If you were to play a word association game with the word chemotherapy it would most likely be paired with one of the following: toxic, nausea, hair loss, scary, confining, etc. It is similar to the association of cancer with death. The issue with these associations is that there is little to suggest anything different, thus creating a fear factor before ever actually experiencing it. I admittedly was no different. I pictured chemo like a scene from a poorly made drama.
CUT TO: A poorly lit room, painted a putrid shade of yellow that gave everything a dingy appearance. Old school wooden folding chairs, the kind with the slightly cushioned seat and upper back section, were placed in a circle in the center of the room. The twelve occupants seated in the chairs stared blankly at the television, read silently, or talked in hushed tones as they shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. Many sipped coffee out of their paper cups with their free hand, while the other remained stationary and hooked up by IV to the pole that would slowly drip the cancer killing toxins. The nurses station was a single wooden desk off to the side pilled with a stack of paper and extra IVs. The nurses circulated the room checking on their patients periodically, both parties seemed distant and dismayed.
Imagine my surprise when chemo looked absolutely nothing like the movie scene directed by my over active imagination. The infusion room is an entire floor of the hospital and seats thirty patients at a time. Each patient has a fancy recliner fully equipped with massage. The deluxe model chairs were only part of the ambiance achieved in the infusion room. Each station also has a comfortable chair and ottoman for the family member, friend, or care giver that accompanies the patient. The rooms are open, but can easily be made private by simply pulling the curtains. Everyone has a window overlooking the beautiful well maintained gardens or landscaped grounds. And the natural light on the unit negates the buzz of fluorescent lights and low grade buzz of most hospitals. Each infusion patient also has free wireless access and their own personal mini flat screen television and dvd player. The infusion unit was designed to make everyone as comfortable as possible. If need be there are actual physical room isolated from the other stations for those patients that require additional privacy or other special considerations.
I personally prefer the corner room as I like to call it that overlooks the grounds (and construction on the new radiation oncology wing). Because I am a creature of habit, I actually once cut off an elderly woman walking in the direction of my chair. Clearly I have no shame! I’m usually in my chair from around 10:30 to 1:30, hooked up to my ‘stripper’ pole. Some of my chemo drugs are run through the IV drip the others are administered by hand by my Julie. I also have the pleasure of getting to know Susan, Stacey, and Tammy throughout the course of my day stay. All of the oncology nurses are AMAZING! They are personable, knowledgeable, insightful, and genuinely great to be around. I have developed a closer friendship with Julie because she was initially assigned to me and my chair and later because she’s awesome and we just connected. Julie has to don her highly fashionable blue dressing gown, gloves, and mask while injecting my chemo drugs into the IV that directly runs into my mediport. We generally joke about life, talk about family, friends, and guys, suggest restaurants and activities, and just converse like friends do over cocktails; only in this case the cocktail can be lethal. The day is full of laughs for me, the fabulous nurses, and my ‘guest’ which is usually my mom. I have to admit I enjoy the day and look forward to seeing everyone. I’ll be happy when we are making shopping plans rather than injecting chemo drugs, but until then I can honestly say it is nothing like I imagined.
People act like my day of chemo is like going to the electric chair. Everyone wishes me luck or calls me later on that night to see how I made out. And I suppose unless you see it for yourself you may imagine a scene similar to the one I did only worse. After Steph came with me for treatment she understood what I meant when I said I thought of it as a good day. We played cards, joked with Julie and Susan, and overall enjoyed the few hours overlooking the freshly manicured grass. She tried to tell my coworkers that it was almost fun and they just stared at her wide eyed, much like they did me. I brought my second mom, Nancy, with me once as well for similar reasons – so she could see it and stop thinking I was being tortured. After our day of jokes, sharing pictures, eating popcorn and fruit salad, she too realized that she let her preconceived notions of cancer get the best of her. She was even offered a complimentary Reiki treatment that day. So, unless you go through it or accompany someone who is, people will look at you sympathetically on those days and wish you luck because to them the Chair is something out of a horror movie.