Friday, January 04, 2008


Inutili preghiere, originally uploaded by Gianni D..

Yesterday, for the first time in weeks, I got dressed in real clothes: my too-big jeans and a sweater. I put on boots and make-up. I found out what the weather was like by feeling it against my skin, instead of asking my family as they swept in from their busy lives. (It was COLD, wonderfully, slap in the face cold.)

I was out in the world and life was good--even if my only destination was the doctor's office in Boston.

I enjoyed traveling through the snow squalls on the Cape. Even when my daughter-in-law, Nicola, took the wrong exit, we celebrated being lost--pointing out the architecture, and imagining how exciting it would be to live in some of the neighborhoods we passed.

"Someday, when everyone's on their own, I'd like to move to the city," I said, daring to imagine the future.

When we passed the river, Nicola said she particularly loved Boston because the Charles reminded her of the river that cut through her native Melbourne.

We also acknowledged that if we'd been with our spouses, we would have been enjoying the scenery less and blaming each other for screwing up the directions more...

We got there on time, but even if we hadn't, it would have been okay. Some days, I've sat in the waiting room for more than two hours before I heard my name called. It turned out yesterday was one of those days.

"Simply waiting" in the Cancer Center wasn't easy. The fifteen or twenty people who sat in chairs along the periphery all looked scared and tense. No one spoke. Furtively, I checked out them out, wondering what form of the disease they had, what their prognoses might be. Were they among the statistical numbers who would beat the disease? Was I?

The first day I visited, most of the patients were a generation older than I was. What was I doing there? I wondered. It wasn't fair. Then I spotted a woman who appeared to be about the age of my oldest son. Damn. Cancer WASN'T fair. It wasn't democratic. It just was.
I looked down and pretended to read People magazine.

This time, however, Nicola and I had eight month old Hank with us. How would an active, squirmy baby ever endure the kind of wait that drove adults to distraction? But it turned out that Hank found the spacious waiting room perfect for exploring on hands and knees, the coffee tables just the right height to walk around, and the seats filled with people he was eager to meet.

He started with those closest to us, and then, slowly (followed by his mum, of course) he extended his reach to everyone in the waiting room, transforming the atmosphere as he crawled around, babbling and smiling.

Strangers smiled back and called to him, "Over here, buddy." When he toppled over, people leaped up to make sure he was all right. Suddenly, Nicola and I weren't the only ones watching to make sure he didn't put anything in his mouth. Everyone in the room had his back.

Soon people were sharing stories about their children and grandchildren. When someone said that babies who don't crawl before they walk often have developmental delays later, a vigorous debate broke out.

Eventually, the conversation expanded. People discussed how far they'd traveled to get there, and worried that they'd get on the road before rush hour. A couple of men started to talk about sports.

We stopped being a bunch of solitary, anxious cancer patients, and became a room full of human beings. I forgot to think about how many paients had come in after me and heard their names called before me, or to look at my watch. What remained was the goodwill in that room, the outstretched hands, and the encouraging words to Hank when he took a couple of tentative steps between table and chair.

"Look! You're doing great. You can do it!"

On the way home, exhausted, but strangely elated, I wondered why it took a baby to release us from our fear and reveal our common humanity....

And why it took a life-threatening illness to make me realize that nothing is promised to me or to anyone else--not a single breath--that it's all a gift and I'd better savor every bit of it--even the missed exits, and the unexpected detours.

Two more things:

1. To all those who have sent healing vibes, prayers and good thoughts, many thanks. All my recent pathology reports have been clean, and my current prognosis is GOOD. Alleluia.

And 2. Some amazingly generous writers and bloggers have done something so incredible for me that it could restore the faith of the most hardened cynic. I will write more about that soon. But for now, I just want to say to Laura Benedict, Susan Henderson, Jessica Keener, Backspace's inexhaustible Karen Dionne, and my good friend, Tish Cohen who have spearheaded the effort, and to the many people who've agreed to help: I thank you and I love you.


Maryanne Stahl said...

patry, you truly carry light with you wherever you go. thank you again for shining it here.

so glad to hear your good news.

january 29 will rock the blogisphere!

