Here, 38,000 fought and were wounded. 9,000 lost their lives. Widows made, children orphaned, lives changed forever. Here great victories were won, courage was shown, suffering and loss shared. Here warriors, great and small, stood against dread horror. Not a far place recalled in historic fog, like Gettysburg, Omaha or Khe Sanh. Not a grand edifice. No, just a simple building, a quick drive, just around the next corner; but it was the front lines in the war against cancer.
Today, we leave the office in which I have worked for 27 years. It is a triumph for patients. Bigger, better, brighter quarters wait, only a few minutes away. A clean, modern new space, where we will slay the beast. A great move, to be sure. Still, after all that time, all that strife and all that conflict, I am sad and I recall.
An empty office is not a curated park, with signposts, statue, or gardens of chipped granite headstones, tucked in a knoll. There are no guides to tell stories of bravery or cowardice, no sunken lanes with soldier’s names and no proud history to carry on their tale. The sacred place is marked by paper scattered on linoleum floors where the shadowed imprint of phantom exam tables marks the spot of combat. An empty syringe box, old PDR, and a spilled pile of vacant patient files, replaced by the electronic age. Only silence, worn carpet and half-open doors, show the path of doctors, families and the stricken. A battleground without monument.
I remember them. The old, the young, the rich and the poor. Thousands of frightened men and women, who whether or not brave, did their best to fight, heal and survive. My dreams are filled with disease and pain, treatment and test, victory and defeat. People that were kind and those that were cruel. Families that pulled together and those that ran apart. In success or failure, we cried and laughed, pain soothed by love and legacy. Images, of this hallowed place in cancer’s war, burn my soul.
Closing the door behind me, the last time, some of me dies. I hope the ghosts and the living, will forgive me for leaving. Time moves on, even buildings return to dust. The things of our lives cannot be saved. However, the memories of the people with whom we were rode into battle, stay with us, forever. These are the fabric of who we are and who we always will be. They are the past on which we build tomorrow. We will never forget.