by NotDownOrOut

My brother Danny came in from Dallas to take me to my chemo and radiation appointments in week two. We did not have any idea of how the upcoming holiday might affect our experience. The Infusion Clinic handles blood tests, dialysis, and chemotherapy. It is nearly always standing room only. That day it was sardines in training. It got unpleasantly close. Danny ended up heading for the cafeteria. It was a wise move. Everyone has an 8 a.m. appointment. Usually many of them arrive later in the day. The holiday also means that people who have chemo on Thursdays were asked to come a day early.

The chemo room was packed with people, too. I had the last chair in the corner. I was anxious after the prior week’s allergic reaction to the Taxol. I started with a pack of Benadryl with a double dose. It was overwhelming. In a matter of a few minutes it felt like someone had stuffed me into a Kymaro body shaper. I could breathe, but the lungs did not expand like usual. I was numb from head to toe. I was “loopy.” The Taxol was still a shock to my senses. My hands burned as the drug took hold. I kept rubbing around the injection site. It felt swollen and painful. I wanted to get the drug to move some other place. The nurse set the drip to a slow rate as forcing it into the top of my left hand was so painful. I had an mp3 player with calming tunes. I turned it off after two tracks. I was drifting in a sea of weird sensations that made Josh Groban seem cacophonous. I had a novel. It made no sense to me. There was a little TV to watch. I could not focus on Justin Bieber and Usher singing. I kept thinking they were signing Christmas songs. Is that likely? I am sure they sang. I gummed a cheese sandwich when I started to feel nauseated. I ate a granola bar made for me by one of my students near the end of the session. The nurse was horrified that I was eating so much fiber. I shrugged. The third week is supposed to bring many more side-effects involving the esophagus, stomach, bowel, and bladder. I was still eating the Chia seeds, flax seed, pumpkin seed, cranberry, nut, and raisin bars. That could prove to be the last week that I would feel so strong for awhile.

By the time I finished with the Carboplatin infusion we had been at the hospital for 6+ hours. As it says in the waiting room, all appointments are for 8 a.m., be one hour early for “you” appointment. To be there at seven you need to be in line for the elevators to open at seven. My three hour appointment turned out to be about four and one-half hours because of the delays inherent in the service of a crowded room. At one point someone called to ask if the chemo room could spare a nurse to help in another department. There was much laughter.

Despite the crush of people, there was discussion of people who begin and quit treatment. The woman I met last week, Wanda, told me she managed two appointments last week and one this week. I empathized that an abscessed tooth could be a bigger priority for one day, but was surprised to hear that she took off three days (and a weekend) and was there only because a nurse and a social worker from the American Cancer Society had called to beg her to come back. She had her surgery in April and already has suffered a recurrence of cancer. I cannot imagine that not providing an incentive for action. She is younger than I am and does not appear to be in poor health generally. But she doesn’t regard her health as a priority right now. There are deals to evaluate at a new Ross store in her neighborhood.

People have the right to make their own choices. There is one man waiting for chemo who is accompanied by his wife and two children. They hover around him. My brother is here. Wanda is alone. Does it take a village to survive cancer? Maybe.

Lucky for me the Radiation Room was nearly empty. It was mostly women today and turned into a support group. One woman was completing her last radiation session. Another woman had stayed when her appointment ended to cheer on her friend’s last appointment. A third woman had the same surgery as I did. She still cannot walk without one of those walkers that doubles as a chair. When she heard the date of my surgery, she could not hide her envy for my quick recovery. She cannot stand up straight yet. It must be the German farmer blood on both sides of my family. It might be Dr. D’s surgical prowess. One woman reported to the head of housekeeping the deplorable mess in the changing rooms and bathroom. When that produced no effort to straighten things up, she called the department of health. It was a day for female power. When a lone man who joined the group was called back for his radiation, he shot out of there as fast as he could. I managed to get out after one and one-half hours. We hit the highway before holiday rush hour had gotten going.

I took a nap for a couple of hours after dinner and now cannot get back to sleep. I am one-third of the way through chemo. So far so good. Have a happy Thanksgiving!