Sky said...

Yipppeeeeeee at number one and can't wait to hear about number two!

Babies remind us all of the glorious, magical mystery of life. Hank was able to move everyone beyond their own story.

There is the same pall hanging over my doctor's waiting room. We have beautiful Lake Union (where we 4 ate when you were in Seattle) to view through the floor to ceiling glass wall. At least that is peaceful.

Did I ever tell you that I celebrated my 38th birthday on the Charles River in a little place called the Ocean Club?

Happy first outing. Hope there are some in the near future that don't involve a doctor's office! Hugs, dear Patry.

floots said...

i so enjoyed reading this
as a piece in itself
for what is says about human nature
of course
for what it is saying about you
best wishes
(and looking forward to the surprise on 29th)

Perfect Virgo said...

Your customary vibrant writing brought the waiitng room scene to life. I could feel the tension relaxing. I trust it is a direct reference to your own state of mind too. Best wishes to you Patry.

Crockhead said...

Once again, an ordinary incident told in a way that helps us see our common humanity and restores our faith in it. You're a genius, Patry.

Gary Boyd said...

I noticed the same phenomenon last summer when I went through radiation treatment. One of the ladies ahead of me in the daily meetup in the waiting room would be driven to the treatment center by her daughter and granddaughter. When first we met the grand daughter was just crawling but by the time we finished our treatments she was up and running.

Like your experience it was the interaction with the child that got us all to talking amongst ourselves.

Glad to here you are doing better...Be well and Be happy...

Zhoen said...

People are friendly and helpful, we just need an opening, an excuse. Babies have no boundaries, walking right through them. Welcome if obviously being watched by mum.

So glad about the progress and prognosis. Nature doesn't mean, that is a human concept for dealing with other humans. We so want to have it be fair or reasonable, and it's not and never will be. Living beings have that job.

Here's to getting lost.

robin andrea said...

It's always so profound when it happens, that moment when we discover our common humanity. To have that hushed waiting room turn into a temporary community is such a moment.

I am so happy for your news, patry. I can't wait to hear about number 2.

Josephine Damian said...

My God, Patry, I had no idea you were ill. I'm familiar with you from myspace, but did not know you had a blog until I saw your comment on my "quote" blog (thanks for stopping by).

Much thoughts and prayers going out to you. Looking forward to reading about your improving health here on your blog.

Dale said...

I wish I could be the kind of catalyst that Hank was. Maybe you have to be 8 months old, though :-)


Anonymous said...

Fantastic story, Patry. I'm glad baby Hank was able to transform those worried people into a community for a couple of hours. Continued prayers on your recovery. I'm glad you're writing again. tarakuanyin

rdl said...

Wonderful post!! and wonderful news - all of it!!! Go Patry!!

Marilyn said...

YAY! Good news! I'm so, so happy to hear that. The world would be such a better, more peaceful place if we'd all just take a moment to look at it through the eyes of a baby. Sending you much love and best wishes for a beautiful, healthy 2008. xoxo

Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Patry, I could get all cliche here and say that your illness has given you access to a crystal sharp insight and sense of observation that is truly beautiful, and touches me every time I read your blog. But the truth is, it was always here, all along.

Still, I thank you for putting into words what you're going through. It's magnificent.

Laura Benedict said...

I love the psychology of waiting rooms. Children really do have a profound impact on people wherever they go, don't they? Zhoen was exactly right about babies walking right through our (artificial!) boundaries.

I'm smiling about your prognosis AND the three different kinds of woodpeckers who showed up in my yard today! :)

Laura Benedict said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patry Francis said...

maryanne: All the light is coming from you guyss. I'm just reflecting it. Honestly, I'm so excited about the 29th that for whole days I forget I'm sick.

