Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Tales from the Infusion Room

It is easy for me to forget just how serious my situation is. Most of the time, I feel pretty normal and there is little external evidence of what is going on inside my body. My children keep engaged in all the little details of life, like school projects, sibling disagreements and constant clean up. If I wanted to, it would be all too easy to dive head first into complete denial about all of this.

This feeling ends completely when I enter the infusion room at my oncologist's office.

When I walk in and sit down, my first thought always is that there must be some mistake, as I most definitely don't belong in these surroundings. There is no way that I fit in with what I see: folks in wheelchairs, people either completely bald or with sporadic tufts of hair, patients with strange skin conditions. To be completely honest, it is frightening. Many of the patients receiving treatment around me look as if they are in their final months of life, and I'm sure many of them are.

At first I sit tensely in my chair, willing it all to be over. Then, as I begin to calm down, I start seeing more and listening to the conversations around me.

I see the other woman about my age with burns from her radiation, crying for an unknown reason as she waits for her chemotherapy to begin. I see another woman, again about my age, calmly eating her hamburger and chatting with her husband about everything mundane. I hear a woman who has been through way too much detailing all her medical ailments to her caregiver who listens attentively, although he must have heard all this a thousand times before. I see the man whose arms are covered with bandages from the half a dozen attempts it took to find a vein that wasn't fried from prior treatments. I chuckle at the attorney sitting right under the "no cell phone use in infusion room" sign arguing loudly on his phone over the terms of a settlement, and then repeating this at least six times while I am there.

I notice the staff, who has come to know each patient well, and knows just what to say to each person to entice a smile. I hear the patients as they support eachother, telling one another about what remedy has worked for them, or how much getting a port-a-cath has helped make their infusions better. I hear them give one another hope for a better drug, a better response, a better day. One tells me about lidocane spray so I don't feel it as much when they access my port. I am grateful.

I also see those who will not engage. Those who look as if they have already lost their battle and don't much care. I see one who is turned away from treatment because her white blood count is too low and she will not be able to withstand the drug. She is bitterly disappointed. These patients are the hardest to see.

No matter how good I am at convincing myself that I don't belong there, I have to accept that I do. As one friend put it, I am now a member of a sorority that I never pledged. It is important that I understand that my illness is no different than that of anyone in that room. In fact, there are really only two differences that I can perceive. First, I am newer to the journey than many of them. Second, I have faith and hope, and plenty of it. So many of them have lost both.

Although I will inevitably progress down the path of this disease and end up with war stories that they all have, I am determined that I WILL NOT lose faith or hope. I have much to hope for, after all! I plan to be the sunshine in that infusion room, the one with hope radiating from every pore, the one who put on her lipstick that day. Because hope is contagious, don't you think? And that's one disease I'd like to spread.


Janet said...

On a related note - one of my favorite articles form a breast cancer doctor:

She says single woman should write their personal dating ads to include:

WANTED: A partner for richer or poorer and for better or worse and absolutely, positively in sickness and in health. A partner for fishing and French food and beach walks and kayak trips, but also for phone calls from physicians with biopsy results. A guy who knows that while much of marriage is a 50-50 give-and-take, sometimes it’s more like 80-20, and that’s OK, even when the 80-20 phase goes on and on. A man who truly doesn’t care what somebody’s breast looks like after cancer surgery, or at least will never reveal that he’s given it a moment’s thought. A guy who’s got some comfort level with secretions and knows the value of a cool, damp washcloth. A partner who knows to remove the computer mouse from a woman’s hand when she types phrases like “breast cancer death sentence” in a Google search. And, most of all, a partner who will sit in a cancer clinic waiting room and hold hard onto the purse on his lap.

Anonymous said...

"Because hope is contagious, don't you think? And that's one disease I'd like to spread." ...... and spread it you do, you are amazing. I couldn't do this without you ! :) xo Lori

Jen Savard said...

To follow Lori....YOU give me hope!! Your hope has spread all the way to Texas!! And hey, I remember that attorney guy from last time!! He was even more annoying than me!

Anonymous said...

You are such an inspiration! I know many, including of course you, will benefit from your hope and courage. We continue to pour out the prayers. xxoo
Renee B.

Michelle said...

praying that you never lose an ounce of hope and that your "disease" spreads to all.

Anonymous said...

Suzanne, you are sunshine outside of the infusion room, too. Thank you for continuing to share your light with all of us. -Angela

Annie Bizzi said...

I marvel at how much He has blessed you with His strength, His grace, His hope.
Like Saint Joseph...You have accepted the mystery of your journey.
Like Mother Mary...You have so much courage and compassion for suffering.
Like Christ...You have taken up your cross and continue to walk.
Of course you would be the sunshine in that room-- Our Lord has blessed you with the Light, keep it shining for all to see!

Dawn Farias said...

I plan to be the sunshine in that infusion room, the one with hope radiating from every pore, the one who put on her lipstick that day.

Oh, that will be fabulous. For all of you.

Sarah McCormick said...

Dear Suzanne,
You are an inspiration to me and you keep me going. Thank you for writing and sharing your words with us. Your faith WILL shine on and be felt by everyone around you,
even by me. I love you friend!
Prayers and thoughts sent your way.
Love, Sarah McCormick

Anonymous said...

This little light of mine, I'm going to let it the brightest light there Suzanne. You'll help and encourage more people than you'll ever know. You may be the only light they see. Hugs and prayers to you and your family. Mary Herbert

TAffy said...

Hi Suzanne,
I am a high school friend of your mom's ,Marilyn. I would very much like to get in contact with her. I have e mailed her but so far no reply. Because of her recent illness perhaps she isn't gettingto her computer consistently. Please ask her to check her mail and get in touch with me. taffy McClintock Boren
thank you! and our prayers are with you all.

Anonymous said...

Dear Suzanne,
prayers from germany to you!!!!
Love, Alex

anna lisa said...

Oh my gosh Suzanne,

again, I'm sitting here with my mouth open. At the risk of offending some, all I can think of is: "She's freakin' bad-ass."

I'm surrounded by my sometimes uncouth teenagers.

Indiana Jones.

Traversing a cavern with your very bright, well lit lantern.

You are experiencing at a very young age what all of us must deal with; and really it is always with us on some level-- the offensive reality of our mortal body...

Thank you for smiling, wearing your lipstick and acting like you ARE the King's daughter. I want to be like this too! So when my mortality gets in my face, I am simple, clear, and distilled as to who I am.

As Melissa told me, "I think we're watching a miracle in progress."

I believe this too.