The American Patient

After an easy train ride, and a short, but harrowing ride through Essen, we arrived at our out-of-the-way hotel. It was located in a fairly upscale residential community, an easy 10 minute walk to the University Clinic; not a happening spot, but perfect for our needs. Essen is not a tourist destination. It’s a city of half a million, but most Americans will never have heard of it.

On a lark we had a “Dinner in the Dark” the night we arrived. I had heard of the concept, but this was our first time experiencing it. We ate dinner completely in the dark, served by a blind waiter, who only knew a few words of English. And dark is really dark; totally black. We couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. We followed the waiter, my hands on his shoulders, Jeff’s on mine, to our table, where we had to feel around for our chairs, the table, the place setting. We could hear the other diners, all German. A set meal was served to us. Vegetarian; no other information. The soup was a breeze; we could both easily navigate a spoon and bowl. Water on one side, wine on the other. So far, so good. Salad, with a round of goat cheese on top, was more challenging. We started using our fingers for exploration. By the time the main course came, our fingers were our primary utensil. Forks would, more often than not, come up empty. At one point, I mentioned to Jeff that I was really hot, and felt like taking off my shirt. He reminded me that here I could. I swear, I didn’t!

Our
Our “Dining in the Dark” restaurant
Jeff in front of the University Cancer Center
Jeff in front of the University Cancer Center

The next morning we headed off to the Essen University Cancer Center, or Tumorzentrum. Apparently they don’t get many American patients; we were the first for the woman who checked us in. Dr. Wilfried Eberhardt, a colleague of our oncologist at Wake Forest, had arranged everything for us, which was an enormous relief. He spent a lot of time with us, talked about options should Jeff’s cancer progress (which it generally does … we just prefer “if” to “when”), and personally ushered us through the entire process. In fact, he put Jeff’s IV line in, which was an absolute first for me. I have never seen anyone other than a nurse perform that kind of task. And he was good at it! No pain, no bruising. All in all, it was a wonderful experience. We felt pampered and cared for. Everyone was kind and helpful. We give our special thanks to both Dr. Eberhardt and our oncologist, Dr. Petty, for coordinating this.

Jeff & Dr. Eberhardt
Jeff & Dr. Eberhardt
In the treatment room
In the treatment room

I’d like to take a moment to talk about the care that Jeff has received. A terminal cancer diagnosis is tough stuff. We hear and read about people who have had terrible experiences, both with their doctors and their treatment. This has not been the case for us. We feel supported, respected and cared for by the team of doctors and nurses supporting Jeff … from the oncology center at Wake Forest, to the holistic and alternative practitioners that Jeff uses to augment his traditional treatment. We don’t know what component, or combination of components has allowed him to thrive this long, but we are filled with gratitude to everyone who has helped us along this path. Thank you.

14 thoughts on “The American Patient”

  1. I look at the picture of Jeff getting Chemo and I get sad, don’t get me wrong he looks great and I am happy the medical staff is good and mix of meds are working but Jeff don’t deserve this. He was a pillar to all of us that had the privilege of working with him/for him. He has inspired each of us in so many ways during our time working together which started in the late 90’s. Jeff & Lissa there are still so many trails to explore and I hope you get all the blessings and miracles you deserve!

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  2. Wow! Your “Dinner in the Dark” photo is stunning! What fun and the story gave us a great laugh. In your circle of friends, we are fairly certain that we are “the new kids on the block.” We have never known you guys when Jeff’s cancer was not a part of your life. As someone else wrote, it isn’t fair…but life rarely is. But, what often overshadows life’s injustices, is the way in which people deal with them. The personal courage, endless optimism and character which you have both shown throughout this ordeal is what we talk about. Truly an inspiration that makes us appreciate life even more and gives us pause to savor each moment. Thank you!!

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    1. Ha! I was waiting for someone to comment on that picture. Jeff and I are so glad to have met you; it’s hard to believe it’s only been a year. And to tell you the truth, it’s hard for me to remember a time when Jeff didn’t have cancer. It’s so much a part of us now. It just IS.

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  3. I too was inspired by your most recent post. And as you might predict, I left a wordy “Reply”, promptly lost my connection, had to reset my Password. (all MaryAnn style). But I’m back! And must reiterate what others are saying about your straightforward attitudes, adventuresome spirit and great sense of humor. I gotta stand up and cheer! The trip you’re taking would challenge me in all ways possible. That said, I’m also very conscious of the fact that we ride the exact same conveyor belt. I’m grateful for your company & your story. Thank you both!

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  4. First of all, I LOVED the pic of your dinner!! Too funny! Now, all I can say is what an inspiration you both are to me! Please know that today that you are both in my prayers! I’m not sure if you are believers…it seems to me you are, but I would say that you are fighting the fight quite well! I pray tha you will feels our Father’s presence and the comfort that only He can provide!

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  5. There isn’t anything I could write that wasn’t written by others before.
    I am anxiously awaiting your postings on the second half of your adventure.

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