I had my first bone strengthening medication last week. I was now in the “infusion room” where the chemotherapy was doled out. I have a certain amount of guilt about this especially when sharing at my cancer support group. I feel as if I haven’t earned my stripes because I take a chemo pill. No weight loss for me. No hair loss. No comprised immune system.
A nurse led me to the corner room. The floor was covered by an expensive looking tile. The walls were covered with contemporary art. The space had a designers touch. It’s a Spa, but one that gives you poison. There’s money in cancer, alright. As I’ve progressed from my primary care physician to my pulmonologist to my oncologist, I’ve noticed the quality of the décor becoming more abstract. Less personal. For instance, my primary care physician had an exam room with a cartoon of two oversized horses frolicking in midair, aka, My Little Ponies. Amongst the brown carpet and old furniture I stared at this image when I first learned I had a life threatening disease.
“Take your pick,” the nurse said. She pointed to all the recliners lined up against the tinted glass. I picked one and sat down. There was a holiday cooking show on the TV, and as I waited for what was next, I learned everything I needed to know about the yule log. The nurse walked behind a huge picture window that acted as a guard station. In case we made a run for it.
The only other person in the room was an elderly middle-eastern woman (I guessed ). Late 60’s maybe? Good looking lady with soft dark eyes. She wore leggings and a trendy top. A battle cry for lost youth. Her hair was gone at some point, but was just starting to sprout back. She paced the floor and pulled her drip alongside her. She looked impatient. Pissed off, but when she saw me she smiled. A way of checking in. Connecting in a non-verbal way.
My nurse returned. She told me the Zometa takes about an hour to get into me. I relaxed. She looked for a good vein.
lady walked over to me.
“You getting your chemo?” She said.
“No,” I said and felt guilty, “It’s a medication that helps build bone because it’s in my spine.”
“Oh,” she said and she shrugged, as if to say isn’t cancer a bitch the way it moves, “mine is in my lung.”
“I have lung cancer too!” I said with enthusiasm. I was excited that the only other person in the room was afflicted with the same ailment as me. But I wanted to know more. Did she have small cell or non-small cell? What stage? I wanted to ask, but this would have been too early, too distasteful. I was left thinking about it though. I also wondered about her country of origin. Her voice was sultry but her accent was unrecognizable to me.
“How are you doing,” I ask.
“It was almost gone,” she said, “but then another spot came back.”
She said this as if she was taking about a skin rash.
“Mine moved,” I said.
She looked sad for me.
We talked more about our disease but almost as if they belonged to other people, as if there’s this person we know that has cancer. We have the same name, look the same, but it’s not us! Each of us has a different relationship with our cancer. Some in my group have affection with theirs. They adore it. One woman wrapped her arms around her breasts as if cuddling a child. Some spoke about how they love every cell in their body including the ones that were out of control. Others, still, hate the cancer in them. They talk about destroying it, killing it off. They visualize fire during meditation. Burning it away. I always listen with fascination. I feel almost blank inside, indifferent. I don’t feel any of this; rather I visualize healing, but healing in a generic way. The way you would get over a cold. The way the immune system just takes care of it.
I think the experience is elliptical for most of us. An emotional ride that takes us around the bend. There are days I feel so good I forget I have it. I’m back surfing and hiking on a regular basis but the other day my son bumped me on the shoulder (affectionately) and I could feel it in my neck. When I lay down on a yoga mat I feel discomfort in my back ribs.
The older women walked towards the nurse’s station.
“How much longer have I got?” she pointed at the bag of chemo that dripped both medication and savagery into her.
“Another couple of hours but your half way there,” the nurse said.
The lady sulked. The trendy senior that was once from somewhere else but now was in America, Oxnard California, specifically. There are no clear definitive lines in the infusion room. No language barriers or cultural divides. No religious differences worth talking about. No borders.
The nurse pulled out the needle in me, and said good bye. I’m told the medication with help prevent fractures. I’m told to take Vitamin D supplements and calcium. I’m told I’ll be tired for a couple of days. Flu like symptoms. I’m told to not exert myself.
I walked out to the parking lot.
I told myself no big deal.
Others have it much worse.