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Grateful for strangers, offering smiles and silent support

Mary Newport of Westminster, and her dog, Pippa, demonstrate a trick that always brings a smile from patients at the Kahlert Regional Cancer Center.
Mary Newport of Westminster, and her dog, Pippa, demonstrate a trick that always brings a smile from patients at the Kahlert Regional Cancer Center.(Submitted photo)

I know a place where nobody knows your name, though strangers there greet you with a warm smile and mean it when they say, "How are you?" and "Have a good day."

Unlike the former hit TV series, "Cheers," where friends share camaraderie over a few beers at a Boston bar, the people in this place share another kind of amity that takes place in the lobby, infusion room or other area in the William E. Kahlert Regional Cancer Center in Westminster.

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While waiting to be summoned for their appointments, patients and visitors can relax on the upholstered chairs in the space designed for their comfort and can peruse tables of health magazines with names such as "Conquer," and "Cancer Guide." A massive stone wall and a contemporary electric fireplace create an atmosphere of warmth. On display is a rainbow of 12 ribbons, each designating a kind of cancer.

The door to the treatment areas is constantly opening as patients enter and leave, always with good-natured greetings and goodbyes from nurses who escort them in and out. The health professionals have become familiar with the individuals — many of whom have had several types of treatments over numerous weeks — and they greet each patient with an upbeat hello.

Patients, as well, become familiar with fellow patients as they receive chemotherapy in the infusion room which can take several hours. Or, they may chat with a person who is also waiting for his or her radiation appointment. Sometimes, individuals experience similar side effects from their treatments. Thus, they ask about each other and offer suggestions of remedies that have worked for them.

Waiting — a common denominator — is spent in various ways. Reading, snacking and iPods provided by the center enable people to hurry up the slow passage of time. As they wait for fluids to drip through tubes, friends and family members often provide conversation or play cards.

One family, dressed in costumes for Halloween, engaged in a mini-party to celebrate the occasion. The patient, who was dressed as a cow complete with udders, shared her sense of humor with the others having treatment and distributed candy treats to everyone.

Visiting canines also help people to pass the time, as well as offering a diversion. A day rarely passes without the opportunity to pet a dog, trained and certified by the Keystone Pet Enhanced Therapy Services, known as KPETS, a Pennsylvania based non-profit organization that connects pets with various rehabilitative and learning environments.

The animals respond affectionately to outstretched hands of people who are eager to greet them and to engage in conversation about their own pets.

"You made my day," said one senior gentleman as he stroked "Pippa," a toy poodle owned by Mary Newport, a Sykesville resident who has participated in KPETS for 3 ½ years, visiting the Kahlert Cancer Center once a week.

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"It's a break in the waiting," said Newport. Having experienced cancer in her family, she understands the exhaustion of the slow process.

My husband, Paul, and I have also experienced the slow-motion effect of the wait.

As of this writing, he has had seven weeks of treatments with one more week to go and we will finally be ready to resume our normal lives. It has been a long process consisting of an overflowing medicine cabinet, a visiting nurse and home-based medical procedures.

As in most life experiences, I've learned a few things.

The anxieties of cancer patients do not permeate every moment as was demonstrated by the Halloween family in the infusion room.

The old cliché about life going on has evoked from me a new understanding. I've learned that when I think the world should stop, it doesn't and shouldn't.

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People still go to work; groceries must be purchased; children need to be taken care of and deadlines for columns — even this one — must be met.

Despite the hardships and devastation associated with this disease and the cloud that can loom overhead, I try to look daily for simple pleasures — a call from a friend, my flower box full of pansies, a fall-flavored Starbucks coffee. I count these things — like sheep — to help me fall asleep at night.

As our family gathers around our Thanksgiving table this year, Paul and I will remind ourselves again of those simple pleasures. But there is so much more.

We are grateful that Paul is on the way to recovery and that we have our son, daughter and their spouses, plus two grandsons who have been with us every step of the way. Also, we are appreciative of the concerns of friends and even acquaintances who remind us of the innate goodness in people.

In addition, we are thankful for the uplifting and positive support of the Kahlert Cancer Center's doctors, nurses and entire staff.

Most especially, we are thankful for the strangers there — who offered their silent support through their smiles, greetings and good wishes — who didn't even know our names.

Dolly Merritt writes from Westminster. She can be contacted via email at dolly827@hotmail.com.

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