“When I learned that I had cancer, I was shocked. When I was told that I would need a mastectomy, I was frightened. When Dr. K, the oncologist to whom I had been referred by my surgeon, announced that I would need chemotherapy, I was terrified.
I knew all about chemotherapy. I had experienced it vicariously through figure skater Scott Hamilton and cyclist Lance Armstrong. I had read of their months of weakness and nausea—how they spent some days hung over a toilet. I remembered that they could hardly force themselves to appear for their next treatment because they knew what lay ahead. Further proof of the horrors of chemotherapy was a young man in our church who reputedly vomited so hard after each of his treatments that the blood vessels in his eyes broke leaving the whites of his eyes crimson. I knew that chemotherapy was something I didn’t want to have anything to do with.
My experience at Dr. K’s office that Thursday in April when he delivered the news was a nightmare. Dr. K introduced himself to Richard and me as he entered the exam room, shook hands with each of us, and attempted to make us feel at ease by asking us what we did professionally. He asked about my general state of health, reviewed what we had learned from surgery about my cancer, then dropped the bomb. I would need eight treatments spaced at three week intervals. The first four treatments would inject two drugs, Adriamycin and Cytoxan, and the last four would be a third drug called Taxol.
Dr. K continued. ‘These are the things you’ll need to do to get ready for chemotherapy. You’ll need to have your surgeon implant a port in your chest through which the drugs will be administered. The nurse will tell you more about that. You’ll need a chest x-ray, a muga-scan to make sure your heart is in good shape, and blood work. I’ll write up orders for these. Any questions?’
Yes! So many questions I don’t know where to start. . . Wait! My first question is would it be possible for you to say that you’re sorry I have cancer and must have these awful treatments?
I said I didn’t have any questions. The doctor again shook our hands and promised that the nurse would be in shortly.
Soon Melody was there with a folder brimming with pamphlets and mimeographed papers. She began removing them from her lap and placing them on mine, commenting briefly on one before flipping to the next.
‘This tells about Adriamycin and its side effects. This tells about Cytoxan and its side effects. This is a picture of the port that your surgeon will be installing. This lists the things you need to do prior to each treatment to minimize side effects.’ The stack seemed endless. Finally, she asked if I had any questions.
I wanted to know if it were possible for her to say that she was sorry that I had cancer and would have to be going through chemotherapy. I wanted to ask her if she would be gentle when she poked me and if she would hold my hand when I got scared. I badly wanted to know if she had any sense of the terror I was feeling at that moment and whether she cared. But I didn’t ask her any of these questions. I asked if I could see the place where I would be getting my treatments.
The treatment room was just down the hall. Treatment was in progress for three or four patients sitting in their Lazy-boys with drugs dripping into their wrists or chest from plastic bags suspended beside them. They were watching television but did cast their glances my way when I said, ‘I guess I’ll be joining your club.’ There were no smiles or words of sympathy.
At least I saved my tears until we got outside. They were the first of many shed over the next several weeks as I had time to think about what lay ahead.”
Speaking of “The Cancer Effect” Anne shared, “When I heard of your book, I immediately ordered a copy through Amazon and as I read it, I so identified with the trauma of someone who really knew how it was. Thank you for taking time to record your journey. I think it will be of comfort to other cancer survivors as well as interesting to the general public.”
Are you a cancer patient or survivor? Have you gone through a difficult trial or illness? Please share a portion of your story by emailing me. It may be just the thing someone else needs to hear.