Putting Together the Pieces

Putting Together the Pieces

by Cynthia Cox

The waiting room in the radiation center is quite stellar, and I should know. With my chemotherapy, surgery, and hormonal treatment, I’ve been in many different waiting rooms this year. However, this one is a little different from the rest.

When I go in for my first day of radiation, a woman is playing guitar and singing, which does wonders to calm my nerves. Lovely pieces of art hang on the walls, many of which were created by survivors, and big windows offer a brilliant view of a peaceful garden.

These all contribute to the waiting room’s ambiance, but I’ve found that what I enjoy most are the puzzles.

Spread out on a big table in the middle of the room, a puzzle is always in progress – elaborate puzzles with famous paintings, more simple ones depicting gorgeous landscapes, some with photographs of rural life. When one puzzle is completed, it’s replaced by another. Every person in the waiting room can contribute to the puzzle in the moments before they’re called back for treatment.

Each day, the puzzle progresses slowly toward completion, with various people putting in a few pieces here and there throughout the day. It’s exciting to watch the progress as I return each day for my treatment. The puzzle magically becomes more complete, as countless other unknown survivors have worked on it in my absence.

I feel happy when I notice someone else has found the missing piece I’ve been hunting for in vain. I feel a sense of pride in seeing the finished product, knowing it was a joint effort among all those receiving treatment.

While lying on the radiation table one morning, it occurrs to me that the puzzles are a metaphor. All survivors have this one puzzle in common – how to beat cancer – and we are all working on a solution. Although we have to find the pieces that fit our own individual puzzles, none of us can do this alone. We rely on small contributions from others to slowly progress toward recovery. Like the waiting room puzzles being completed by unknown contributors, many of the contributions to our health happen behind the scenes, dispersed by a panel of doctors or by unknown chemists in a lab. In addition to this, much of our wellness can be attributed to small contributions from family and friends. For each person who brings a meal, offers a ride, or reaches out through a phone call, another piece of the puzzle is put in place. They’re all contributing to our healing and recovery.

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As long as we each strive to find the missing pieces, a little at a time, we can reach a solution. We are not alone in this journey; many others are helping us along the way. This knowledge has helped me cope with my own frustrations and fears. When I pause to be grateful for the assistance of others, it helps me keep going, piecing together my cancer recovery, one puzzle piece at a time. With the help of others, I know I’ll survive!

Cynthia Cox is a breast cancer survivor living in Corvallis, OR. She and her mother were both diagnosed with breast cancer one month apart; they now are both in remission.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2016.

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