$50 Straws AND How Cancer Changes Everything

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer mastectomy  hospital port

A different day. A different place. In a less hospitally-looking reclining chair at the Cancer Center.

This will probably seem like an odd post, but I’m going to present a snippet of my afternoon from two different perspectives for no other reason than “just because.”  Thanks for indulging me.

Scenario 1:

Across the room, a girl sits in a recliner with a small table beside her.  She is sipping a large cup of tea.  The tea bag tag dangles gently over the edge of her cup. The girl stares off into the distance and a smile crosses her lips.  What is she thinking about?  Perhaps she is remembering a lover from her college days?  Maybe she is picturing a basket of puppies?

Wait… judging from a frame most would describe as thin and a belly that is unmistakably large and rounded, it’s clear that she must be pregnant — she must be thinking of the baby growing in her womb.  Yes.

Her eyes light up as she thinks of the “baby duckling yellow” paint color she and her husband chose for the baby’s room this morning.  “It’s not too masculine, not too feminine, and it will be easy to paint over if we decide to change it when the baby gets a bit older.”  She bites her lip as she wonders how she is going to wait for the next three months to meet her new baby.  She has slipped her calendar out of her purse and is making a list of baby names now.  It’s the same list she and her husband have been coming up with every night before bed.  But she thinks she might have a revelation and “the one” might pop into her head today.

She continues her list.

She is mostly alone as she relaxes in the large open room filled with beds and curtains and chairs just like hers.  Mostly.  She has a number of visitors over the course of the next hour.  Each one stops by to chat briefly with her.  She laughs and talks with them individually.  And then her visitors move on, one by one.

She continues to sip on her unusually large cup of hot tea. Her final visitor is dressed in white and bears the name of her grandmother.  Her hands are full, but with what?  It’s hard to say.  The visitor dressed in white sits across from the girl and then leans toward her for an unusually long time.  She holds what looks like a long, shiny pin or needle in her hand.  Odd.  But when she stands up to walk away, her hands are empty and she and the girl are both smiling.  She now has something pinned to her chest — a flower perhaps?

Just as her name is called she looks at her list.  She is clearly pleased with her accomplishment and is excited to share this new name with her husband.  It was her grandmother’s name.

She slides gracefully out of the chair (well, as gracefully as a pregnant woman can) to meet the woman who beckoned her.  They walk happily down the hall together and slip into a room nearby.  The door closes behind them.

When they emerge, they are smiling and walking again.  The girl is stroking her belly, as if to comfort the baby inside.  She returns to her chair as the lady in white brings her a cocktail with one of those cute little paper umbrellas poking out from the rim of the glass. She relaxes for a bit longer before rising from her comfy chair, bidding adieu to her friends and walking out to greet her waiting husband.

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cancer in my thirties cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer 30s cartoon

Cartoon Credit: chibird.tumblr.com

Scenario 2:

I am sitting in a large, sterile room.  Across the way, I see a girl…or a woman, really.  She looks biologically young, but I can tell she has been weathered by experience.  Something tells me that she probably still thinks of herself as a girl in the quiet morning hours when everyone else is asleep.  So I will indulge her and call her “a girl.”  It’s the least I can do.

The woman, uh, girl, is sitting in a reclining hospital chair.  Beside her is a small table where alcohol swabs and some medical paraphernalia sit. She holds a large, lidded Styrofoam cup, the largest one I have ever seen, in her hands.  Dangling on the side of the cup I see a tea bag tag.  She looks at the bit of wisdom the tag has to dispense, rolls her eyes, and takes a sip from her straw.  Odd that she is drinking hot tea through a straw.  Maybe she’s one of those women who don’t want to stain their teeth so they drink their tea and coffee through straws?

Just then a nurse walks over to her and asks her to sign a form stating that she understands the risk of drinking this tea.  WTF?

Well, it’s not your average tea.  It’s tea that has been infused with a radiocontrast agent.  Is it radioactive tea?

