I was at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Hillman Cancer Center this week. It’s so emotional there. Life and death happen there daily. It’s real. It’s stressful. Some days people ring cancer celebration bells in the hallways. Some days they cry in those same hallways. I’ve done both there.
It’s also where I’d like to hope my particular cancer journey made a little bit of a difference. For me Tuesday was cancer scan day (watch here). I’m in remission. No new cancer for a year and three months. Tuesday’s tests re-affirmed that. I was standing in the exam room of Dr. David Clump. He’s my radiation oncologist. I call him Dr. Forrest Clump. He has that aura. Plus he saved my life. Plus I love nick names. So Dr. Forrest Clump works.
Kristine, me, and Dr. David Clump.Sparkt/Patrick O’Connor
Dr. Clump showed me my most recent CT Scan… a deep dive into my head, neck,, and chest. It shows no cancer! Amazing feeling. More tears. Did you know cancer…chemotherapy…radiation… make you more emotional? Ask anyone.
The CT can.Sparkt/Patrick O’Connor
But I digress. Dr. Clump said “Marty, I use your ‘dinner time with family’ story with all of my patients. It provides great inspiration!” I smiled from ear to ear. So you know… cancer treatment jacked up my taste buds and salivary glands. I can’t really taste much and I my body doesn’t produce enough saliva. That makes it really tough to eat. It takes a long time. When our family sits down to eat, it takes about an hour. It used to take ten minutes. I’m serious.
Eating is still difficult for me.Sparkt/Marty Griffin
I’ve told this story before. My kids are done eating their food about fifty minutes before I am. They fidget and squirm. Nine year old Vince tries to crawl under the table. 12-year old Chloe tries to stretch out and sleep on the bench at our kitchen table.
Vince and Chloe. No hijinx at the table!Sparkt/Marty Griffin
I don’t allow it. Instead, we all talk. That’s right… we talk. We talk for an hour. We talk about “stuff,” as the kids say. It can be anything. School… friends… TV shows. Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes we don’t. It’s amazing. None of this would have happened without my cancer. I told Dr. Clump about it, how cancer has slowed us down as a family… brought goodness into our lives. Cancer… in this regard… is a blessing.
Dr. Clump smiled when I told him this. Now he tells others. Truth is, cancer is ugly and cruel. Cancer is a horror story for so many. In the middle of the uncertainty and fear, Dr. Clump tells his head and neck cancer patients my dinner time cancer story. He tells his patients to enjoy the hour or so it takes them to eat. Dr. Clump tells them to talk to their loved ones… don’t allow anyone to leave the table until the cancer patient’s plate is cleaned. How ’bout that!
It was Forrest Gump who said: “My momma always said… life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
Forrest was right. I had no idea cancer would give me an hour of table time every night with my wife and kids. I had no idea that discovery might encourage other cancer patients to do the same with their loved ones.