Sky: Just thinking of Lake Union calms my mind...I'm sure it did wonders for the patients. Now if I can just convince you to celebrate another birthday in Boston.
Imagine the four of us looking out on the river this time...

floots: Thanks for your continued good wishes. They're like the best kind of sick visits from friends--and I don't even have to get up and serve you tea.

p.v.: An astute observation! I AM feeling calmer...

amishlaw: In this case, I think Hank was the genius!

gary: Isn't it amazing what a child can do?

zhoen: You hit the nail on the most important thing. People are friendly and helpful and GOOD. It's fear or guardedness that prevents us from showing it more often.

robin: Yes, it is a magnificent moment. And when it happens, I always think well, of course these strangers are wonderful. How did I forget?

josephine: I really enjoyed your "writer's quotes" blog--also a passion of mine as you know. You do it better though...

dale: You know, I thought the same thing. Why couldn't I do what Hank did? Why wasn't I open or exuberant or unafraid to puncture the barriers? Though it comes natural to babies, I have occasionally seen adults who can do it. Clearly a gift--and one I' don't have. p.s. Thanks for your comments on The Liar's Diary the last time you visited. I'll never forget that you were the FIRST person wo order it from Amzon.

tarakuanyin: "A community" --yes, that's the right term. Thanks for all the thoughts and prayers, and for your recent message to me. I will respond; it's just that everything takes me a whle.

r: Thanks. Looking forward to soup and tea next week.

marilyn: Here's to a 2008 in which we will do exactly that> embrace the world with the openness of a child. Thinking of you after hearing about the wild weather in Crescent City.

jordan: You have ALWAYS been so good to me. Thanks for reading...and being there.

laura: three kinds of woodpeckers??? Ted would be over the moon. He is a committed bird feeder, and always has suet for the woodpeckers. xox

Sustenance Scout said...

Here's to babies and moments of wonder, even when we know we're lost, Patry! I'm not surprised to hear your grandson could so easily charm a roomful of strangers. :)

LitPark said...

That is a gorgeous story. Should be in The New Yorker.

Love you, too. xo

Patry Francis said...

K: I'm sure those gorgeous children of yours have transformed many rooms and hearts. Sometimes I forget how much we can learn from them.

Susan: Ah, The New Yorker, the ultimate dream. That's the kind of comment that can leave a writer smiling (and quoting it) for weeks.

Lisa said...

I'm so glad you were able to get up and out and so relieved that things are looking good!

Patry Francis said...

Lisa: Thank you. Actually, I was thinking of my friends in Denver today as we packed up our Christmas decorations. The only thing I wasn't ready to put away for the season was my Christmas tree with the ginger bread people. Its light still shines!

Anonymous said...

What a little maestro, orchestrating all that cheer and human contact. Even to us who are reading this now.

I'm so relieved and happy for you that the health news is upbeat, and intrigued about the 29th.

Becca said...

If we could only harness all the positive energy around children and channel it into people at will - such power that would be.

I'm glad to hear you've had some good news - you're due for some!

Larramie said...

Is it possible that babies remind us that miracles do happen?

Keep up the good work, Patry!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Oh, Patry! Clean is one of my favorite words, so much more so now. Good thoughts, good thoughts, good thoughts.

Amy MacKinnon

leslee said...

Oh, that's perfect. Babies really can elicit such joyful feelings in people - what a wonderful gift to that waiting room! And what a wonderful gift of your prognosis! Joyous new year to you, Patry!

Melly said...

Beautiful post. As beautiful as a piece of writing can be. You are truly gifted - as a writer and a person. The way you view life is a gift; they way you write about it is your gift to us.

To be honest though, the best was the end - Yay!!! :)

celestialmtn said...

Patry, I have been away for so long and am just now catching up with all the reading that I've missed. I was sorry to read about your diagnosis, but am happy that everything seems to be turning out positively.

I so agree about how children and most especially babies remind us of all that is good and pure in life. I know that even for myself when the world somehow gets me down, it is a simple smile from my 10 month old baby that reminds me of how truly beautiful life is.

JP (mom) said...

Dear Patry - first off, what joyous news about your prognosis and I continue to pray for a full recovery. Second, thank you for sharing the gift of awareness - the awareness that every moment IS precious. This isn't a new idea; but the way you conveyed it spoke to my core. I love the story of Hank and how one little person's spirit could unify a room of people. Peace & love, JP/deb

Myfanwy Collins said...

