Round two chemo is now at work in me. I was surprised to get the green light (my Monday blood counts were adequate) to report to the infusion center last Tuesday morning. I remember that the last time around the nurses said that nobody looked forward to chemo like I did. It’s because I want to keep on schedule, especially with the holidays approaching, and to finish as soon as possible. I felt confident, even strong, as I walked into the infusion center with my bag of snacks, reading materials, fully-charged smartphone and my few carefully chosen devotional items. The nurse welcomed me and invited me to choose my chair.
There were already six others receiving their infusions and a movie was in progress on the large flat screen tv. I barely settled into my recliner in the corner when my nurse came to access the port-o-cath. “We have almost all women today so it’s ‘chick-flicks'” Luci explained. That was good news to me since the line up during my previous treatment included the violent thriller, “Man in Flames”, not exactly conducive to tranquility and healing! She reviewed the plan for the day, pre-medications and actual chemo drugs, and I realized that I would be there until late afternoon. After expertly accessing my port Luci hung the first pre-medication and offered me a pillow and blanket. Soon I would be drifting off to dreamland except that the movie was a Julia Roberts film I hadn’t seen!
Aside from the non-stop movies, this infusion center has a very quiet feel. The nurses anticipate the termination of each medication and are always ready with the next so there are very few alarms sounding. Most of us doze through the day, waking to make our regular trips to the bathroom down the hall, i.v. poles in tow, noting how the recliners have filled and emptied. In this temporary location there are no extra chairs for visitors or companions and there is little conversation. Yet I feel a kind of communion that reminds me of the connection that develops on a silent retreat. We are all on a pilgrimage of healing, each with our own special intention.
It helps me to consider that I leave the infusion center carrying others’ intentions along with my own. It also helps if I can recall the healing gift I have received through the little port in my chest. As the next days unfold it is not always easy to remember those two things: the intentions of others and profound gratitude for treatment. The days-after-chemo, despite all the best efforts (and drugs), are just plain miserable. Body aches, fatigue, nausea, the metallic taste…are something just to be endured. Sleep is the best remedy but I also have a comforting awareness that every now and then someone is peeking in to see if I need anything.
Between sleeping and nothing tasting right I have a hard time keeping up with my fluids. When I saw the oncologist on Friday I was feeling pretty puny. She didn’t have to ask twice if I was willing to get some intravenous hydration. Like a wilted plant, the fluids perked me up and I asked Whitney to stop for a cheeseburger and fries on the way home. But then it was back to bed.
Friday night from my bedroom I could hear all the preparations for Saturday’s Halloween party at Santo Niño. http://www.proyectosantonino.org It was a rainy, misty morning and by 8:15 everyone headed to Mexico with costumes, candy, apples for bobbing, face-paints and other games. I felt guilty-for a few minutes-at not being able to help with what I knew would be a crazy day. But then I realized that I had other work to do, that other work was being done in me. This is what God asks of me right now. This is what I will accept.
I managed to get up and around by the afternoon and to make a pot of chili, looking forward to the Notre Dame football game at suppertime. I was not disappointed: the chili tasted almost “right” and the Fighting Irish came through. It felt like the post-chemo fog was beginning to lift.
This morning, the Feast of All Saints, I had my own communion service in our little chapel while the others went to mass at the parish. I remembered to bring the intentions of all my co-journeyers from the infusion center. I felt a deep communion with all who are supporting me in prayer during this time of healing. I felt the near presence of that “great cloud of witnesses” who have been through the trials of life and who even now are keeping vigil with me. All of this brings an overwhelming gratitude for the gifts of community, of medicine, of faith.
Tonight our homemade pizza tasted so good and there is Graeter’s ice cream in the freezer (thanks Bev and Rick Schieltz!) for the seventh inning stretch of the World Series game. The discomforts will continue to lessen and I know that I am coming out of the mist. Each day will bring more energy until the next chemo-countdown.
P.S. I am also sharing my reflections on this experience in a column for Global Sisters Report. The first was posted last Thursday as I was descending “into the mist”. Here is the link: Inter-Mission: Life between cancer remissions
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