The floor is vacuumed, washed. The dishes are done. The fridge is cleaned. Washroom scrubbed and family room tidied. It is the day after magnesium. Still I am seemingly quite fragile, after all, it was quite a day yesterday. The lesson I’ve learned is that I ought not to return to the scene of the crime. At least, not to receive magnesium. Honestly, I may as well have been sitting in that chair receiving chemo for all intents and purposes because all the emotional shit that hits a person receiving chemo hit again. And I hadn’t expected it.
“I think I may as well take chemo at the hospital this time,” I explained to my oncologist Dr. Jessica Singh this past Friday. “That way, I can get it done quickly in one fell swoop and not have to disturb as many people.”
And so, I had a phone call that same night from someone arranging my appointment to receive IV magnesium Monday morning. 8:15am. Bright and early. “Fantastic!” I responded to the call. “This will be quick and easy.”
Sunday I didn’t feel well. I wasn’t sure what it was. My stomach was upset. I had no energy. “Hmm. Must be low magnesium,” I thought. As the day progressed I became less and less social. “Hmmm. Must be the busy week I had.” By early evening, I was weepy. What? Can’t be hormones. I don’t think I have any of those anymore. And then it dawned on me. I was really not looking forward to going back to the chemo suite. Not one bit. As the evening progressed, it became more and more clear that I was experiencing anxiety about my forth-coming adventure.
Have you ever had a time when you know you are being unreasonable, yet, no matter how much you try to talk some sense into yourself you just don’t believe you? Phobia: an irrational fear. “What the hell are you afraid of, Stacey?” I kept thinking. “If nothing else, you are going to be safer getting your treatment at the hospital.” It wasn’t working. The stress mounted. I went to bed. I retreated. I turned down company. I turned away food. I withdrew from the world and hoped I would just be able to sleep it off. HA!!! Fat chance. Irrational. I should have guessed that sleep would elude me. It was the ghost of the chemos past that came to haunt me. They were relentless. And I wasn’t even going for chemo. I had just had a fantastic check-up. My cancer indicator (CA-125) was remaining stable at 8. I had hope. Some women, the “super responders” on my drug, Lynparza, were now into their seventh year! That was the first time I had heard such good news! Yet – I managed to stuff the good news to focus on the impending visit back to the chemo suite.
By morning, I was focused. I hardly remember getting up. I know I showered. I barely talked. David was on his own to make breakfast and lunch. I packed my bag – the one I had packed for chemo. I packed a blanket – NOT my chemo blanket. I packed snacks – thought about how much I’d like the cheese they may bring by. I packed a tea bag – I remembered they don’t provide coffee or tea – and remembered that the hot liquid sometimes hurt my throat after chemo. Chemo is hard on the throat and stomach – and intestines and heart — and — well, I digress. I just kept moving.
I made it to the second floor by 8am. I was early. It was sometimes good to be early because then, I thought, my chart would be pulled early and I would get in right away. I never really did learn that I was at the discretion of the nurse I had been assigned and when s/he was ready I would be called in.
“Stacey! It’s so nice to see you!” exclaimed the receptionist.
“Oh, wow. You remember me?”
“Of course I do. You look great!”
“Well, I’m not sure you’ve seen me with hair – long enough to remember it! And now I’m “styling” it.” I replied. “I’m just here for magnesium.”
“That’s great, Stacey!” she responded.
Momentarily, I was waiting. In the waiting room. With others waiting there. In the chemo waiting room. To be called.
They came and they left. And came and left. I waited. I watched the infomercials scroll on the television and remembered how I had once watched that same tv – Heather Hiscox was bringing me the CBC news. It was some sort of controversial story I had commented on to another couple – then – who were waiting to receive treatment. It was the beginning of a new adventure through chemo. And it was that couple who talked me through it. They calmed me down. They helped me to believe that stage IV wasn’t the step just before death. Marc and Bee. They were to be the subject of my first post on this blog about cancer.
