Turning chaos into calm

Turning choas into calm: When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer four months ago, I knew my life would be getting a little more hectic in the following months.   I was in the middle of PA school and was set and ready to spend one of my 5 week rotations with Hospitals of Hope in Bolivia.  I felt everything crashing down and I was so scared of how it would affect my future. In the midst of surgeries and dozens of appointments with multiple doctors (GPs, oncologist, surgeon, endocrinology, nuclear medicine and on and on), I knew that I could not let this stop me from life and the great learning opportunities I had in store in Bolivia. Jessica in Bolivia I told my doctors that it was more important for me to go than to stay and feel sorry for myself in preparation for my treatment in July. So with their support and tweaking of my treatment plan by my oncologist and endocrinologist, I loaded up a gallon sized bag with all my meds, kissed my husband goodbye, and flew into the unknown.

The first few weeks were a mix of exhaustion and stress as I battled to harness a reasonable medical repertoire in Spanish; spending bursts of time flying through 15-30 physicals in 2-3 hours at schools and orphanages; squeezing into short trufis (taxis), hunched over for an hour to avoid slamming my head on the roof with every little bump; stopping by the lab during lunch to get my blood drawn a few times a week as my calcium and thyroid levels were fluctuating rather abnormally. It was all a bit overwhelming. But then as my place began to solidify and I knew what my day held, it all became rather familiar and comforting. The fright of having to take a trufi into Quiacollo to grab something dissipated. The working through a physical with a 5-year-old boy in Spanish became easier and I needn’t fear that I would miss something from misunderstanding or inability to hear over the yells of his peers in the background. Life there had become regular and routine.

From the beginning I had known that this was meant to be an experience that would change me. My only hope was that I would help some people along the path of my perspective altering journey. But I knew when I arrived that if I wanted to get anything out of this experience; it was my responsibility to search it out.  I had several encounters that made me appreciate my life as it was, cancer and all, but by the end of my time in Cochabamba I realized that it was not one adorable orphan that I spent a day with, or a dying man and his family gathered in a tiny hospital room that made an impact, but all the collective encounters and experiences I had had.  The surprise on a man’s face as I walked along the street, the tallest and whitest person around for miles. The smiles and soft-spoken words of the Quechua mothers as I told them that their son merely had a viral URI and to not worry.  All the people that I only interacted with for a few minutes, but seemed so appreciative of my time and efforts.  I realized that I didn’t want to be some novelty to them; I just wanted to be there in the background, helping them get through colds, rashes, mundane everyday burdens.  I wanted to be just another staple in their life that they could come to for the simplest things.

I would have been proud to have helped someone through much bigger issues, to be a hero. But I was happy to have filled my role as a supporting player, always there in the shadows ready to lend a hand through any difficulties, big or small. Just someone to listen to their troubles and stresses, clean up their scrapes and send them back into the day with a smile. Because when it comes down to it, those are the type of people that have really changed my life for the better.

Jessica is a volunteer who served for five weeks at our hospital in Bolivia. Pleaes pray with us for Jessica during this time and for complete healing from her thyroid cancer.