What’s Right With Tacoma: The Lucky Woman’s Guide to Breast Cancer: Sea Turtle and Mountain Edition

The turtles are my buddies.

I admired the green sea turtles, the honu, who graze around the edges of Kauai, long before I got cancer. Ancient and new, they don't much mind sharing a wave with us at Brennecke Beach. Grazing on seaweed in the rocks at Spouting Horn, they have no clue that we come to watch them – that every time we spot them, we yip with pleasure and point. None of that matters to them. They just keep on surviving the bumps in the ocean.

That's why I was so happy to run into them the day I began chemotherapy.

The honu co-star in one of the assortment of waiting room videos in the Milgard Cancer Center in Multicare Medical Center's Philip Pavilion. Digitized, those turtles and schools of reef fish work most days to pull an assortment of mainlanders into the kind of happy place where we're willing to launch repeated assaults on our own bodies.

Welcome to The Lucky Woman's Guide to Breast Cancer, Sea Turtle and Mountain Edition.

The sea turtles don't do it alone. They can't because, cool as they are, they don't appeal to every spirit. They're just one element in the wallpaper of memory and optimism built around the hospital's cancer war.

Some days, instead of turtles we get gardens, and some days we get the desert. We never know precisely where they are. Both ways, we get lessons in resilience and endurance. Fresh from short, dark days, azaleas, trillium and dogwood bounce back, dewy and new somewhere in the Northwest. Steadfast after millennia of carving winds, rock formations stand like families, together, enduring, changing, redefining. They reach into the spot that resonates with their image, and we grab hold.

And that's just the video wallpaper in the place.

Every photograph on the walls is of a spot we might have been smart and active enough to visit in our Northwest. Every image invites us to come back again, as soon as we are well and ready.

“Get through this,” the stones in a stream say.

“Get back here, so we can be beautiful together,” calls a patch of rain forest.

From the check-in desk to the chemo suites, everyone who works in the joint joins the chorus. They are the better angels into which old-fashioned medicine has evolved.

True, they're big fans of the advances science has made with drugs, radiation and operations. All that magical technology can keep us from barfing, these days. It's so much better, Merrilee and Maiken, Chris and Lisa say, than it was even nine years ago, even four years ago. These days, at lunchtime, Roland can roll a cart through the suites, offering juice, sandwiches and pudding – and patients want to eat.

Maybe it was a movie that put the image of a chemo treatment suite in my mind. Maybe it was a sketchy description, but I'd imagined a more utilitarian space filled with rows of people, some reading, some watching television on a chairside monitor, all dripping to the rhythm of infusion pumps.

The reality is a merrier hallway lined with rooms in which cancer fighters settle into oversized recliners. Any one of us can bring a friend, and all of us can choose the privacy of cubicle curtains or the possibility of a view. We can see Wright Park, if we stand up, and we can count the spires and turrets on schools and churches.

On a fine day, Mount Rainier jumps right into the sightline from The Mountain Suite. The Zen Suite would be where we'd likely find the Dalai Lama and his friend, Richard Gere, should they happen to be in town together.

Be kind, those two would tell us. Be nice. That's where your strength lies.

That, too, is where I've been finding strength, shared by this team of cancer fighters, from the honu on the walls to the mountain in our view, to the medical team by our side.


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