poke me baby one more time, and i’ll hurt you.
There is much to say.
Two days ago, I completed my last dose of chemotherapy.
I dropped hints the entire day for a celebratory party – and by hints I mean I shamelessly asked for balloons and cake from the nurses in the clinic but alas no success.
Chemotherapy has been a strange experiences – I’ve had 3 different regimes in 2 different clinics with so many different nurses. I much preferred my first clinic – it was a warmer place. The more recent one is so busy, they could never remember anything. Every-time I walked in they would ask some three times, why I was there.
“Are you here to see the doctor?”
3 minutes later.
“You’re waiting to see the doctor?”
And on it goes.
I know it may seem trivial but it is difficult to explain how daunting being in the hospital can be. Taking the lift up – you’re acutely aware of how this is a place for the sick and the dying. Before I got sick – whenever I found myself in a hospital for visits I would speculate how suffocating it must feel to be at the mercy of this building and the doctors behind their heavy clinic doors and I felt sorry for them, the ill. But back then, I could wrap up my visit after a brief spell – and saunter back out into the world – healthy. Now I’m one of the sick and there is no sauntering back out into the sunlight. Now I can feel other people in the lift staring at me, my bald head, the burns on my arm – and I can hear the pity whirring their minds. So being made to constantly confirm my status as sick repeatedly is depressing and I resent the clinic for this – perhaps unfairly.
When you show up for chemo – you are first subjected to a blood test to ensure your white blood count is normal. They draw blood, stick a plaster over the hole and send you off for lunch while they churn out the results. Then you return and they stab you again for the IV.
I found this to be ridiculous and unnecessary.
So, by my second dose – I figured out that they could simply leave in the cannula when they draw the blood for the test saving me a second prick. And for the seven doses that followed this is what I did.
Except for my last round – I was so excitedly jabbering away to SK that I didn’t realise the nurse who was drawing out the blood didn’t have a cannula and instead she removed the needle and plonked on a plaster.
I looked at her in genuine surprise and inquired why they weren’t doing what I had requested for all the previous times.
“Oh I had no idea,” she says by way of explanation.
“I always get the cannula put in immediately – isn’t that in my file?”
“Well, it is not so painful right? You can always do it again later.”
So I lost it.
“It isn’t about how painful it is or it isn’t to you – if I can avoid an additional needle, why should I not be spared it?”
And as I spoke, I found myself fighting back tears – so I stood up quickly, walked out of the clinic and suddenly I’m in the middle of a melt-down.
This being her first time as chemo-companion, SK was utterly lost by the tears over one more needle.
“It won’t be so bad,” she says soothingly.
“I hate this clinic!,” I spit out. “I hate that my doctor says “leaky leaky”, that they burned me and they don’t seem to remember anything about me – what I’ve asked for or need. I feel like I made a mistake choosing to switch to this clinic. I worry I’ve made so many mistakes dude – from choosing doctors to drugs. What if it doesn’t work man? And this has all been a waste of time. I’m both relieved and terrified today. At least when I am on the chemo – I am doing something, I am fighting this disease. Once the treatment ends, I have to leap off the ledge and simply hope for the best,” I sputter all of this out, between sobs and rubbing the supply of tissue SK hands me all over my snot-covered face.
Then I exhaled, walked back in, told the nurses to expect me back in two hours and off we went for a lunch of pasta, hot chocolate, and chocolate crepes- till I felt better about this nervousness I’ve been carrying about the end of treatment.
To be fair, chemo hasn’t been this bad every-time these past months. It has been pretty bearable. In a way, I know I am very lucky within the sphere of my bad-luck.
The clinics are swish, with large windows and cups of Milo. Sometimes I get a private room so there is plenty of space for me and the friend who has followed me – usually it has been Z – to spread out and chat till the anti-allergens in the IV causes me to doze off beneath a mountain of blankets.
Often we get food too.
Three weeks ago – the nurse walked in to find a fast food feast spread out before us.
“I like to eat healthily before a dose,” I remark dryly.
She doesn’t laugh. Tough room. I wonder how annoying a patient I am – with my cannula demands, the food I show up with, the noisy chatter and the screeching every time a needle comes close to me. I am not a brave person, this much I must admit.
But most of them – despite my hysterics – have been very lovely. They smile and call me “sweetie,” pat me on the ass tell me I am looking sexy when I turn up in shorts, patiently cover me in blankets till I am no longer shivering and they entertain my countless questions about everything – from the order of the drugs to how regularly do the nurses end up marrying the doctors.
“I hear my doctor’s husband died of cancer,” I asked one nurse.
“Yes,” she says fussing over me with a blanket.
“Isn’t that a terrible sign you think? That she couldn’t cure him?”
“No!,” she shushes me. “You have a different cancer – everybody is different.”
I shrug, not entirely convinced. But what can I do? My surgeon insisted this oncologist was the best – so I ended up here.
Once the IV is in my hand, it starts. The process lasts up to three hours and is painless but if not administered carefully the drugs can (and has) burn my veins. That big juicy vein in my cubital fossa (that’s elbow pit to you and me) has also been destroyed. A friend tells me to lie about the cause of these busted veins.
“Tell em’ you’re a druggie – give yourself some street cred.”
But now that I have pushed through this chemotherapy business – I am no longer a druggie! And with any luck, I never will have chemotherapy again. May something other than cancer kill me, I pray.
Up next? I get through the 3 week cycle of this dose before I am carted off for 4 weeks of daily radiation.
And then – I am done!
Till my check-ups. In another clinic because despite my surgeon’s preference, this oncologist does not make me feel comfortable any-more. So I’ve found another doctor – one who has been diagnosed with cancer too and is currently treating himself. Isn’t that odd? I tell J it is almost poetic. The cancered clinging onto each other.
But yes. Check-ups. Every 3 months for 5 years.
Sigh. I am firmly planted in the world of the unwell for a long time to come.
At least my hair will start to grow back.