This couple was young in Cancer Years. In their late 30s or early 40s perhaps. The woman had long, lovely, straight brown hair, and the man was handsome and being very solicitous in his interactions with the woman. I knew which one had cancer. They were clearly new to chemo and this experience, and I empathized with how they felt sitting there waiting to hear about their treatment. It hadn't been that long since it was my initial chemo consultation too, and my husband and I had sat there leaning into each other wondering how this had happened.
I am now as familiar with the oncology office as I am with my own living room. I know the rhythms of the place - the way you write your name and leave your card for when the receptionist is ready to process it, I know all of the nurses and which ones give "good stick." I know a lot of the patients and what they are being treated for. I'm like Norm on Cheers now - everybody knows my name and when I walk in, somebody slides
As I played with a two year old whose mother was waiting for her father, their eyes kept landing on me. Maybe because I was at ease, or maybe because we were decades younger than everybody else being treated there. I hope it wasn't because of my odd hair. I smiled at them in a way I hope was reassuring.
During my 45 minute treatment that actually takes 2 hours (another thing I know and accept) I heard one of the nurses explaining the chemo drugs and side effects to them. I remember sitting for that talk too.
As I was finished and left, I found myself in the elevator with them. They started brief chit-chat and then the husband got to the point.
"How long have you been coming here?"
"Since early December. I'm finished with chemo now though, just doing Herceptin."
"What kind of cancer do you have?"
"Breast. You?" looking at the woman.
She said, "Lung cancer."
"What kind of chemo are you getting?"
"Taxol" they both said at once.
"Oh, I did that one. It's not nearly as bad as you think it is. I never got sick once. I did get tired at the end, but if you can just arrange it so you can sleep a lot and don't do anything strenuous, you'll be fine."
The guy said earnestly, "You look really good" and I realized that is why they'd been curious about me. I move with purpose and energy - but I am a cancer patient. I'm in the infusion room, and people are hooking me up to IV bags, but I still look okay. I'm smiling and cheerful and happy to be sharing my iPhone and keys with two year olds.
Maybe I gave them hope.
Whatever it was, I laughed at his comment, and I rubbed my 1/4 inch of white hair. "I feel much better. But, my hair wasn't this color when I started!"
The woman, naturally, clung to that and asked me about hair. Hair means more to us then men can know - we may have lung, breast, ovarian or colon cancer and yes, we are afraid - but we are also upset at the loss of our hair. I can honestly say I feel worse about walking around with this near-bald head showing than I do with one breast.
Anyway, I told her the information she wanted to hear - how it falls out all at once. I described how weird it was to grab handfuls of hair and have big tufts of it come out and you can't even feel it. She asked if she should shave it, and I told her it would be a good idea, although she might want to wait until it starts. With long hair like that, it would be a horrible mess to just let fall out.
It was a brief conversation and then we said good-bye. I don't know if their chemo day will be Wednesday, and if I'll see them again or not.
I do hope my few minutes of sharing my experience helped her and her husband with this overwhelming situation they are facing. I remember how much I wanted to know what was going to happen to me at the beginning.
I've realized as a cancer patient that you never will know what is going to happen to you. Living with uncertainty is part of the deal. But, along the way, a few questions can be answered and I hope I can do that here with this blog, as well as in person. So if you ever run into me, feel free to ask me anything. I'm not shy.