You can imagine the trepidation that my husband and I felt when we walked into the hospital for my first chemo treatment. Although the waiting room was beautiful, everything was a mystery. Do we take a number? Do we register? Do I have a cold?
The night before, my family and I had sat down for what I felt was about to be the last supper. My anxiety was through the roof. I had actually felt my heart racing as I stared at the steroids I was to take to begin the journey. These steroids were the threshold of a new world.
“Some ha’ meat and canny eat, and some ha’ meat but want it. But we ha’ meat and we can eat, so let the Lord be thanket. Amen”. This grace, my Dad always spoke at family gatherings, enveloped my spirits. I was reminded, once again, to count my blessings. And so, I opened the cap to the pill bottle and downed all five pills.
Amazingly enough – once that first step was taken, I felt such relief. The fighter in me arose. Bum, bum-bum-bum, bum-bum bummmmm ran through me head (The Eye of the Tiger if you couldn’t tell). My fears quelled. We ate dinner together and silently faced the mysteries that would unfold the following day.
There were many people waiting for treatment at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Some had hair. Some did not. Some were older and some younger. Some came with a cheer-leader while others were alone. What they all had in common, though, was a calmness. We were all there to receive care and it was in modern medicines’ hands in terms of the type of care we would receive.
My husband and I looked to the morning CBC newscast that was broadcasting. Stephen Harper was in the headlines again. It was the Mike Duffy scandal in question and the timing of his trial. I heard a “harumph” from the gentleman across from us. I knew it mean he was not impressed. I looked under the television and there were a stack of hand-knit hats in a variety of colours. I pointed them out to my husband and we walked over to investigate them. Each was tagged with a beautiful hand-written note. Eagerly, I chose the orange and white hat, made with love by Pam. I don’t know why I felt I needed it – I guess I felt it was a “step” that would prepare me for my seemingly inevitable hair loss. We sat down in our seats again and there was a story about the Ebola virus. “Isn’t that awful?”, I heard the gentleman across from us murmur to his wife. Instantly, my husband and I entered into discussion with our “new” friends – Mark and Bea.
The conversation drifted inevitably from the world news to our news. “Is this your first treatment?” Mark inquired. That simple question opened the gates to a conversation I never thought I would ever be having with total strangers. Fifteen minutes later, they were called to the chair for his treatment. Shortly afterwards, I was called too. Wouldn’t you know it – we were in the same pod as them and he was busy teasing the nurses. It was a relief to see him happy and to see that the nurses were human. It was a relief to see Bea beside him looking confident as she hunkered down for a few hours. It was a relief that our new friends were there. We joked that he would be the “bad egg” in my class if this were my school. He said, “Stacey, you have me pegged right”.
I looked around and nurses were putting on gowns to cover themselves as they began the chemo on patients. I guess it makes sense that chemo is a poison and it is not good to spill poison on the skin. Egad. But is it okay to stick it in veins… how ironic. Mark explained his chemo was actually a form of mustard gas.
The nurses hooked me up after being very vigilant to ensure I was indeed Stacey and that this was my chemo. First was a saline flush, followed by benedryl, followed by the first of two cocktails that would keep me hooked up for six hours.
Once I was locked and loaded and safely responding to the chemo, my husband wandered over to continue our chiding of Mark and Bea. Bea came and sat with me. She became my instant inspiration and reassurance. She dispelled myths of the chemo. She dispelled myths of the trauma of the side-effects. “Mark has not had any mouth sores, tingling of his hands, vomiting, or loss of appetite. In fact, he feels great and has gained weight.” I was an empty vessel into which Bea poured hope.
On the other side of the room, Mark explained to my husband, “Stage four does not mean the next stage is death. Stage four indicates how wide-spread the cancer is so the doctors know where to go to treat it.” Such simple logic can yield such great relief.
Eventually, the partners switched back and my husband and I watched as he ended his treatment and got up to go home. I wanted to ask for their phone number – to let them know the impact they had had on our mental health and faith in the process we had just begun. I didn’t know if that was appropriate etiquette to do that. What were the rules of treatment? In any case, I did find out they would be back in three weeks on the Wednesday.
“I hope we see you again… sort of.” I said. “You know what I mean.”
They wished us luck and off they went.
Other patients came and went without pomp and circumstance while my husband and I waited out the six hours. None had the impact that Mark and Bea had had. Were they the right people at the right time? Were they placed there as our guardian angels? It’s hard to say. Their gift that day, however, was one that I want to give to someone else someday. Who would have thought that a conversation that began about a scandal would end as a gift of hope and faith?
Thank-you, Mark and Bea… wherever you may be.