Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Life in the Chemo Ballroom

Life does indeed go on...and it also goes on in the Chemo Ballroom.  It might seem strange to imagine, but the Chemo Ballroom is a fascinating place.  There are faces you get to know since you see them every week, and there are other faces that come and go depending on the week,  then there are those new faces that appear here and there.  All of them have stories like mine and all of us are making the best of a hard situation with much courage and inner strength...and a lot of humor!  

This week I walked into the room with my wig on.  All the "regulars" said "Where's your hat?  I love your hat!"  I actually had to apologize for wearing my wig and explain that it was too chilly for just a hat that day.  That was funny!  Who would have thought that a bald head and a hat would make such a fashion statement?  But these are the things that happen in this room.  We ask about each other, compare notes on side effects and how we are feeling, talk about how many treatments we have left, and share food, thoughts, and our lives.  It is, actually, a community of sorts based on our common need for these IV poles in front of us.  And even those "guests" of ours who sit beside us are included in this community through their connection to the one sitting next to them.

It's always good to get there by 10 am to get a "good seat".  That means one of the recliners that goes all the way back and with a chair nearby for your "guest" in your favorite area of the ballroom.  It seems many people come after lunchtime (probably taking a half day off from work), and it starts to get really crowded then.  Some days, like yesterday when a large snowstorm was predicted for our area, there are many rescheduled appointments and then the room is really jumping!  The chemo nurses are running all over trying to get IV's in a "good vein", ports accessed, find everyone an IV pole, supply pillows and blankets, and get our chemo cocktails started.  On these busy days, the "mixologist", or "bartender" (as my husband calls him) is plenty busy making sure everyone gets just what they need and it sometimes takes a while to get started.  In the meantime, they keep a saline drip going.  If it takes too long, you usually have to pee a few times due to all that liquid going in!  I like the days it is not quite as busy, because then it all goes so much faster.  Although with my benedryl now, I am actually not too aware of just how long it is!  But I feel sorry for my husband who has to sit so long and listen to me snore while he does crossword puzzles and talks to everyone else!

The dress code is "loose and comfy casual"....unless you are coming from the office.  Office individuals usually look funny sitting in the seats in business clothes with their heels dangling (well, not the men).  Most of us are wearing sweats and all kinds of stretchy, comfy clothes.  We also try to wear something warm as it is usually chilly in the chemo ballroom.  Everyone brings a bag of stuff to help pass the time and some type of food and drink (cause you know you will be there a while).  You can usually tell how long a person's treatment is by the size of their bag.

The greetings to each other are warm and comforting.  The nurses know most of us by name and greet us also whether they are our "nurse of the day" or not.  Even the office staff is now a part of our lives and they look forward to my husband's "joke of the day" when we come in.

In some crazy, but oddly satisfying way, it has been an experience that has given me some peace.  I have had to clear my schedule of much of what I was doing before and learn to take time to just rest.  I have allowed myself the time to just sit and do nothing.  I have done a lot of thinking about my life and where I want it to go after all this is done.  And I have had a lot of conversations with God about all of this.  I was thinking the other day about the story of Peter seeing Jesus walking on the water in the middle of a storm and getting out of the boat to try to walk on the water himself.  He took a few steps, realized what he was doing, and suddenly could not walk on the water at all and started going down.  Jesus saved him and questioned Peter as to why he doubted himself and lost faith.  I saw that story differently than before.  I now could see myself as Peter trying desperately to walk on the water in spite of the storm around me.  I know now I can only stay walking on top of that water when I look ahead and see Jesus calling me forward.  Once I lose sight of Him, I start to doubt, and lose hope, and like Peter, start falling fast.  I have become more needy of God in my life and that's OK.

I give thanks for all the people that work at the Cancer Center who have so much compassion for the people they care for.  It must be a very difficult job when you know that some of the people you are caring for are not going to make it...or will be suffering greatly.  But they all have big hearts and a true devotion to their chosen career and ministry.

So, this is life in the Chemo Ballroom.  It's not so bad after all.

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