.
For writer guidelines for columns appearing in this space, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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