First Round in the Ring with Chemo
Here we are. We walk into the waiting room and once again, I am the youngest patient here and the only person of color. The race part doesn’t bother me because this is what most people of color deal with Monday - Friday in our 9-5’s. It’s the age thing that’s so upsetting. I’m 34. Each time I notice the stark difference between me and them I can’t help but wonder “Why me? Why now?”
After talking to my new Breastie Bestie, Shonni, I feel good. I’ve got her on speed dial, my sleepy husband by my side and God all up and through this place.
I sign in and have a seat next to MJ who as usual is as calm as ever. I sit there trying to focus on the local news that is playing. Baltimore news is always such a damn drag. Why is it legit like the Wire in real life? Still! I take a look around the room and do a scan of the other patients one by one. They all seem to be unphased. Some with canes or walkers and others who use a helping hand from their companion. I watch them one by one as they are greeted by the nurses who come out to bring them back for treatment. They all know each other by name. And are catching up like they’ve known each other for years. Nurse and patient seem to be equally thrilled to see one another. There is no fear or worry on their faces. This is just another appointment to be checked off their list for the week.
Wow, maybe this will be me one day. I am the queen of making new friends. Mmmk?
After 15 minutes in the waiting room. ”Jennifer Holmes?” Oof. My maiden name. Well no one's got time to change that with the hospital + insurance now. I need zero interruptions. We’ll make everyone aware of the name change after I've beasted 6 rounds of chemo. Okurrr.
We are taken back to what I would later come to realize is the Presidential Suite of chemo rooms. A room that can comfortably fit MJ and I. The room has two huge windows with the blinds drawn. The sun was just starting to rise. I look behind me at the pinky orange sky that reminds me of rainbow sherbert. It was so beautiful that a sense of calm washed over me. The presence of God. Exhale. I’m going to be fine.
The nurse is an older lady. Short and probably in her mid 50’s. She knows I’m a chemo virgin so she is talking slowly and sweetly. I like this seductive talk, nurse! Keep talking. Have your way with me! You stick that port in me girl! I’m not even scared anymore!
Ok, I’m lying. On the level of scared, I’ve dropped from a 10 to a 5. While the nurse continues to rattle off questions MJ and I begin getting comfy. First things first, this chair I’ll be sitting in for the next several hours, reclines. Oh yesssss. Let’s get this blanket out. My Yeti filled with my Starbucks goes on one side.
“Babe, can you plug this in?” I say handing over one of those mile-long chargers from Five Below.
What? If I’m going to be in this joint a full work day I’m going to need my phone on 100%.
Ok, what’s next? I pull out my 20 pack of Crayola markers and one of my adult coloring books and scan the pages. This is the one. I earmark the page and set it aside. Now, for the TV. What shall we watch? Property Brothers it is!
The nurse asks me which side she can take my blood pressure on. Left side, please. After lymph nodes are removed (during mastectomy/lumpectomy surgery) -- whichever side this happens on you now have to be careful with. Drawing blood, taking blood pressure or putting too much pressure on that particular arm can cause lymphedema. So basically one big swollen ass arm that I’d have to live with for the rest of my life. Not the worst that can happen but let's do all that we can to avoid it.
Vitals are done. They scan the medical bracelet that has my name and date of birth on it and then ask me what seems like at least 68 times what my name and date of birth is. GIRL, it's me.
She asks if I’ve put any numbing cream on my port and I point to my left shoulder blade pulling my shirt down slightly for her to see. My port is lathered with numbing cream and saran wrapped.
“Oh great. Hold right there,” she says leaning over and pressing down on the area around my port with both thumbs and index fingers.
“Ok, this looks like a niiiice entry point.”
Uhhhh, is it?
She asks me to keep holding my shirt down and pulls off the Saran Wrap and throws it in the trash. She cleans the skin atop my port with a tool that looks like its a cross between a scrub brush and a makeup tool.
“Okaaay. You ready?”
“Yep!”, I say only half convincingly.
*Jen sucks up every particle of air in the room*
“Great, now exhale.”
She quickly sticks the tiny needle in my port that seems to be no longer than the needle on tack and just that quickly dissipates every ounce of stress inside of me like air in a balloon.
Whew. That wasn't so bad. Thanks, numbing cream!