What a beautiful news, Patry! I'm overjoyed about your good news--for you, for your family and friends, and for those of us who know and adore you through your words.

Patry Francis said...

colleen: A maestro! I love that way of describing it... I'm still trying to figure out how I can become a maestro, too. Still trying to figure out why I don't reach out to strangers more. What am I afraid of? What do I have to lose?

becca: So often we adults are so busy teaching small children what they need to know to be safe and navigate the world we forget that even an eight month old might have something to teach us. Thanks for all your good thoughts.

larramie: Yes! Here's too more miracles--not just the big, life-changing ones, but the little ones that happen every day if we're open to them.

Amy: Oh yes, clean is a word worthy of celebration and many exclamation points. And if that day wasn't wonderful enough, when I got home I found
a package full of wonderful gifts on my stoop from the world's best writing group....I wish you could have seen Hank and I exploring the contents.

leslee: Joyful is the word!

melly! So happy to hear from you. I've missed you and your blog. Thank you so much for such a lovely comment.

nova: Your daughter is irresistible. Just looking at her smile had me grinning ear to ear here on my couch.

Deb: You're so right. The brevity, fragility and preciousness of our days and minutes is one of those distant rumors we all know--but frequently forget. Thanks for stopping in and for all your JOYFUL support.

Myf: Thanks so much for all the genuine friendship, good words, and good vibes you've shared with me in good times and not so good ones. The adoration is mutual!

i beati said...

Never think I'm not going to make it- only I will, fill your bnody with the best foods you can organic juices etc., that go straight to your blood system and research - IP6 ??a cancer survivor thus far2001-

Patry Francis said...

i beati: Thanks for your wonderful advice--and congrats on your own triumph! I love your attitude.

Anonymous said...

Hello and sending more healthy vibes your way.
greetings from Colleen's sister, Sherry

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post! I came via Colleen's blog and am so very glad I did.

I'm one year into treatment for stage 4 colon cancer with liver mets. I've had three surgeries and a bunch of chemo, and while I can never say I'm glad I got cancer, I can say that it's been an amazing journey.

Wishing you much success on yours.

Patry Francis said...

sherry: Always glad to meet a sister of Colleen's! You may know that she and I are also kind of related...

OldLady Of The Hills said...

What a wondeul deeply inspiring post this is...I am her through Colleen, who wrote about you today...And I am so very glad she did...!

What you said about that dear dear baby, uniting that room in humanity, is so touching.
A very dear friend of mine's husband of 56 years died on New Years Eve, and I spoke with her the next day when she called to tell me about Bill, and the sadness was palable...As we talked, I became aware of the sound of a baby...She was holding one of her three little grandbaby's, and she began cooing at him and laughing and I could hear the smile in her voice---and hearing here with him made me smile, too...And then she said, "It's very hard to stay sad around these sweet little baby's...!" Indeed, life goes on, and as you said, we are not promised one thing.
I hope your tests continue being "clean", and I wish you the very best of everything...A Very Happy New Year to you and yours.

Lorna said...

I don't know which was more compelling: the post or the heart-wrenching photo.

kenju said...

Patry, I've just learned of your current situation from Colleen. I wish you a speedy recovery and continuing clean reports. Thanks for sharing your history with us.

Anonymous said...

YEAH for the GOOD prognosis---keep on keepin' on, Patry! And yes, keep "daring to imagine the future", as you wrote so beautifully in your post. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy to hear that the prgnosis is good.

Patry, what amazes me the most is how you can transform your life battle into a message of hope and love. I treasure your words here, and I will for the rest of my life. thank you.

SFP said...

What a great story, Patry. I'm happy that you've received good news.

Anonymous said...

I have been away too long. This story of your life and thoughts is inspiring to me in so many different ways: hope, Hank, fear, love, life ...
I come here late but I am holding you in my thoughts.

Mother of Invention said...

Nothing like a cute baby to break the ice!

Here from Colleen's and I wish you the very best in your situation. Sounds like you have the positive spirit!

paris parfait said...

