The Hillman Cancer Center

It’s a gray day in PA. Not that this should be surprising. Pennsylvania isn’t really known for many sunny days. But the dreariness is magnified today, because of where we are.

My husband is suffering. He has diverticulitis. It has been a part of his life for many years, and has now become a dangerous situation. Not only painful, diverticulitis has caused my husband to spend several days in the local hospital, twice in the past year. That, we are told, is too many ‘episodes’ in too short a period of time. Surgery has been recommended, and it has been advised that we see a surgeon who specializes in colon resection which is the removal of the diseased portion of the colon and reconnection of the healthy portions which remain.

The physician we have been referred to is Dr. Farkas. Her offices are located within the Hillman Cancer Center, UPMC Shadyside in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, so that is where we are on this drab, March morning. My husband, thankfully, does not have cancer. But, as we walk into the sterile environment of this medical institution which offers valet parking, but somewhat impersonal receptionists, we are surrounded by many less fortunate.

Sign-in completed and name tags applied to our chests, we make our way to the upper floor for the scheduled meeting. We have driven over one hundred miles, and we are apprehensive. This is a very busy place and we are not familiar with our surroundings. Unfortunately, many of those with whom we sit in the waiting area are only too familiar with this treatment center. Many seem to be on a first name basis with those who call them to their appointments.

It’s sad, here. There are people of various ages and genders, because Cancer is no respecter of age or gender. There is also confusion. So many instructions are being given to people who look dismayed and a bit disoriented. One elderly couple has just been advised that they are present on the wrong day. He looks so frail. She looks completely frazzled. I’m sure that it was not an easy trip for them to get here. Now they are told that the doctor they planned to meet with is not even in the building. It is the doctor’s day off.

All around us, people are sporting hairless heads. Some have chosen to wear colorful scarves and some have chosen wigs. Others, have just accepted life without hair and make no attempts at disguising it.

Wheelchairs abound. Some of the occupants roll themselves around the maze of furnishings and doorways. Others are just too weak and must be pushed to their destinations by family, friends or volunteers. I.V.s hang attached to both the chair and rider in many cases.

Although illness seems to hang in the air and threaten all who enter this place, there are gentle touches offered by those in scrubs and white coats. Concerned questions and careful answers are presented in caring tones to those who have come as victims of insidious disease. There are healers in our midst, even if the business of health-care may be trying to drown out their words of comfort and encouragement.

Stained chairs, by the hundreds, are lined up in rows on stained carpeting. Magazines and pamphlets are scattered across occasional tables. Notices of privacy practices and benign artwork in Plexiglas frames cover the walls. Exit signs and arrows hang overhead. Stations are alphabetically identified.

We pass by faces wearing blank looks, while others offer nervous smiles. A constant drone of chatter creates a dull roar as we make our way to the assigned examining room. This is a big place and I am in wonder of how any sense of order is maintained among all of the paperwork, scheduling and assignments.

Name after name, appointment after appointment, patient after patient – the enterprise seems to roll along at a rather smooth pace with only the occasional frustration showing.

Finally, it is my husband’s turn. We go into a small, clean room together. A friendly woman sets up a short, informative movie for us to view on the subject of colon resection. She asks some preliminary questions and after the film, we are asked more in depth questions by a very personable and capable young Physician’s Assistant.

Next, we meet Dr. Linda Farkas for the first time. She is, pleasant, down-to-earth and very easy to understand. She reviews the information provided on the film. She gives us her opinions and shares her wealth of knowledge in a way that is reassuring and comforting. She asks questions and patiently listens to ours. She has quickly gained our trust.

Before we leave the examining room, my husband is given a folder containing all of the information which has been discussed, along with forms for pre-operative testing to be completed by his primary health-care physician back home. The folder also includes necessary prescriptions, pre-operative instructions, and Dr. Farkas’s contact information. Everything one can expect before, during and after the surgery is contained on the pages. It has been a thorough consultation and now we have material to refer to, should we have any questions or forget anything we have been told.

It is still a cold, dreary, March day in Pennsylvania when we leave the Hillman Cancer Center to face the one hundred mile return trip home. My husband still faces an unwelcome surgical procedure to remove nearly two feet of his sigmoid colon. But, because of the professional and experienced doctor and staff with whom we have just met, we are able to leave with a much brighter outlook.

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