Welcome to Mexico!
By Victoria Schmidt
A Trip to The Cancer Institute
Darkness surrounded the Chapala bus depot as we arrived for our early morning ride. I was going with my Mexican friend to the Cancer Institute in Guadalajara for a special appointment arranged for us with the assistant director of the Institute. She knew little about her cancer. She didn’t even know the kind of questions to ask. But I did. A cancer survivor myself, I was well acquainted with what to ask. I even hired an interpreter.
It was unusual for me not to drive to Guadalajara. Leaving the driving to someone else is not easy for me, and although the fare was inexpensive, and the bus was comfortable, I was suffering from motion sickness, and I spent the trip to Guadalajara in great discomfort. She noticed I was a little distressed, and she reached into her purse and pulled out a roll of toilet paper, and wrapped off tissue and gave it to me to mop my sweaty face. I laughed. She had a “Mom” purse! Just like every Mom I’ve ever known, she carries everything “just in case.” Boy scouts have nothing on Moms!
My real education began when we went into the Cancer Institute. We walked through the doors, and were met by a solid mass of humanity. There were people in wheelchairs, people with crutches, canes, walkers, and others who leaned against walls or one another for support. There seemed to be no order to the chaos. Many had shaved heads, and a lot of patients were wearing masks to protect them during the cold and flu season. Some were on oxygen machines. There is no chairs available for anyone to sit. The sheer volume of people in that entry was overwhelming.
I felt a tug on my sleeve as she led me through the crowd to a small elevator. We arrived at the appropriate floor and went to sit outside the door of the office of the doctor. Then my friend explained to me that she needed to go over to yet another area, and wait in line to get her results. When our interpreter arrived, she explained that all the people in the lobby were waiting either to be assigned an appointment, or waiting to be accepted as patients at the Clinic. Not everyone, she explained was accepted as a patient.
Finally the doctor arrived and we filed into his office. I started by thanking the doctor for seeing us, and explained to him, through our interpreter, that my friend knew she had thyroid cancer, but she didn’t know which of the four types of thyroid cancer she had. She also didn’t know if a biopsy was ever performed, and she didn’t know what stage her cancer was in. Then I sat there for a long while as the Spanish flew between patient, doctor, and interpreter. I felt as though an entire novel had been written by the time the interpreter explained. I smiled. My friend looked puzzled at me, and I took her hand assuring her I’d explain more later. The echogram showed no cancer, but another more extensive test will be needed in March.
After a few more questions about the medication and schedule, we were done. Even though my friend had heard everything, she explained that she speaks Spanish, but she doesn’t speak “medical.” We laughed, and I explained to her, that her cancer is the type that has the highest cure rate, the lowest recurrence rate, and that they caught the cancer at an early stage. Her prognosis was very good, but we would know more in March after the next test.
She reached into her purse and pulled out that roll of toilet paper, this time for her. Tears of relief travelled down her face making parenthetical streaks around her broad smile. Since that day, she has been a different person. Now she has hope.