There’s a woman in the lobby of the cancer center in her 70s, Jackie O shades and a perfectly shaped silver bob, too perfect to be real.
I want to stick my hands in it and muss it up.
Instead I run my hands through my own hair, freshly showered and too real to be perfect. I’m approaching chemo week like a Spring Break booze bender–
Who knew when I’d have the desire to lift hand to hair again?
Or if I’d even have hair.
A nurse trots up to us. She has a bright smile and thick chestnut hair she tosses out of her face like a Thoroughbred, raring to go.
Me, I’m not so sure.
We follow her down the hall where my vitals reveal how I really feel, my pulse racing at 80.
There’s an overpowering desire to run but I’d probably run right into the wall thanks to the anti-nausea drug I was required to take before arriving– A heavy hitter called Olanzapine.
Look it up. Tell me what you see. Does it say for nausea?
No, it does not. It’s an antipsychotic, used to treat mental disorders such as bipolar and schizophrenia. What the– Hey!
I’ve been accused of many things and a lot of them are true but that’s over the top. I ask about this. I’m told it’s a very effective anti-nausea.
Sure it is.
My first day of treatment, I had a private room as my family was joining me. I felt somewhat lobotomized but I’m pretty sure they were really there.
Otherwise, there’s a room with aqua-colored plastic recliners like a 50’s style hair salon where all us Big C folks hang out.
Next to me is a military pilot who flew for the Air Force in the 50s. He’s been diagnosed with CLL – Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, also rare. He talks about his glory days back in his 20s, stationed in Vegas. Smiles. Gone from this place where we identify ourselves by our diagnoses instead of names, reliving a memory.
Better there than here. That we all agree on.
“It’s a beautiful day today,” Nurse Terri chirps, entering the room. She looks like one of those perpetually chubby cherubs people plant around their garden. Her lips purse when she’s thinking, as if spouting water in a fountain.
Nurse Chubby Cherub is right. Sea blue sky, car doors slamming, kids running down the street.
I feel a pang of envy at their freedom. My vision blurs.
“Yea, it’s beautiful out there,” Jackie O quips. “Could certainly find a better way to spend it.”
New York attitude. I love her immediately.
Jackie O has multiple myeloma, another rare form of cancer that strikes fewer than 200,000 people. My Mom is one of them.
Aunt Marlene, Glenn’s side of the family, is another.
Jackie O makes three. Maybe not so rare after all. MM is treatable, not curable.
Apparently, so is mine.
I try not to think about this as a way of life.
I try not to think at all. Actually, I’m not sure I can given there’s anti-nausea drugs in my IV, too.
Glenn reaches over and takes my hand. I smile, gone from this place, reliving a memory.
Before treatment I ran off to Las Gaviotas, Mexico, with my husband. We sunned, shopped and surfed, rented ATVs and rode horses and had a helluva good time. I felt top o’ the world awesome while cancer was setting up enemy camps in my body.
Bruce Lee was reluctant to grant me this respite. Cancer doesn’t take vacation, certainly not mine.
He informed me of this when he gave the verdict of neuroendocrine cancer wrapped in a package of large cell, high grade C4.
In layman’s terms, this means 80-90% of the cancer cells in my body are dividing. It’s like an explosion of mutant purple minions in there.
The adult in me took this news calmly, like a flight attendant on the jump-seat during severe turbulence. But my inner child bolted for the door, cape flapping behind her.
It is possible to be an adult and a child at the same time.
It is possible to be safe and scared at the same time.
We’re all feeling a little bit like this right now with the Coronavirus pandemic circling our globe.
We all want to face this like a rational adult and be strong for our kids, our parents, our loved ones. But inside the chatter whispers–
“Hey, it’s fucking eerie out there, like a Stephen King novel come to life. Let’s pull the covers over our heads and stay in bed.”
We can’t. We’re out of toilet paper.
Whenever my husband comes home from out there he Lysols himself.
The hardware store is his favorite place right now. He took me on a date there the other day to load up on duct tape, climbing rope and batteries. I thought this was all for me until he grabbed a pair of bolt cutters.
Sure enough I come downstairs the following morning and find a Lincoln Log layout of our town forming on the coffee table.
“Escape route. In case they quarantine the town, babe.” Glenn grabs the bolt cutters and whacks them together. “We’re ready.”
Umm-kay… Have fun, honey.
As it turns out, I might be more ready than I thought. This morning when I ran my hands through my hair, hundreds of strands clung to my fingers.
GI Jane, here I come.