DARRELL HUCKABY: Building a beautiful relationship with my new BFF

An Open Letter to My New BFF.

Dear M.D. Anderson,

I have only known you for about 22 months now, but in that short time I have come to love you. I know that’s a little weird, but it is a solid gold fact. I will never forget the first time I met you. I came to you in tears, actually. I was low on hope and full of anxiety and believed that I was living out the last months of my life. Statistics and all. You know how it is.

You know, they say “Father knows best.” Turns out, my daughter knew what was best for me. She urged me to seek you out from the very beginning of my cancer diagnosis. I went through surgery and radiation and all sorts of tests and scans and prognoses before I heeded her advice.

I don’t have any regrets about all of that. I was in good hands back at home, but as soon as I walked into the doors of the Rotary House on April Fool’s Day in 2012, I knew that things would be different going forward.

The people in the patient relations office met us at the door and made us feel right at home. They even gave me candy. Nothing soothes a fellow’s nerves like being handed a Tootsie Roll right off the bat. They explained everything that was going to happen and answered every question I had. They showed us around and made sure we knew where to go for our appointments the next day and also oriented us to our home away from home.

I was really impressed with the Rotary House. I travel a right smart but I have never stayed in a nicer place for 115 bucks a night. I loved the hot tub and swimming pool and made good use of it right away. The free shuttle hooked us up with some great beef brisket. I know y’all call it barbecue out there, but I’ll just say I had some great beef brisket. I do have one complaint, however. They also hooked my lovely wife, Lisa, up with Rice Village. It is a very nice shopping mecca, but it is a shopping mecca.

I appreciate the way you go out of the way to make the folks staying at Rotary House feel appreciated. I love sitting around the beautiful atrium listening to the people you bring in to play the grand piano. I heard an Elvis impersonator one night and a country band another night, and I really like it when the hat cart comes around. Lisa appreciates the special support given caregivers.

But mainly I appreciate the professional way my treatment is handled. I couldn’t believe that I could have my blood drawn and get the results in a couple of hours instead of a few days. I also couldn’t believe I could have scans and X-rays and other tests ordered one minute and be on the table having them done within the hour. You did in two days what took a month to six weeks to have done back home. That makes me feel appreciated and gives me a lot of confidence.

Dr. Lance Pagliaro is my physician. I knew we’d get along because he is confident enough to wear a beard, like me. Who wants to shave everyday, right? Honesty compels me to admit that I was a bit surprised when he rolled into my room in a wheelchair, but I don’t see him for his legs, I see him for his mind and his heart. He has taken excellent care of me.

He warned me that the treatment he was ordering might not work, but assured me that if and when it failed to work, we would try plans A, B, C, D and all the way up to Triple Z if necessary. And although I could get the same treatment closer to home, I wouldn’t think of going anywhere else, now.

My quarterly visits are like a tonic to me. I know that I am in the best place in the world to be treated for the disease I am battling. I am treated like a person. You act like my time is valuable, and let’s face it — when you have stage 4 cancer, time is the most important commodity there is. Plus, no matter how low I feel, I am always surrounded by people who are so much worse off than me there seems to be a special bond among all the patients.

When I go to the clinic to await my turn for blood work or some other test, I look around at the other patients and it is easy to tell the first-timers. You can see the fear and apprehension in their faces and the uncertainty in their steps when their name is called — and it is easy to remember when I was one of them, having received what I was certain was a death sentence with no appeal. They generally sit very quietly, looking at the floor or straight ahead. If they speak it is only in whispers and only to their companions.

But here’s the good news. It is easy to spot the veterans, too. They are laughing and talking to everyone around – comparing stories and sharing takes about their families and future plans. There are lots and lots of veterans. Now I am one. We are still here and we are embracing and enjoying life. The fear is gone and we so appreciate this place.

Thank you M.D. Anderson. I think we are just in the infancy of a beautiful friendship.