Kate and I had just left my oncologist’s office after our first visit. You know the one; when they finally tell you super-officially you have cancer. They outline the options and you wander around in your car, not quite sure where to go next.
We drove over to my office, made the appropriate arrangements with the HR folks and then wandered the aisles of a cut-rate clothes store and for no particular reason, bought two orange tee-shirts.
Still not knowing where to go, I remembered a place I had visited once years ago; the Wellness Center (now called the Cancer Support Community). We didn’t know anything or anyone, we just heard people with cancer go there – so off we went.
When we got there – in our orange shirts – the idyllic grounds were packed with AIG employees – also in their orange tee-shirts – doing volunteer work.
Kate and I walked in the building and one person said, “There are snacks in the kitchen.”
“Thanks,” I said. “But we’re not with them, we just bought these shirts. I was just diagnosed with cancer and we really didn’t know what else to do.”
Silence hung in the air. I didn’t have to explain why we bought orange tee-shirts; it all seemed completely reasonable.
“Wait here,” the person said. To this day I don’t recall if it was a man or woman, black or white, young or old. “Cindy we need you!”
A redhead woman in her late 50’s or early 60’s came in the kitchen.
“My Name is Cindy Dwyer,” she said. “What’s going on?”
We explained about the diagnosis and she said, “I am the executive director here. We usually make appointments, but let’s go into the living room and talk.”
The living room, as comfortable as any grandmother’s, was big spacious and comfortable.
“I am a two-time survivor,” she said. “You’re a survivor too now.”
We talked for quite a while and then she gave me some of the most important advice I needed to begin my cancer journey.
“Your job now is to be a professional patient,” she said.
From that day to this – almost four and a half years ago – I have embraced the task she gave me and am in remission going on four years.
Cindy Dwyer died last week from her final battle with breast cancer.
I met her three times and one of those meetings changed my outlook and probably saved my life. She and a woman, Ellen Hamilton (whom I never met) founded the Wellness Center and it saved people and comforted them on the journeys. I know I am richer for the one long conversation I had her. And I know the lives I’ve touched may not have been possible without her touching mine.