Monday, January 18, 2010

Jeannette and Burt

After 7 weekly visits to the infusion room, head buried in my kindle or facebooking on my iPhone, I've finally made some chemo buddies.

Jeanette has breast cancer too, and her husband, unlike mine, comes along to her infusions for support. We've struck up one of those friendships that happen only because of a shared experience. We would have certainly missed each other otherwise.

It began one boring Wednesday as I checked the other patients in the room to see who might be interesting. A couple nearby were flipping through an old Better Homes and Gardens, laughing at a photo. Burt pointed out piles of pillows on a bed that looked like theirs. I saw a chance to butt-in, and we got to riffing about pillows, beds, and access to naps.

Naps: Something all chemo patients can discuss passionately and at length.

Apparently, their husbands can too.

Jeannette is way ahead of me in her treatment. She's finished with chemo and is almost done with herceptin. According to her husband, she no longer needs her sassy black wig, but she says she doesn't feel comfortable with short hair, so on it stays. A lot of us don't bother with wigs in the infusion room - after all, we're all in the same boat. But, Jeannette is one of those women who likes to keep her appearances up, from head to toe. I'm the same way, but now mostly from neck to toe.

Wigs are uncomfortable.

She also just began radiation and like everybody, mentions how time-consuming it is. (Radiation requires a daily appointment.) Burt sees it differently. Like my youngest son, Burt enjoys puzzles and there's a jigsaw puzzle in the radiation oncology waiting room. He's worried he won't finish it before Jeannette is done.

I think he should just go finish it without her.

But, I doubt he will, they seem very close. They even make pies together. Burt makes the crust because Jeannette sucks at it, and she does the filling. Last week they made lemon meringue but the whites wouldn't set up.

Burt is very solicitous of everybody in the infusion room - even the whiners. (My word, not his). There are often snacks sitting around in case people get hungry - stuff like oranges and peanut butter-filled pretzels and cookies. Burt, who likes to eat, gets up and offers them around, mostly, I think, so he can feel comfortable eating them on his own. He even peeled an orange for me while I was having an IV put in and my blood drawn and couldn't use my hand.

That's a gentleman.

They like me to sit next to them each week, and it makes me feel like the cool kid in the school cafeteria. Their jokes and positive attitude make them popular among the nursing staff too. Cancer can be a frightening experience and sadly, we see a lot of people in the infusion room who don't handle it with equanimity. (The aforementioned whiners - again, my words only.) I'm sure nobody blames them for their fears and needs, including me, but when you are stuck there for five hours, it's nice to find others who can take it in stride without begging for ativan every 15 minutes, discussing every ache and pain, or complaining about trivialities such as the IV needle and having to go to the bathroom.

I enjoy people who don't over-dramatize their illness.

I imagine Jeannette and Burt feel the same way about me, although naturally, we never discuss it. We just create our own fun little sanctuary between the IV poles, sharing cookies and jokes.

It is amazing to me that people of that age can have so much energy, be so modern, and have such a loving relationship. Gives me lots of hopes for the future. I find them inspiring.

Jeannette and Burt are almost 90.



  1. They sound so awesome. I haven't made any pals in the infusion room yet, but then again the Benadryl puts me to sleep....

  2. Jeannette and Burt sound like a lovely, lively couple! How fortunate that you found them and they found you!

    I made friends in the chemo room with a lady who was there for her second-to-last treatment. We hit it off right away. It made the time pass quickly. When we said our goodbyes at the end of her last treatment (woohoo!) we promised to keep in touch. A couple of emails later, we lost contact. Why does that always happen?

    I'm all for making friends wherever I go! I'm guessing you'll be making lots of friends along your journey.


  3. what a cool couple! How nice to be their friend!

  4. Ann - Can I suggest something? Tell your husband what you need. I have to be perfectly honest. In the beginning, my husband was terrible. He kept telling me that I was over reacting (actually, everyone else thought that I was very calm and brave), and he expected that nothing about our life would change, even as everything in my life was changing. The thing is, I had a major falling apart. I had been waiting for someone to say, "That lump. Oh that's nothing." and it never happened. I fell apart. I yelled at him. Oh, dear God, how I yelled at him. I bawled my head off, and I swore, because he just showed no emotion. I reminded him of the 'for better or for worse clause', and I told him that he needed to figure out whether he was in this marriage or not, because if he did nothing, if he continued to do his own thing, and ignore what was happening to me, our marriage would simply dissolve into nothingness. He was awkward at first, but he got the hang of it. He did not stay for the infusions, not usually. Needles make him sick. But when I needed him there, when my friend couldn't come, he did. It's a terrible feeling to put your marriage on the line, but in doing that, our marriage became much more stronger. Tim and I are closer than we've ever been. Please don't be afraid to tell your husband what you need.

    I'll be praying for you.

  5. Wow! Amazing entry. So glad you've found a friend in all of this.

  6. Thanks everybody. :)

    I think I misphrased the husband part. I'm fine without him, and he has to work and pick our son up from school. I'd rather he not come and sit there wasting hours that could be spent working - plus then nobody could pick up the kid. He went the first time and since I've handled it so well, I told him I didn't need him again.

    But I'll certainly take your advice to heart in other areas, Debby. I did ask him to proofread this post to see if it was too boring, and he refused, so there you go, I guess I didn't make it clear! I'm glad cancer has brought you and your husband closer.

  7. LOVE! Lovelovelovelovelove.this story. Love that you made friends in the infusion room, love that their love for each other is so apparent and contagious, love that they're old and still cool. Hope I'm that way when I'm ninety. I KNOW you will be.

  8. What a fun, loving couple! I was so surprised when at the end of your post you stated they were 90! So cool! Also you write very well!

  9. Aah ... nice blog ... loved the ending!

    Took my sister to one of my chemo sessions and to be truthful I was bit worried about how she would handle it. As we walked out the door she said "Well, that wasn't so bad. Everyone was so jolly, not what I expected."

    Although the company was very pleasant ... now the chemo is over ... I can't say I will miss it!!


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