By Virginia Kelley
As a youth and cigarette smoker, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center loomed large in my mind, to the point of haunting my dreams. I worried that my habit would one day have me passing through its doors – a cautionary tale in the form of a building? Today, smoking is a distant memory and life is sedate. Most evenings, though, I get yanked from a blissful TV world of the clacking wheel and brain teaser questions by white-coated Roswell doctors inviting me to spend “just one day” with them. I hit “mute.” Thanks, but no thanks. Then, recently, with no warning, an email informed me that a sweet, gentle friend and longtime cancer survivor had been admitted to ICU at Roswell. She was requesting visitors.
The weather on the chosen day; snow, freezing rain and ankle-deep slush didn’t lift my mood. On the drive I thought about making conversation and wished I’d checked online about how to talk to a sick person. We parked on the roof and my husband and I made our way through rows of parked cars with license plates from far and near. Over a sky bridge with fantastical flower benches, we trooped. At the reception area, the temperature rose quickly. Soothing notes of classical music live, on a grand piano, floated in the air along with the aroma of coffee and sweet delights from the café onsite. Talk about being welcomed with open arms.
While Buffalo might be the City of Good Neighbors, friendliness to strangers isn’t common. The big difference here was that each and every staff person, even the ones you knew were very busy, engaged us and smiled as if it mattered that we came. Along the corridors, paintings dotted the walls, a celebration of things beautiful, including landscapes. This art provided glimpses into new, intriguing worlds, but none could compete with the view out the West-facing windows: Buffalo’s own cityscape.
Our visit was good. People on staff stopped in to consult or just to check on things. When my friend mentioned that a troubadour had happened by earlier, I mentioned that dogs often visited. As lovers of animals we agreed that feeling the silky texture of a dog’s coat could be a balm to the soul.
Fortunately, our stay at Roswell was brief, but we’re no stranger to long, empty hours spent at hospitals for ours and family surgeries and procedures. Looking online, I found ways a person could pass the time at Roswell; surfing the “net” on borrowed laptops, art and music therapy sessions, self-guided Scavenger hunts, stories hidden in handmade quilts, singers and musicians eager to bring music to anyone wanting to listen, and a library of print and electronic media. For getting the kinks out, free massage chairs dot the corridors, and for the ultimate in primal communication, drum circles – no special talent needed.
My deepest thanks to an institution where, at the worst and most chaotic of times, its state-of-the-art treatments, numerous doctors, caregivers and staff work tirelessly to restore order and health. It embraces those who enter with compassion and teaches clean living - ironically, to keep people away from their door. I gave up smoking through determination and the realization that there are plenty of other things to make us sick so why hold on to in something that’s a know trigger? There’s no shame in seeking help and Roswell has a smoking session program open to all. I hope you, too, can soon say that smoking is bad and you no longer indulge.
Virginia Kelly is thankful for the professionals as Roswell Park Comprenehsive Cancer Center.