“I think you were right about the Taxol.”
These were the words that dropped from the mouth of my Oncologist as she finished examining me yesterday.
“Your breathing is fine now,,” she continued,”I think it was the Taxol that was causing all the problems.”
Ok, I’ll take that. It’s a slight salve on my pesky sore of regret but it still makes it feel better for a while. It was the Taxol causing my shortness of breath. Therefore I will take that to mean that I made the right decision…for now.
After meeting with Doctor Anderson, I proceeded to the 10th floor of Dana Farber for my third infusion of Herceptin. As far as chemo goes, this stuff is a breeze. It is so much easier now to sit in the faux leather reclining chair, my feet dangling just above the linoleum floor (these chairs were built for basketball players, I think) and be hooked up for a quick half hour. No steroids or bucket loads of ant-nausea pills. No anxiety over reactions or nasty chemical smells. No confused brain and sore body. My infusion nurse knows who I am and gets me in and out. As a matter of fact, yesterday she saw me on the 9th floor waiting for my doctor and told me she would pre-order my chemo from the pharmacy so it was ready and waiting for me when I got there. Otherwise it can be a long wait on Dana 10. Each week I notice how the waiting room has become standing room only with cancer patients waiting for their chemotherapy. This is either a sad statement about the prevalence of this horrible disease, or it is a hopeful sign regarding how far we have come with early detection and treatment.
There is a pecking order among the waiting patients. Each man and woman is at a different stage in both their cancer and their treatment plan. We wonder about each other. I used to walk off the elevator, bald headed, shaking with trepidation, my whole world revolved around the next three hours in the chair and I would see these women with short hair talking and laughing like they were at the nail salon; just a quick stop to re-fuel before they were on to something else. This is now me. I don’t have to plan out 8 days of misery after infusions anymore. I go in, gas up, and am on my way; the remainder of my day is normal although I may take a few extra naps for the next couple of days).
I caught a young woman yesterday peering at me from under her baseball cap and I know she was wondering when she would feel better, when her hair would grow back. It’s an odd kinship we all feel with each other, yet there is also a sense of not wanting to infringe on someone’s privacy. It’s like being in prison; you want to ask everyone, “so what are you in for?” But just like you don’t want to hear the answer, “murder” from a fellow inmate, you don’t want to hear the person next to you say they have “end stage lung cancer”. It’s all a little too close for comfort.
So when I was being hooked up to my chemo drip, an attractive 60ish woman sitting across from me smiled over at me. She was surrounded by her 2 grown daughters and their babies. They moved about their mother while she was getting chemo, talking to her, distracting her with quips about the grandchildren. But this woman kept looking at me. She didn’t want to talk to her girls, who were obviously worried about her. She was just starting her treatment and to her I was a veteran. I looked like I had come through this war relatively unscathed. She needed to speak to me.
“Your hair,” she said to me, “Is it a…cut?”
“Oh no,” I said, running my hands through my wiffle, ”This is what you call a hair-
She touched her own hair, still intact, looking pensive. She asked if I was doing Herceptin for a year and told me she was beginning the Taxol and Herceptin combo.
“It’s good that you didn’t have to do the AC,” I told her,”that stuff is nas-ty.” I didn’t tell her that I took myself off the Taxol because of complications; she didn’t need to hear that, being a newbie and all.
She wanted to know more about the hair, though; when it started to come back, if I colored it, how long it had taken to get to its present military state. What she really wanted was reassurance. She needed to watch me to make sure I was laughing and ok and not doubled over in pain or puking and that I looked somewhat attractive in my new “hair-grow”. I hope that I was reassuring to her. I tried to be light and positive, not mentioning dour subjects like neuropathy and congestive heart failure. I am sure she knew all that anyway. Sitting there in that overly sunny room we do whatever we can to pretend that what we are sitting through is ‘fine’. We are women, raised to be strong and not complain. And yet we do still need reassurance, which we seek out from those who have gone before us. I am happy and proud to have been a comfort to this woman, as other strangers have done for me. And damned glad to be on the other side.