It is always a battle of mind over matter the day I head for chemo and yesterday was no exception.
I worried about getting up in time to fit in a walk, a shower, remembering to take my anti-nausea pills, and having enough time to pack my bag. I worried about arriving to RVH in time. I worried about how I would react this time to the chemo – would I tolerate it as well. And this time, I worried whether I would even receive chemo as my white blood cell count had been below the acceptable level for treatment as of last Friday.
I worried about a lot of things even though I knew I was prepared:
– Colleen’s tapenade? Check! It has become a tradition that Katya’s friend, Colleen, makes me a very garlicky olive tapenade the day before chemo. And there it was – without prompting, without a song and a dance, without ceremony. Colleen and her family had remembered it. It seems so silly – but the tapenade has become one of those “lucky” pre-game traditions I have become dependent on to help me tolerate chemo. Does it help? It sure does mentally. I almost think it is just because Colleen remembers and her support and the support of the family reminds me about all the people supporting me through this journey – I am not alone.
– Walk? Nope. Not today. There is not enough time. Without the walk, there is no routine and I was a bit disoriented. I had to make sure I arrived at RVH in time to get my blood-work done in time to not delay the entire chemo process. The “chairs” are at a premium and I did not want to delay the nurses or those who were scheduled, almost back to back, for their chemo treatments.
Kevin and I were out the door by 6:50 to arrive at RVH at 7:15 am. Since chemo was not until 8:45 am, I figured that gave us lots of time.
It was quiet when we walked through the front door. The atmosphere loaned itself to a more relaxed mood and I was able to breathe. I like getting to place early to prepare myself mentally for what is to come. When I went to open the door, however, to the Cancer Centre, it was locked. Not open. Too early. I turned around and saw clients who had arrived before me sitting in the chairs in the front foyer. Maybe I would not be able to get my blood-work done on time after-all?
I resigned myself to take a seat close to the door where there was another slight woman seated. I sat down beside her and offered her my morning statement.
“I guess I’m too early”.
“It doesn’t open until 7:30”, she replied.
“Are you from Barrie?” I inquired.
“No – I came from Gravenhurst. I get blood-work done today for my chemo tomorrow.”
Pause in conversation.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
“Barrie. I must confess it only takes me 15 minutes to get here. I feel very fortunate.”
We went on to talk about the snow – as is typical of casual conversation these days. And then the big guns came out.
“Is this your first treatment?” she inquired.
Since I was wearing a winter hat – I guess the question was to her, “hair or no hair”?
“No – my fourth. And you?”
“This is my last one.”
“Wow. Good for you. How long does your treatment take? ” I prodded.
Aha – the tell-tale time that allowed me to draw the conclusion she had ovarian cancer.
“Me too.” I confessed.
Our conversation continued in more detail to reveal our common ailments and doctors.
Her name was Ruth. Her journey was almost over. She had had her surgery (by the same doctor as me). She sang his praises. She had had the same chemo-doctor as me (she had sung her praises). Her tumors, however, had shrunk by 75% after only two chemo’s and so her surgery was completed after only three chemo treatments. (sigh)
“Wow – that is good! Did you have any delays in your chemo?”
“Yes. I lost 25 pounds as the cancer was in my fat cells. (?) I had to have blood transfusions because my blood levels were too low almost every time.”
(Crap) I hoped like Hell that I didn’t have a delay today. I just want the ball to keep rolling. A delay would be profound as Christmas is coming and that means reduced staff and holiday interruptions.
Then she said something that sat with me for the remainder of the time. “This is my last chemo. I am now cancer free. The surgery went well and it was not bad. I had to have some of my diaphragm removed but I feel fine.”
(That meant her cancer had been Stage 4 like mine. That meant she survived. That meant I could too.)
“Wow – that gives me hope. You have totally given me a gift today. Ruth (that was her name we had established earlier), you have no idea how lucky I feel to have met you today.
And with that, the doors opened. She arrived in the waiting lounge first – and took a number first. I went to the lab directly – of course – was sent to the waiting lounge to register, putting me at number four and stressed out! (Crap. I’m going to be late)
I sat back down beside Ruth. She knew I was worried. “Here you take my number” she said. (She was my angel on that day)
“Thank-you, Ruth”, I said.
“All the best to you. I know you will be fine.”
And with that – my new number was called and off I went. My blood was drawn. I whipped up to the chemo lab.. where we were too early again. (Grin)
Time passed, as it always does, and I was called to the chair by a nurse who had taken care of me before – critically – through my reaction. My nerves calmed.
“I guess my blood came back?” I inquired.
“Yes. And your white cells seemed to have spiked up. You are looking good, girl! They are higher than they were for your first chemo. Hemoglobin is lower, but your platelets and Neutrofils are looking good! You are on. We are also going to give you some magnesium, however, as those levels are low.”
(Is that bad?)
“Low magnesium is a side-effect of your particular chemo. Low levels can leave you with low energy and muscle spasms or cramping.”
“Ah – that explains my walk in the woods when my muscles kind of gave up on me”, I offered.
“Yes”, my nurse replied. “Here is chair 26 – I have your potions ready, including your pre-meds to avert any reaction. I spoke with the other nurses and you are good to go.”
And so, other than having troubles finding a vein (chemo kind of destroys them), the treatment went tickety -boo. My vein did spasm eventually as the last chemo treatment and the magnesium were irritants, but what the heck. Ruth’s words had filled me with hope that it would all be worth it in the end. And that was all I had needed on that day. Someone or some-thing had sent me an angel who had wrapped a message of hope around my heart. She had been the right person at the right time… once again. Ruth – another piece of fabric to add to my magnificent quilt of hope!