Chemo Lounge

2 Dec

I read that in the early 1970s, chemo wards used to have heavy mesh on the windows to prevent people from committing suicide. I’m happy to report that the wards have gotten a bit more upbeat since then; probably because the drugs, while still inherently toxic, have gotten better (apparently one used to be a derivative of mustard gas).

My chemo ward doesn’t make me want to jump out of a window, but I can’t say that I really look forward to going. Even though my chemo nurse is the best and they have lots of snacks, it’s a strange and difficult place. As I suppose any place where everybody has got cancer is. I think what was most surprising to me is how non-private it is. I sit in a vinyl, hospital version of a La-Z-Boy right next to another patient and sort of facing my companion for the day who sits right next to the other patient’s companion. It’s all very cozy and by the end of the day you know everybody’s biz-nas. Who’s constipated, who’s got breast cancer, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, when their first surgery was, the second, the third, who’s got a port, what trial everybody’s in. Some people want to make small talk. Some people like to discuss the particulars of their cancer and treatment. Some people don’t like to talk at all. Some people read books, some watch TV. Some people show up dressed impeccably and all made up. Some people come wearing sweatsuits and sneakers.

I’m the youngest patient around by 30+ years. I sat next to a patient who was there with her 60 year old daughter the other day. It’s like a strange cocktail party. People are polite, cheerful, and there are large lulls in conversation. There are strange moments of deciding – do I show the quiet 65 year old next to me this stupid dog tricks video from youtube because I’m watching it and talking with Chris about it Is it rude not to show it? Rude to show such a silly thing to a sick person I don’t know? Chris and I might be discussing my concerns about cleaning the humidifier (I’m paranoid that anything you use to clean the humidifier becomes aerosolized and therefore weaponized…but I guess any bacteria left in there does the same) but should we ask the opinion of the quiet couple in our peripheral vision? What do you say after your chemo nurse gives you good news when the person next to you doesn’t seem to be getting anything but setbacks?

I suppose there is some sense of community. We all sit there together, we’ve all got cancer, we’re all fighting cancer. We’re all in the land of the sick. You do get to find out interesting things about people. Like the fact that they’ve named the pump thingy they have to wear after chemo “Horatio” because they don’t share the bed with strangers. Or that they’re going to Southern China for two weeks over Christmas. Or that they were married to a pilot. The conversations generally end with a firm handshake, eye contact and a solemn “Good Luck.” We really mean it.

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2 Responses to “Chemo Lounge”

  1. Liza December 9, 2010 at 11:27 am #

    Hmmmm…Community and connection. I think it helps. Even when the connection is to a pump-thing-y that you have given humanized as a man, sharing a bed w/ you……

  2. Jonathan December 10, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

    Nice profile Colleen, it’s very interesting to get a small window into this world that I otherwise wouldn’t know (I remember when my grandfather was dying from brain cancer and Jamerson, who had his driver license, took him to radiation treatment whenever he had it; it was a major thing they shared together that, in a small and strange way, I was kind of sorry I wasn’t a part of).

    If it was me, I think I would prefer to stay totally silent during chemo, though would inevitably feel probably obligated to make some interaction with others. I would hate to think other people are there without the support I would have. I dunno, I guess ultimately you’re obligated only to yourself–whatever makes you most comfortable.

    Thinking about you a lot this holiday season, haven’t spoken to you for a bit but you are very much on my mind. Miss you, love you, hope all is well.

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