When it came to chemo, I was the one with the IV in my arm receiving the drugs and experiencing the side effects first-hand. It can be a lonely place. That is the reality of being a cancer patient. But I was never alone as I went through the months of surgeries and chemotherapy to address my breast cancer diagnosis.
My husband Darcy was by my side literally and figuratively from the time of the biopsy through the third and final surgery I had seven months later. After joining me for chemo class before my four treatments started, he went with me to my first treatment. We found chairs in an area of the chemo unit that had nice light and a little extra space. I so appreciated having him there for this first time because of all the unknowns and the fear I was experiencing.
We talked. He got me snacks and water. We observed our surroundings and the steps taken by the nurses to start the IV in my left hand and then administer the various medications over the course of the next couple of hours. Expecting to feel more discomfort than I did, I distinctly recall the first moments when the Taxotere was started in the IV. I thought to myself—“go get ‘em. If there’s any cancer cells roaming around my body, go get ‘em!”
That first day in the chemo center I noticed the other patients around me. I wondered what their stories were; what kind of cancer they had and their prognoses. Part of me wanted to talk with them, get to know them a little, but another part of me advised against it. Mainly because I didn’t want to intrude, having no way of knowing if they would be the kind to chat or not. Also, I was only having four treatments and I didn’t know if I would even see the same patients and nurses each time. It was the kind of detachment I needed.
That’s also why I so appreciated having Darcy with me, then my friend Jill for the second one. When it came to family and friends, I had lots of support from near and far. When it comes to cancer, people have different comfort levels with how close they want to get to the real action. Jill was right there with me as I went through tougher days and better days. She had watched Sam and my step-daughter Emily on the day of my first surgery and took them for a little river exploring. It was a good diversion for them.
At this second chemo treatment, she was good company and a good diversion for me from the energy pull you feel in a place like a chemo center. I was also now sporting a shaved head and still getting used to it. We talked, laughed, and picked out a couple chemo caps that were made by others and free to patients. Then we went out for a nice lunch after we were done. Even chemo didn’t curb my appetite a whole lot.
For my third and fourth treatments, I was joined by my friend Jenny. (Two Writing Souls and a Shared Diagnosis ) Jenny and I had different approaches to our individual diagnoses and treatment. Chemotherapy wasn’t in her plan. It was meaningful for both of us to be together for these treatments. We had shared so intensely in the previous months and had become close friends. Jenny told me it helped her get some perspective on her own situation. We talked about our book ideas and plenty of other topics. Jenny and I always run out of time before we run out of things to talk about. Even at chemo.
There were so many others I can call my chemo buddies for a variety of reasons. My hair stylist Lori was a kind soul when she came to our house on a Saturday morning to shave my head. It was a comfortable and safe place to take that vulnerable step. She had been my stylist for years by that time and we had developed good rapport. She gave me a short-lived mohawk cut as she got started. That got some laughs out of Sam and Emily who were sitting at the table with me. Darcy was videotaping. I remember the laughter more than anything. Thank you Lori for making this difficult part of my cancer story less traumatic.
My caring colleagues provided my family with wonderful and delicious meals and gift cards to make it easy to grab a meal. Every Wednesday for several months as I went through chemotherapy and my final surgery, I headed home with coolers and boxes filled with food and kindness. My family and I were so very thankful for these meals and the compassion included with them. It was also, hands down, the most humbling part of all these months. To accept the help of others in this way at this time was a new experience for me and one I will never forget.
As my chemo treatments wound down, I geared up for the bilateral mastectomies that awaited in mid-December. I had considered going to our local breast cancer support group previously, but hadn’t been ready to take that step. I did in November and I am so very glad I did. The woman I remember most from that first meeting was one who I never saw again, but she helped me a great deal that night. She was just a couple weeks out from bilateral mastectomies. She showed the group her surgical camisole and where the drain tubes went. She was also doing well and sounding good. This all helped allay some of my trepidation and concerns about how all of that would work when I had surgery.
I met other women at support group who are still my friends today. They have names like Claire, Candy, Liz, Laurie, Diane, Sara. Like alcoholics sharing in recovery start with significant common ground, so do a group of women who have had breast cancer. Our stories are uniquely our own, but we are part of a BC sisterhood too.
Add the names of Darcy, Jill, Jenny, Lori and many others who were my chemo buddies in many ways. I was one fortunate individual to have these kinds of buddies when I also had to face a nemesis like cancer.