The girl stares off into the distance and a smile crosses her lips.  She is thinking of a sandy beach in a warm place far away.  “If this is more cancer,” she thinks, “I am moving to that beach.”

She puts her hand on her protruding belly and secretly hopes one of the nurses will ask her if she is pregnant when she signs the next consent form.  It’s an odd thing to hope for, almost masochistic, really.  She pictures what she would say in response to the question.  “Of course I’m not pregnant.  I’ve been gutted.  Every part that makes me a woman (except the “V” one) has been stolen from me.  I am empty inside.  Dead inside.  And, oh, this?  It’s edema.  My belly is swollen with fluid.  No baby.  I’m here to see if it’s cancer in here, not a baby.  My fate was sealed at 33 when those lumps in my breast were written off as nothing.”

Of course no one asks her if she is pregnant.  They all know the answer.  They all know why she is here.

And she wouldn’t have the guts to say what’s on her mind, anyway.  She wouldn’t want to hurt or bewilder anyone.  She wouldn’t want to ruin anyone’s day.  So she thinks about what she would really say.  “Nope, just fluid.”

She snaps out of her daydream when a second nurse asks to see the port in her chest.  They’ll need it later.

She slips her calendar out of her purse and tries to recall the appointments she has scheduled for next week.  Her fuzzy chemobrain has made it impossible for her to remember much these days.  She soon finds herself drawing seagulls and starfish in the margins.  “Oh, to have my toes in the sand right now and to be anywhere other than here,” she dreams.

She shifts gears and makes a list of everything she needs to do when she leaves.  Her 3rd graders — twin boys — will be waiting for her.  It will be dinnertime.

She is mostly alone as she sits in the large open hospital room filled with curtains on tracks and not rods, hospital beds and hospital reclining chairs just like hers.  Mostly alone.  A number of nurses stop over to check on her progress with “the drink” or to ask her to sign a form.  She smiles and makes small talk with each of them.  And then her visitors move on, one by one.  She continues to sip on her unusually large cup of hot tea.  Through a straw.   That’s probably so she doesn’t spill the giant cup of lukewarm possibly radioactive tea on herself.

Her final visitor is dressed in white and bears the name of her long deceased grandmother.  Nancy.  Her Nanna was one of her most favorite people in the world.  She watched her die a painful death from cancer when she was 8 through 9 years old. “My kids are 8, too,” she thinks.

The nurse sets up a tray with everything she needs to access the girl’s port.

She holds a long shiny needle and asks if the girl likes to hold her breath or if she applied the EMLA cream in advance to make it hurt less.

The girl laughs, “No, no need.  Just go ahead.”  She has been poked and cut so many times it’s not even funny.

The needle punctures her upper right chest skin and enters her port.  Now they will be able to push the intravenous radiocontrast agent through her chest.

The nurse dresses her port with a tegaderm and gauze.  With the little yellow butterfly clip sticking against the transparent tegaderm, it almost looks as though the girl has a flower pinned to her chest.  An ugly flower, but a flower nonetheless.

Just as her name is called, she looks at her list.  She is already tired, but smiles at the thought of being able to sit down with her kids when she is done.

She drags her body from the chair to meet the woman who beckoned her.  They walk quietly down the hall together and slip into a room nearby.  The door closes behind them.

When they emerge, they are smiling faint smiles and walking again.  The girl is doing that thing she does — looking dizzy and as though she is going to hit the deck.  She strokes her sore belly.  The nurse asks her to lie down until she feels better and says that people who receive the contrast through their ports need to wait 10 minutes for observation before they can leave anyway.  The nurse brings the girl a drink.  This time it’s plain cola.  Nothing added.  The nurse puts a bendy straw in the Coke.  The straw wrapper bears the name of a famous medical supplier.  “Yikes, a straw from a medical company!  It probably cost $50,” she thinks.

