The day has arrived; a day I never thought would be part of my life. A whirlwind of uninvited events has led me to this door—the entrance to the oncology waiting room. Leaning against the heavy door, I finally gather the strength to walk through. A victor over the first step, I make my way to the front desk where I’m greeted by a friendly smile that’s hard to return.
I obediently take the clipboard of paperwork, realizing that each action is signaling acceptance to what is about to transpire. I am allowing permission to have poisons injected into my body. Poisons that will kill the bad, but not without affecting the good. What am I doing?
I make my way to an empty seat and glance at the paper positioned on top of the pile. Re-reading the first question to make sure I read correctly, I experience some comic relief.
“Do you feel like having chemo today?”
Will I ever feel like having chemo? I ponder the absurdity of the question and respond honestly.
“No, I don’t.”
I hope this answer will disqualify me from today’s dreaded appointment.
Already planning how to spend the newly freed three hours of my day, I hear my name. Excuse me? Did they not read my response to their questionnaire? I try once more to escape the scheduled injection of chemotherapy by looking the nurse in the eye as she walks me into the brightly lit room filled with leather recliners.
“I’m not really feeling up to this today. Didn’t you read my answer to the first question on your form?”
The nurse smiles and asks me to choose a chair as she takes my blood pressure and temperature. Why am I allowing this?
“Everything looks great for us to proceed today. Can I get you a drink while you wait for Diane to start your IV?”
“No thanks. May I use your restroom?” It was the only escape I could think of at the moment.
I enter the spacious ladies’ room and quickly lock the door before sitting down on the toilet. It is the only available seat and I am too shaky to stand. Stalling for time to re-evaluate what is about to transpire, I attempt to organize my conflicting emotions.
If I proceed, strong medicines will soon be coursing through my body. It takes a single dose to cause my hair to fall out, and that is only one visible sign of the many possible side effects of chemo, not to mention the havoc it will cause internally. Instead of the clarity of thought that generally governs my actions, my mind has been scrambled since I learned I had cancer . The advice of my oncologist has led me to this point and I trust his judgment and recommendations, but have I internalized them? Once the IV needle is inserted, permission is granted to move forward with his treatment plan. Am I ready to accept the consequences of such a decision? Am I ready to accept the consequences of not making such a decision?
A soft knock on the door interrupts my thoughts. Either someone else needs to get in, or the staff is concerned about my lengthy restroom visit. Reluctantly, I go to the sink, wash my hands and exit the only place in the cancer center where I can be alone.
Digging deep to find the strength to proceed, I walk to my chair and submit half-heartedly to the chemo regime. As the nurse skillfully inserts the IV needle and hooks the bulging bag of medicine to my IV pole, I finally give in to the plan designed to knock out my cancer. It is a plan devised from years of scientific research and, for now, it is the best they have.
There are many opinions and approaches to fighting cancer and I have learned not to judge any chosen route, accepting the freedom each cancer patient has in deciding what is best. The first time around, I placed complete trust in my doctor’s recommendations. What will I do if cancer strikes again? I will carefully weigh the available information; the odds, the risks, and the quality of life. And, just as I refuse to judge another’s choice, I expect the same courtesy in return.
I don’t regret allowing the countless bags of medicine drip into my veins. All my subsequent scans have provided the assurance that the cancer is gone. The memory of how I felt after each chemo injection has faded, and I’m thankful for the extra days, months, and years they’ve provided.
That first day of chemo was like stepping onto a dark path, filled with unseen pits and boulders that caused me to stumble, even fall, along the way. I traveled forward with trust until I saw the small ray of hope that grew with every stride I took towards completing my treatments. Taking that first step was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but now that the path is behind me, I’m grateful for the journey that granted me the gift of life.
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