You Can Ring My Bell
I think we have all seen the story of this woman who championed her battle with breast cancer. "I was determined to ring that bell, I almost pulled that bell off the wall!” said the Maryland woman.
I remember seeing that video for the first time and wondering why exactly I didn’t have that same level of excitement. I woke up the morning of my last chemo session feeling like it was the last day of school. I would be wrapping up this class that I HATED. It was hard to study for it because the teacher kept adding new shit. She kept making the class harder and harder. There was no amount of preparation that could be done. There was no cheat sheet.
I was finishing this class but I knew there were more classes that I would still have to take. Herceptin, Lupron, Zometa and my reconstruction surgery. And even though the word around school was that the rest of these classes would be much easier, I didn’t quite believe them.
As much as I tried to psych myself into positivity there were just times I was sick and damn tired of the bullshit. Hairs gone, tits and nips are gone, chemo was a beast -- and I've STILL got more shit after this? You want me to believe that the rest of this is going to be a cakewalk? Why exactly should I believe that? It's like when I was a kid and had the biggest fear of needles and my mom and the nurses tried to calm me down by telling me they were going to use a butterfly needle. Well, that was the evilest butterfly I ever did see!
This poison was slowly trickling into my port that would then flow to the rest of my body like a magnetic current. It was electrifying in the worst way. The memories of the worst part of this process are not yet a memory. So, on this final day of chemo, I feel grateful to be done, but I’m a realist. My journey doesn’t end here.
My tribe and I have literally been counting down the months all the way down to the days. Everyone has been cheering for me. Applauding what seemed like an effortless victory to them. More confirmation that the things that people show you on Instagram are only the good parts of their lives. When my entire head is covered in tiny red pimples (chemo rash), I didn’t have the balls to show you. I showed you when the rash was gone, I put on a little BB cream and a red lip and was riding out with my husband. When I was curled up in a ball because my entire body ached for days at a time, I didn’t show you. I showed you the happy side. When my friends were gathered around and I was being hostess. When I was battling depression during hell week and ready to give up, I kept that to myself. I showed you the Jen and MJ antics on my IG to show you my happier side. When I was scared my husband would be tired of carrying the load and looking at his wife who had fallen apart in an instant, I kept those feelings to myself and just prayed.
Cancer had been relentless at some points. There I was, about to wrap up the worst part of it all with a big pink bow, but in the back of my mind, I feared that bow unraveling and all of the contents of this package breaking all over again.
I wanted to be whole again. I wanted someone to promise me that the rest would be easier than everything I’d experienced thus far. Like those promises your mom or dad made to you as a kid that put you at ease because you knew that they loved you more than anything in the world and would never lie to you. I wanted a promise just like that.
I woke up for my final round of chemo. Happy. I got ready with comfy clothes, my new Slay Cancer hat purchased especially for this day and of course -- a bright red lip. Let’s do this!
I walked into that chemo center for what had been my standing 7:00am, Friday slot every 3 weeks. I watch the nurses trickle in with their coffee and their blue scrubs. They laugh and chit chat, ready to pump more of whatever poison whatever the doctor had prescribed. Cocktails all around! One for you, you and you. I’m happy that this would be my last round of cocktails in this damn place. I prefer to sip my cocktails on the waterfront of Georgetown.
I look around at the other patients who were still on their journey. Listening to them talk to each other about where they are on their journey and explain the difficulties they’d experienced along the way. All of them rocking such brave, smiling faces. What other choice is there? I look admiringly, almost enviously at the patients who were already in the next part of the process that I would soon be going through. They looked happy. They had hair. Their faces and bodies are no longer puffy from the steroids of the chemo. Ahhhh. This will be me very soon I hope.
The nurse calls me to come back to my chair. Word travels very fast about this being my last round. These women had become my extended family. They were sweet, loving, encouraging and made each of my very long stays in the chemo center as comfortable as possible.
The only part of this that I would slightly miss was that dose of Benadryl that they’d give me before starting the chemo infusion. Oh yes, this was some GOODT sleep. Yes, Lord. Thank you for the blessing that is Benadryl! In the name of the father, son and the HOLY spirit! MMMK?
I was out like a light. MJ was out before I could even get in the chair good. Before I could finish the first segment of whatever morning news show I was out like a LIGHT, LIKE A LIGHT, LIKE A LIGHT.
Before I knew it I was awake and finishing up this last round of cocktails. The bartender (my nurse) called “Last call!” and I’d never been so excited to hear those words EVER before. Yes, please! I am more than happy to take my ass home.
This day was special indeed. My nurse calls all the other nurses to gather around where I would be exiting. I felt like a little kid. Something special is being done for me? What is it?! But I knew what it was. I’d be ringing the bell. This bell was supposed to bring people SO much joy. This was an accomplishment. For me, it was just what I had to do. I felt happy AF to be closing this excruciatingly, ugly, absolutely mortifying chapter but,
1. I felt bad for the other folks in that waiting room who had to watch me. A lot of them were still on this agonizing journey.
Ugh. Just get me out of here.
2. I still have more to do. I’m happy, thankful and feeling victorious, but this shit ain’t over.
The sweet nurses that I’d come to know and love over the last few months were there to present me with a certificate of completion signed by all of them AND (BONUS) sing me a song before I rang the bell. My husband stood there recording it all. I stood there awkwardly smiling; not know whether I should ring the bell as they sang or wait until they were done. See? I told you there was no damn studying that could be done for any of this. I waited. I smiled, thanked those beautiful women that took such great care of me and pose for a few pics. Peace TF out, yall. Just kidding. I’ll be seeing you again soon. Herceptin coming in HOT in a few weeks.
I left my final round of chemo more excited about getting to my celebratory party with friends in a few hours than about ringing a BELL. The celebration with friends is what would be the REAL prize for me. That would be my JOY.
MJ and I hopped in his Jeep and we head to Whole Foods to pick up Ashley’s birthday cake. I told you this celebration wasn’t just for me.
By 7pm I have set up my specialty cocktails glasses, chilled countless bottles of sparkling rose, ordered a dozen or more pizza’s and put my wig on. I am ready for guests! Jen’s Victory Party and Ashley’s Birthday party was about to commence!
Before I knew it my home was filled with friends that I call family. There was SO much joy in this space. THIS was me ringing the BELL. My besties, my breasties, my hubby and BONUS...MY BEST FRIEND and GODCHILD (who I hadn’t yet met) SURPRISED me. They hopped on a flight from Dallas and it was the cherry on TOP. This celebration was OURS. Fighting Cancer isn’t easy but neither is supporting someone through cancer, C O N S I S T E N T L Y. My tribe helped me make it through. They helped me WIN.
More classes to come. But until then, we are going to laugh, sip cocktails and line dance.
The journey continues.