When her 10 minutes is up, she is so ready to leave that she walks out in her disposable drawstring hospital pants and stuffs her slacks in her bag.  It’s time to go home.

———————————–

So I was sitting in one of those recliner-type hospital chairs drinking oral contrast in preparation for my CT scan when I started thinking about perspective.  Of course the “girl” above is me…

Thanks for reading… Your comments and “Likes” brighten my life…

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23 thoughts on “$50 Straws AND How Cancer Changes Everything

  1. I’m in my early 40’s and identify with so much you say here. Until September I was racing around as if I was still my 20-something-self. Today my imagined life is nowhere to be found and I don’t imagine the real one is something many would choose to perceive. I still smile, happy memories and medical procedures now constantly mingled together.

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    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Tracy. Cancer certainly does change your life in so many ways–I would venture to say almost ‘every’ way. But being able to mingle good memories and medical memories, as you say, makes such a difference… I’m so glad you are able to find some balance — and I hope you always keep your smile. I’m sure it’s lovely!
      Thinking of you…

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      • I could not help but cry when I read this post, but I also want to thank you for sharing it. I wish somehow that we readers and followers (I became a follower of your blog today!) could take away your pain and suffering! Enough is enough! You are a beautiful person, and a wonderful mother, and you deserve happiness. I am once again sending you hugs, and I pray for you!

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  2. Your writing inspires and intrigues me! It’s so difficult to begin to imagine what a woman (ugh I mean girl 🙂 my age’s perspective living a life with cancer. I can only say that you have done an outstanding job at capturing that perspective. Both perspectives! Thank you so much for sharing this journey. You are a pillar of strength!

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  3. Wow…that was an amazing journey into what your life is like living with cancer.
    Thank you for giving me a clearer perspective.
    I’m so sorry for all the difficulties you are going through, and do admire your strength and determination. Your boys are so lucky to have you as their mom; what an amazing role model!

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    • Thanks so much, Denise! Your comments are always so thoughtful.
      I’m blushing at the thought of being called a role model for my boys. I often worry that I am robbing their childhoods with all of this cancer crap. Kind comments like yours remind me that what we’ve been going through IS life and that since I can’t change the big picture, I just have to do do the best I can for them/us.
      Thanks so much…

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      • You have a mother’s heart…it comes across so beautifully!
        When your boys face difficulties in their lives (unfortunately, they will someday) they’ll be able to glean from your experience with cancer. I say this with confidence because my kids are proving it true and I am humbled and blessed to see their strength come from my pain. God will honor your pain, I know He will.

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  4. The infusion center at the hospital where I was treated had cozy recliners and wonderful adjustable swinging side tables. The nurses and aides were upbeat and wore cheerful colors. Their clear mission was to make us feel as comfortable and normal as possible. Still, we all knew why we were there. Unable to concentrate on the TV or books available, I often watched the other patients across the room and tried to imagine their stories. You have offered us a very personal window into yours. I can only partly imagine how you feel, but you are in my heart and prayers, and I know I’m not the only one. Keep sharing and feel better soon. XOXOXO

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    • Thank you, Retiring Sort! I used to do the same. I sometimes wondered how much their actual stories lined up with my imagined ones. I agree that it certainly helped to pass the hours! That and the benadryl that sometimes knocked me out! 🙂
      Thank you for your kind words and warm wishes… Sending you the same!

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  5. You have a remarkable gift for writing about yourself in the third person. Maybe you should start a journal or book of essays in this format. This post read like a creative non-fiction piece. Cleverly crafted work my friend! 🙂

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  6. Your journey is not for the fainthearted. Thank you for using your writing gifts to build resiliency and courage in others around you. Your words inspire and challenge, enlighten and encourage. We live finite lives, but we understand the infinite that surrounds humanity. Keep writing – the world needs you…

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  7. Pingback: A long overdue thank you… | cancerinmythirties

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