Your touching post brought tears to my eyes - it's a wonderful thing when strangers come together with their common humanity and giving nature. And babies are so wonderful, they're often the innocent link that helps softens people's fears. Thanks for sharing your story, Patry. Am glad your health news is good! xoxox

Fred Garber said...

Praying for you Patry!

Anonymous said...

You are such a bright life Patry, you deserve many many tomorrows. I am happy to hear that all things are progressing well and Horray for the second bit of news, wonderful friends to have.

I continue sending healing thoughts and the brightest purest white light I can your way.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to hear about the gift for you. You deserve have been such a light and inspiration to so many people, you don't even know.

Beautiful post, as always. Thanks for showing us the beauty in, well, almost everything. Hope your upswing continues. xoxo, M

David Thayer said...

Patry, You're in my thoughts and prayers.

Patry Francis said...

lady of the hills: Thanks for sharing your story about your friend's grandchild. I could almost hear the "future" in her voice as she held that baby.

lorna: I searcched and searched for the right photo to capture the tension of the waiting room. This one, from a talented Italian photographer, whose work I've admired for a couple of years, felt just right.

terrilynn: I thought I had answered your comment before...maybe it was just in my head. In any case, thanks for sharing your story--and your courage--here. Every good wish to you!

kenju: Thanks, and good to see you here again.

Irene: You always say the kindest things. Thank you!

kg: Thanks so much for cheering me on. Keep on imagining!

sfp: Thanks for your good thoughts.

tamarika: I love the phrase "holding you in my thoughts." Thank you--and thanks for coming back.

Mother of invention: Here's to the power of Colleen! Thanks for visiting.

tara: Strangers coming together...something like the way we have in the blogosphere. It really is a phenomenon, isn't it?

fred: Many thanks, friend.

easy: It's great to see some of the first friends I met on the blog, like you and Melly, here now. Thanks for your pure white light.

mardougrrl: Another comment that humbles me...always love to see your name here.

david: Thank you!

KrisT said...

Hi Patry! What a bittersweet time for you. You have such a beautiful outlook on life. Very inspiring!

Kenna Coltman said...

OOOO -- I posted on the previous article. Haven't quite got the gist of this blogging thing, yet!

Cherish the good stuff, Patry - it'll help get you through the bad!

'Nough said. G'Night!

flit said...

Just stopping by to wish you all the best.... will be looking for the Liar's Diary

Anonymous said...

Patry, your wonderfully clear statement about your book at the Thrillerfest breakfast stuck with me (and I bought it). I don't blog but am sending the info about your paperback launch to my mailing list. I will also be buying copies to send to friends.

Great entry about your hospital roommate. That should be published.

Another cancer survivor.

Anonymous said...

I love this story so much. And I want to be in on this Jan 29th party!

Patry Francis said...

k cutter: It may be denial, but right now, I'm only seeing the "sweet." Lying here on my couch this afternoon, I feel like the most fortunate person on earth. Thanks for such a lovely comment.

kenna: In dealing with serious illness, children really show us the way. They don't whine or feel sorry for themselves, or poison their days with fear. I will be sending all my good wishes and prayers Caleb's way. I hope you'll come back and let me know how he's doing.

flit: I always love to see a friend from Gather here. Thank you!

d.k.: I felt so intimidated at Thrillerfest after hearing all these terrific writers describe their books. Thanks for remembering my words--and for all your support. It means a lot.

Patry Francis said...

Susan: Thank you, and yes, I'd love to see you at the party on the 29th! Though I'm not supposed to drink champagne (or anything else) with my medication, I'm going to make an exceptiont that day.

Kenna Coltman said...

Hi, Patry!

Thanks for your kind thoughts. We spent 7 hours in the cancer center today. Caleb had a bone marrow test, and our other children had blood drawn so they could be typed as possible donors.

All is going VERY well. Caleb's blood counts were 'perfect' to quote the oncologist. There's no reason, at this point, to think that we'll ever have to go through the whole bone marrow transplant, we're just hedging our bets. Dr. W says it's like having money in the bank, knowing that there is a donor, if one is ever needed.