It was during my pondering which story had been running on the news when a man and his wife walked into reception. I don’t remember what he looked like, but I do remember her. Her hair was the first thing I noticed. It was so thick, long, and tied back neatly in a braid which lay on the left of her shoulder. She had a look of terror in her eyes. I watched her for a while. They must have been close to my age – but these days I think everyone I see whose hair is not as grey as mine – must be younger. He sat. She did not. She paced. Sort of. Terror. Her eyes flickered from place to place. She was clearly on the verge of tears. The nurse came to reassure her that she was going to be well looked after. I knew her terror. I had walked her walk. I felt her fear.
“I know how scary it can be,” I offered to the woman. “Honestly, you are in such good hands with such a loving group of nurses. And chemo is not as bad as you think. The first one is the worst. You don’t know what to expect.”
She was drinking in my words as though they were the only water she’d had in a week. “I’m very nervous.” she replied.
“I was too. It’s understandable. Are you from Barrie?” I inquired, hoping to get her on a different line of thinking.
“Just north of here.” she offered.
“Oh that’s good you didn’t have to travel far.”
“Yes. It would be so much more difficult if we were further. You know, between doctor’s appointments, blood work, and now treatment.”
I knew all too well that there were many, many people who traveled from great distances to get to this treatment centre. I thought once again of Marc and Bea. And remembered their comfort.
“Are you here for chemo?” she inquired.
“No. But I have had 16 in total.” I think that’s right. I did the math. Round one: 5. Round 2: 6. Round 3: 6. I guess that made 17, but that wasn’t worth correcting. 16, 17, 18… whatever. It was a lot. “And now I’m on a designed drug that has kept me going now for a year and a half almost. I’m very hopeful.” I paused. “You know, there wasn’t any treatment for me after my first bout of cancer – other than the typical chemo.” I waited for a dramatic pause. And then quietly offered, “But there are so many new drug being developed for cancer – so quickly – it is so hopeful. All types of cancer drugs are being developed.”
She listened. Her eyes pleaded me to continue. She seemed to be struck by a thought and rushed into her purse to find a photo. She brought it over to me. It was a family photo. “This is my family.” She went on to explain their ages and which had children. She was soon to be a grandmother – again.
“So – this new grandchild will keep me focused on something to hope for,” she said.
“It’s good to focus on that – what a wonderful family you have. And so much to live for!”
And almost at that very moment, she was “called” for chemo.
“You will be fine.” I stated trying to reassure her. “You’ll see. Chemo is do-able.” I said, quoting the words that were once offered as comfort to me from a woman who had placed years of distance between herself and cancer/chemo.
I’m not sure if that was the right thing to say – I just knew those words had helped me. I was slightly satisfied with myself that I may have been the person she needed to meet at the time she needed to meet someone with those words of comfort. Was I her Marc and Bea? Had I done even a portion of what they had done for me? Everything – bloody well everything is monumental in that waiting room of the chemo suite.
And she and her husband were off.
I was not. I was to meet several more people before my name was called at 8:35 am. These people – one couple in particular were going to re-enter my day hours later – to make an impact on me that I would never forget.
And the woman with the braid? She had her chemo. She noticed me sitting in “my chair” while I was hooked up to “my pump” and detoured her exit briefly to me.
“Thank you”, she said. “It was fine. You were right. It was not as bad as I had expected. I’m all finished for now.”
“That’s great.” I said to her. We smiled. I think she wanted to hug me in gratitude, but well, it’s a little awkward to get around all the pumps and cables and chairs and nurses physically. And a little awkward to hug someone who you really only know from a waiting room. But – I would have gladly accepted that hug. And I think she knew it. I think we communicated our emotional departure through our eyes. When facing cancer, connections are made hard and fast. You want to leave the people who have had a part in saving your life – but then again – you don’t. It’s a weird debt of gratitude you offer to those who save you by poison. Who save you by having walked the walk. Who save you with a smile or a word of reassurance.
“Thank-you”, she said again as she hesitantly turned … and went on her way.
“Thank-you”, I whispered to myself. “Thank-you, Mark and Bea.”