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.