Thanks, again, and remember, our thoughts and prayers are with you, as well!

Kim Smith said...

Hi Patry. I didn't know you until Karen and the others brought you to my attention. Now I feel as though we are old friends, just from reading this blog.

I just wanted to say that I am praying for you and in that, hope you continue to inspire us all with your grace, and strength, from now 'til forever.

Thank you for giving me something to do that matters on this side of the dirt.

we love you too :)
kim smith

Patry Francis said...

Kenna: 7 hours! Hopefully, your kids handled it better than I would have. But the "perfect" blood count must have made you forget the wait immediately. I'm so happy for you--and for Caleb.

kim: One of the most exciting aspects of this whole thing has been making new friends, and expanding the amazing community we have here on line. Thank you so much for being part of it!

Alex S said...

I just heard from Laini what you have been going through these last months and had no idea Patry. I would have been writing and sending you cards and plenty of love and cyber hugs all along. I would like to send you a private email but don't know it... Would you mind emailing it to me at ? xoxoxo

Karen Fisher-Alaniz said...

Hi Patry~ I don't know you but wish you the very best in this battle. I can't remember if it was here or on one of the links that lead me here, but someone commented that they had gone through chemo. alone. That made me so sad. I called my son's friends mom, who is fighting for her life, and offered to go with her to her treatments. I don't know if she'll take me up on it, but this is just to say that you never will know the far-reaching implications of your public (web) struggle. Take care. ~Karen

Leora Skolkin-Smith said...


I've just now heard of your health problems and I am so sorry. Please take my sympathies and caring for you inside to help heal, I've been told that your prognosis is good and but I feel so bad for what you must have had to endure. You are the sweetest and finest of people I've ever met on readerville. I don't have a blog but there is anything I can do to help, please just let me know.

With love,

Leora Skolkin-Smith

Kay Cooke said...

Patry - it's been so long since I've visited - to my shame - so I didn't know what you were going through. That you are going through it all with grace and beauty does not surprise me in the least.
Thank you for your gift of writing - which I adore, as always.
I will be dropping in more often now. So glad the prognosis is GOOD.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick hello.
I wonder sometimes if groups of strangers thrust into each others' presence are silent out of unnecessary fear.

MB said...

Alleluia, indeed!

These last few posts... well, there is much here and perhaps some day they may be part of a collection, the sort of thing many would find helpful reading, I suspect.

Jessie said...

I want to respond with something as wonderful as your words. But my response feels inadequate. Instead let me just say that your words truly fill me.

Thank you for that.

Richard Cooper said...

I've just heard about your experiences lately and was moved by reading your blog messages this evening. Thank you for your clarity and insights! All my best wishes for a happy and healthy new year.

M. Damian McNicholl said...


Your blog writing is so compelling and magnificent, I...well, I'm compelled to comment when I'm mostly a lurker.

So very happy to hear your news that things are looking up. Happy New Year!


Pearl said...

What a wonderful change in the room. Thanks for sharing that.

Nothing is promised but much is promising to be a pleasure.

Glad your prognosis looks good.

Pearl said...

What a wonderful change in the room. Thanks for sharing that.

Nothing is promised but much is promising to be a pleasure.

Glad your prognosis is so good.

rdl said...

i think mb is right.
hey i have something for you over at my place.

katrina said...

I'm so happy to hear your good news!!!


Anonymous said...

so beautiful. i came by way of Susan's Reading, Writing, Living blog. i'm so glad to hear of your 'clean' reports and wonderful prognosis and send gobs more healing your way. jan 29 will rock the blogosphere and i hope to help spread the word!

bookinista said...

I wish you well, and add my healing energies to the others'. I'm glad I found you. Reading here has been a pleasure.

Brenda said...

I just discovered your blog and I've enjoyed reading your posts. I'm happy to hear of your good prognosis. Your positive attitude is very inspiring. I look forward to reading your book.

Anonymous said...

The innocence of children has amazing power over adults. And especially babies, they have that power to make adults open their hearts. They bring smiles to those around them along with a joy in life.

Lets face it they are little bundles of contagious joy.