When I arrived for my first chemotherapy treatment, my pulse was 121. It probably went higher as I waited for my doctor to review my bloodwork. Soon, I was heading upstairs to the infusion suite. I walked into a room where I saw maybe 25 seafoam green reclining chairs with IV poles standing silently by, waiting for their next patient. A few of the chairs were taken.
I took a seat in the corner. My husband took the guest chair next to it. A nurse came by explaining that she would flush my port first and then we would get started. She explained the layout of the suite. The refrigerator was around the corner to the left, the microwave was for anyone, there was coffee and they also provided snacks in a basket on the counter. Once I was hooked up, I was free to wander around.
“Just don’t leave” she added with a smile. I can always appreciate a good sense of humor.
To help prevent an allergic reaction to the drugs, I had taken a steroid the night before. Then, they gave me a second dose. It made my mouth dry and I began to drink a lot of water. Soon, I was trying to navigate my way to the restroom with an IV pole and its accompanying tubes rolling around beside me. I eventually got the hang of it, maneuvering it around me like a dance partner.
They started with several layers of anti-nausea medicine and then I started on Taxol, the first of two powerful anti-cancer drugs. Dripping slowly from the bag hooked at the top of the pole and making its way through the tubing at a programmed rate, the drug took three long hours. Then, I had Carboplatin for another hour. They are so strong that they cannot be infused at the same time.
My diagnosis was endometrial cancer. They had performed a full hysterectomy only six weeks prior, and at that time, my surgeon classified it as a stage 3/grade 3 cancer.
As I waited, I watched healthy women arrive and sit down next to good friends. They were stopping by to keep them company, wanting to keep their spirits up. I looked at the patients themselves. Some had hair, some did not. Some slept and some looked quietly withdrawn. A few faces were turned towards the television, but I’m not sure they were listening. One young woman gave me a small smile when she could see that it was my first time. I felt a sudden connection with her.
“I am with them now” I thought.
I listened to the electronics on the IV poles beep steadily; mine included. These alerts were either triggered by an air bubble, a malfunction, or it simply indicated that the bag was empty. A nurse would walk over, flip a switch, hit a button and either the drip resumed or they hung the next bag, waiting off to the side. Before this morning, I had known nothing about oncology nurses and now they are my heroes.
I hear a final, welcome beep and Diane disconnects me and helps me get up and my husband helps me outside. It’s January so it’s getting dark as we head to the car. I’m feeling exhausted, but I feel something else; something good. I got through my first chemo treatment. I have a sense of what that means now. And I am reassured that I can do it.