MJ looks over at me like, Great, she didn’t shit her pants or die from fear. I can go to the hospital cafe now.
He takes my order and heads out.
“Ok, we are going to give you a Benadryl to combat any allergic reactions that you may have from the medicine.”
She hands me a tiny plastic cup that looks like what the nurses give to the crazy people in the movies. I take the cup and throw the pill in the back of my mouth like it’s a shot of whiskey.
She connects the tube coming from my port to the first bag. Saline is up first. Can’t really remember why this was. She describes each bag that she is going to give me. These are called chemo cocktails. Not the kind you and I like. But hey, we’re rolling with it. MJ is back with breakfast. He looks tired but is smiling for me because he knows that even though I'm smiling I am scared.
The nurse is standing right outside of the door with what is basically a rolling desk that has a computer on it. She calls over another nurse.
”This is Jennifer Holmes and we are going to start her with saline and then we will start with the first drug, Taxotere.”
They then look over at me. ”Ok, Jennifer, can you tell us your name and date of birth?”
Girl. Did I jump out of the window and swap with someone else?
”Jennifer Homes. Seven, twenty-three, eighty-three, ” I reply with a smile.
”Alright, we are ready to go.”
She comes back in the room and clicks on a button that starts up the machine. It makes a beeping and humming sound.
”Ok, this first bag is saline and is going to take half an hour. Then we will start with your medicine. Each bag is going to take about an hour to go through your work port. We are going to give it to you real slow and monitor you to make sure you don't have a bad reaction to what we are giving you.”
An allergic reaction? I'm only allergic to cats so unless there is a cat stuffed in that bag I think I'll be ok. But what do I know?
She asks if I want a warm blanket. Um, hell yes. What is this the spa?
She lays it on top of the blanket that is already on me and leaves the room.
”Well, this warm blanket is...babe? Babe?”
I look over at MJ and he is fast asleep. Arms crossed, head tilted to the side. Well did he take the Benadryl or did I?
I grab my coloring book and start my masterpiece. Before I can finish I feel that Benadryl start to take effect. I fight it like a kid fighting bedtime. I finish coloring and give in to the Benadryl. Fine. You win damn it.
I wake up to a loud beeping sound. I look up and see that the first cocktail is empty. The nurse takes that bag and replaces it with the next chemo cocktail. Party! Not my kind of party but this isn't so bad. So far so good. For each bag that is given I am asked to repeat my name and date of birth, AGAIN.
Somewhere between cocktail 3 and 4, the nurse puts on what looks like a hazmat suit as she administers the next cocktail. Uh, where the hell is mine?
A special needs teenager comes to my doorway and he has a cart of sandwiches and chips. He is probably only 18 or 19 and he looks like he takes his job seriously. He is so sweet. What a fantastic thing he is doing! My nurse makes an introduction and he runs off the menu. There are sandwiches and chips galore.
“I’ll take the turkey sandwich with ranch Doritos, ” I say with a smile.
“And I'll take a ham sandwich with…”
”Only for the patient. Only for the patient,” he says shutting down MJ.
MJ and I both laugh at his boldness and say ok.
We share my turkey sandwich with huge grins on our faces.
All of these fluids going in my body combined with all of the Alkaline water I'm drinking has me going to the bathroom like I’m drunk in the club. The seal is broken, honey. I have to unplug the machine each time and roll that shit to the bathroom. Lord, please don’t let me trip and fall over this machine on the way to or from the bathroom. One of my trips to the bathroom I walk briskly down the hallway rolling this chemo stand with me like I'm on ice skates. I swing the door open, bladder about to burst. There is an old lady pulling up her granny panties. White pantyhose not far behind. I yell, “Omg! I am SO sorry!” and fling the door closed. Jesus.
I’m down to my final cocktail. I’m not even buzzed. I knew I should have pre-gamed. It’s not even 3 pm. So basically it’s been a day of “day drinking”. At this age, this is my favorite kind of party. Buuuut, it would be nice to have an actual buzz. Either way, we made it. A successful first round.
MJ and I start packing up. Both of us feeling victorious. Both of us ready to have this “work day” come to an end. Both of us nervously awaiting what the “hangover” will be like because of all of these “cocktails”.