Margaret McClure – Songwriter and Survivor
Margaret McClure is one of the most respected songwriters on Broadjam.com. She is a gifted, creative and unique writer. An expert at writing current Pop-Rock songs, but can stretch into other genres as well. Her most recent collaboration, The Unconditionals, with Liz Miller is one of the best I have ever heard from a Broadjam member.
A few years after meeting her, I learned of her successful battle with breast cancer. I say that lightly as I am sure that success can only be defined by the patient. What I mean to say is that she lived to tell her story and does so below.
Oncology Parking by Margaret McClure
The first time I saw those three Oncology Parking spots I had tears in my eyes, but not for the reason you would think. I was rushing my youngest daughter, who was eight months old, to the pediatrician because she had a high fever. I also had my two year old along for the ride. I had asked my ‘now’ ex-husband, if he could watch the older one. But he had a meeting to attend. On the way the pediatricians office I was driving as fast as I could because my baby seemed to be getting sicker by the minute. There is nothing worse than that helpless feeling you get when you cant comfort your crying child. Unfortunately I was pulled over in one of those group pull overs with four other cars at the same time for speeding. When the officer came up to my window I begged him to let me go. It was obvious that my baby was very sick and I was driving her to the doctor. Just then she projectile vomited in the back seat and my two year old began to scream. So the officer said “Ok I’ll write your ticket first”. Seriously?
By the time I made it to the parking lot with my sick baby and barf all over the back seat all three of us were crying. The large parking lot was full. It always was. Like usual I knew it was gonna take forever to find a spot but as I drove behind one of the buildings I saw some open spots very close to the entrance. I couldn’t believe my luck and I started to pull in. But then I saw the signs…. Oncology Parking Only. I remember clearly the sound of the screaming babies, the smell of vomit, the sight of the speeding ticket on the dash board and my sudden realization that “it could be worse”. And I said out loud to myself “Well, at least I’m never gonna have to park in one of those spots”. I’m sure I found a spot in the very back of that huge messed up parking lot that day, I’m sure I somehow managed to carry the two babies into the office and I’m sure I was late to the doctors appointment but I don’t think they cared and I don’t really remember. My girl got better, I paid the damn speeding ticket and life went on.
Fast forward to 7 years later I was being treated for stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma (breast cancer). You can see where I’m going with this oncology parking story now. My girls were 7 and 9 years old. I had been thru 3 surgeries and 6 months of chemo. It was one of the lowest points in my life. My songwriting all but stopped and performing had to be put on hold. Any energy I had left went to my girls.I felt like I was 99 years old and looked like a shell of my former self. I had no hair, I was anemic, underweight and depressed. And It was about to get a whole lot worse because I was facing 8 weeks of daily radiation. Most people get to do 5 or 6 weeks but because the cancer I had was advanced and there were multiple tumors I was going to receive the 2 week booster series! Lucky me! And I was lucky to have good insurance because of my husband’s job. It can mean the difference between life and death. I chose the closest radiation facility because the thought of driving somewhere very far in my condition seemed impossible. Unfortunately it was in the same building as my girls pediatricians office, the one with the crappy parking lot.
The first day of radiation arrived. I came in the front door and waited in a dirty chair next to a bunch of very old, very sick looking people all sitting around in identical gowns doing jigsaw puzzles. I felt very young and healthy compared to them. Some of them looked up and smiled as if to welcome me to the club I never asked to join. I felt sick to my stomach just thinking about what was about to happen. I tried to smile back hoping they would not notice my nausea. My initial scan would take 3 hours. They had to line up the radiation machine to my body and tattoo the markers on my chest and armpit to make sure it was always in the right position. The cancer was in my left breast and very close to my heart. Apparently radiating the heart is a no no. So they are particularly careful about the left chest.
A nurse named Debbie with long shiny brown hair called my name and asked me to follow her back. “I like your hair “ I said in an attempt to be friendly. “oh really? It’s such a pain” she replied. I thought to myself, now that was an insensitive thing to say to a bald woman. Honestly I would have been happy to have her eyelashes let alone her painful long hair. Just then we arrived at our first stop ….The robe closet. A long narrow closet with dozens of those identical hospital gowns all lined up in a row, touching each other. A special hanger was waiting there for me with my first name clearly printed on it. “Heres your fresh gown, we have too many patients and we don’t have time to wash them, so hang it up on your hanger every day when your done” she said in a cranky tone. I had seen some of those patients with oozing open sores in the lobby earlier and I really did not want to share any kind of bacteria in my weakened state. “Oh, ok. Are there any other Margaret’s?” I said half joking and half serious. She said “I don’t know. Just write your last name on it if your’e that worried” and rolled her eyes. Right then I decided that I did not like Debbie at all and I also decided I would tie the waistband in a secret double knot each day so I would know if anyone else had used my robe.
Once I had stripped down I was then led into a very scary white space aged looking room. They scanned me for what seemed like forever and then Debbie tattooed four black dots on my chest and arm pit. Before she did I asked her if they could use a sharpie instead and just reapply it every day or so because I did not want these black dots on my body forever. “No we cant do that” was all she said and she proceeded to tattoo my chest. “It helps if you smile” she had the nerve to say. Laying there under the bright lights with no clothes, only half of my scarred up left breast remaining and people coming and going everywhere was so dehumanizing. “I’ll smile when this is over bitch!!” I said in my head.
I got dressed and returned my gown to the hanger with my name on it. I then tied my secret knot which no one would ever be able to duplicate. Debbie said “Oh and by the way, you need to use the back entrance it is much easer and we have some parking spaces reserved for you right outside the door. That way you wont be late”. She faked a smile and pointed to the special exit. I walked down the hall opened the VIP door and there they were, the Oncology Parking spaces. I nearly fell over when I realized where I was, somewhere I never thought I would end up.So I quickly made a promise to myself that I would not be parking in one of those spots, not now and not ever. I felt like that would be giving up and admitting that I was an oncology patient. I have always believed in properly timed denial, or positive thinking if you wanna look at it that way.
I did not like this particular Radiology Group. The nurses were snippy, the doctors were weird and the carpets were dirty. I admit that I was beyond cranky and accept some of the responsibility for the tension that existed. But every other oncology doctor, nurse technician and surgeon I had run into during this little cancer journey thus far were all wonderful, understanding and kind. I had to accept the fact that I was stuck with them. It was too late to change facilities because they had already fitted my body to the machine and my insurance would not cover a redo. (I knew this because I called my insurance company that day and asked.).
Please feel free to share this story with others who are facing similar battles. Margaret is an inspiration and I appreciate her sharing her story on this blog.
Press & educational links – Hangout June 6, 2014, “Blanket” Music Licensing, Examiner, Isthmus Rock The Vote, Broadjam 6-Pack, Celebrating Sonic Foundry, Some Of The Best, Getting Your Music Into Film, Project Famous – Great Photographer, Models of Opportunity: How Entrepreneurs Design Firms