Love Notes From The Chemo Room
A Surprisingly Tender Place
Hello Sweet Community,
I’m typing this in the chemo room. Meg’s sitting across from me, smiling at her computer. She’s writing something beautiful. I don’t even have to read it to know.
The meds they gave me to tolerate chemo should have put me to sleep by now, but I’m wired on having just figured out how to hack my blood pressure. I have healthy blood pressure everywhere except for inside of a hospital. Here, it skyrockets to the numerical equivalent of, “GET ME OUT OF THIS PLACE!” But today I did an experiment. When they wrapped the band around my bicep, I imagined I was kissing Meg, slow as honey. 107/70. Heart healed.
When the nurse was logging my vitals, Meg pointed to the screen and said, “Look baby. They’ve got your gender listed as nonbinary.” A bit later, I overheard one nurse say to another, “Make sure you use each patient’s preferred name. Don’t defer to the one on the screen.” I imagine people think the chemo room is a sad place. It is sometimes. But it’s also one of the most tender places in the world.
“And who is this?” the nurse asked, as Meg covered me in a warm blanket. “This is my partner,” I said. “She takes such wonderful care of you, doesn’t she?” said the nurse. “She sure he does,” I smiled, remembering the many years I’d brace for coldness when outing myself to a stranger. Now I expect kindness. I don’t know if more kindness has been coming my way as a result of me expecting it, but I do know the power of our expectations is a force I’ve outgrown ignoring.
On the wall of the chemo room hangs the golden bell that people ring when they finish treatment and have no evidence of disease in their bodies. Because I’ve rung the bell twice in the last two years it doesn’t have the allure it once did, but I cherish the quote engraved at its side. “Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm,’ and the warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’” Hell yes, I am the storm. My last book was titled “You Better Be Lightning.”
I almost drifted off just now, but was woken by the voice of a guy in the seat closest to mine talking about how old he feels having just turned 30. Not until then did I realize the infusion room is not just for cancer patients. Cancer patients don’t complain about aging. “I’d love to look like that someday,” I whispered to Meg, when on our walk last week, we saw a woman with so many wrinkles her face looked like a road map to heaven.
My current treatment is different from the chemo I did in the past. This is a targeted treatment that doesn’t attack every fast growing cell in my body, which is why I get to keep my hair. The med came out of trials only a few months prior to me needing it. The day my doctor declared my cancer “incurable” she offered me a few treatment options, none of which had more than a 30 percent chance of prolonging my life. The best option on the list had a side effect I was terrified of.
“You mean I could go blind?” I asked, as my doctor explained the medication’s impact on the eyes.
“The symptoms vary,” she said. “Imagine fogging up a pair of glasses. Some people describe it like that.”
I looked at Meg and tried to imagine never seeing her freckles again. I thought about the day I’d spent two hours watching a squirrel build a nest atop the tallest tree in our yard. So much of my joy comes from what I see. It took me two months to say yes to the treatment.
The first round was harder than I’d expected. Somehow I hadn’t considered the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to write. The letters on my computer screen refused to come into focus. The grief knocked the wind out of me for days until Meg encouraged me to find other ways to create. I started writing songs outloud, which I once did all of the time. I put more energy into the podcast I’ve been preparing to launch for over a year. And now, after working closely with an optometrist, I can see to write. I can see the squirrels in my yard. And I can see Meg’s face is the prettiest face on the planet.
And there’s also this—I’m responding to the treatment. I've no words for how good it feels to type that. My cancer markers have improved each round. When I read the results of my blood work in my medical portal yesterday, Meg and I fell into each other’s arms the same way we have so many times these past years. Tears of celebration for another day together in this clumsy wonderful world.
I hope you too are finding gratitude for your life today, everyone. There is so much here to cherish. And I'm so thankful to be on this planet at the same time as you.
Thank you for walking beside me on this journey, friends. If you’re a paid subscriber, I can’t thank you enough for your generosity. Expect some extra love in your inbox in the upcoming weeks. And please, if anyone tries my blood pressure hack, let me know how it goes!
Love, Andrea 🖤
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