Chapter 17: My Fellow Cancer Combatants
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This round of chemo was the first of three smaller doses. After the two massive doses I completed before break– well, even after the first massive dose, the cancer was gone from my blood and furthermore from the bone marrow. I’d asked if the rest was necessary, but Dr. McGann insisted. “We need to make sure we truly destroyed all of the cancer cells, and if we don’t continue treatment, it could be dangerous.” It was like some sort of poisonous victory lap.
Just then, I realized… The way she reacted meant some people had refused treatment. That meant that I too could conceivably get off this train at any time and never look back. Immediately, that notion terrified me; to up and leave the biggest battle of your life?! No thank you.
The extra treatments weren’t a big deal for me; I was already through the worst of it. It’s like Mitch said when he went through his treatments: “Just do what they tell you to do, and you’ll be fine.” So I took that to heart and didn’t fight the treatment– it’s not like I ever would anyway, don’t worry.
It was relieving to know how early we caught the Leukemia in the first place: Only forty-seven percent of the blood was infected. I held onto that number like it was a cherished teddy bear. The nurses and doctors told me some stories (for my sanity’s sake); that some kids had a hard time with the treatments and that the cancer was aggressive. I get the intention of telling me these stories, but it only provided empathy for those brave little kids and left me terribly helpless at saving the ones who lost that battle.
I had only met a few of these kids, as I would pass by their rooms while out on an afternoon jaunt, but hoped to meet more of these kids one day; especially when I’m cancer-free. But I never knew what to say, so I would just say “Hi.”
The necessity for these strolls wasn’t merely for a change of scenery; they also served as a “lubricant” to move things along. You’d be surprised how bunged up one can get from sitting in a bed all day, eating three square meals a day.
Sorry to get gross, but these walks were of the utmost importance. Of course, since I was back on the pole (IV Pole that is), I had to lug that thing around like a Chihuahua on a leash– a MASSIVE Chihuahua.
And when my counts fell once more, the other side of the scale: susceptibility to cuts and bruises tipped to gravity’s whim. And naturally, I had to test this basic equation during one of my walks around the floor. My feet had got ahead of themselves and as I turned a corner near the nurses’ station, I smashed my right big toe against the IV pole. My toe immediately opened up near the left side of the nail.
I rushed back into my room to lie down and raised the foot to stop the profuse bleeding. This kind of stub before chemo would only leave a possibility for a bruise, and certainly not this even flow of crimson.
As I lay there applying pressure to the toe, my new neighbor in 865 strolled in, pushed by a transporter on a wheelchair. He seemed like me: quiet and friendly, and maybe only a few years younger than me. That’s a relief, someone my age for a change.
I mostly kept to myself here. During treatment, I didn’t really want to make friends almost for a point of safety. And I meant that in two ways, only one of which makes sense in hindsight. First, I didn’t want us to share any potential cold or illness of which we could theoretically come into contact.
The more inane apprehension was that I was worried that if we were to talk, there could be some sort of sadness behind it; like if one of us were really sick, it would jinx us both, especially if they were to pass. I felt like an elderly person in a nursing home afraid to lose their friends to the same mode of death. What a sad way to think because we could have been each other’s emotional support, boosting our respective moods during this fight; much like the fine people in nursing homes do.
Instead, I said screw it. I made an effort. I smiled at him and said: “Hi, I’m Jamie.”
“Hi, I’m Walker.” The boy had some sort of mental disability, and that sense of dread came rushing back– but I persisted. “I have AML, Acute Myeloid Leukemia.” Our disease was like our rite of passage, our nametag.
“I have that too!” Walker said emphatically. He smiled brightly and I returned the glow. We had something in common.
“Well, I’ll let you get back to your check-in. It was nice meeting you Walker.”
“You too!” He waved then was taken into his room.
Later that night, as I decided to hit the hay, I heard something; something I had dreaded hearing since my first night in the hospital (and was a big reason why I avoided the adult cancer ward): Walker… was wailing. I’m not sure if he was in pain or if he was just screaming for the sake of it (I wasn’t sure of his specific condition), but it was LOUD.
I spent the night trying to drown out his volume with the television, but within respectable limits (I was in the corner room after all). Eventually, I just decided it best to fall asleep with some music on instead, so out came the red Sony Walkman. See, there was a use for this after all.
The next day, I decided to get out of the room, and into our beautiful atrium, designed so we can get some damn sunlight for a change. Naturally, I had to wear a mask as the chemo slowly did its job of killing me. It’s a good thing that I wore a mask, as I found myself attempting to put my fingers in or around my nose or mouth; a great tool for proper re-education.
We decided to bust out the UNO deck and play a few rounds. This believe or not, was the first time I had ever played UNO. I’ve been playing board and card games all of my life, but somehow this classic slipped by.
It’s a fairly easy game to learn, but it’s a hell of a time. As we finished a few rounds, we met another fellow soldier in the battle against the menace known as metastasis.
Her name was Tori and her caregiver was her father. She was fifteen and we too had something in common: She was from “The County,” Presque Isle to be precise.
Gary and her father seemed to get along swimmingly as well. It was nice for them to get some companions who were also experiencing the same perspective.
I had wanted that kind of interaction for my parents for quite some time. I mean, there’s only so much a nurse or doctor can provide because they see so much of it (and on a regular basis), that they lose some of the initial shock and immediate reactions such an experience can bring; especially from a parental perspective.
Later in the day, we talked to Walker and his dad once more. His father was an older man, but he too was able to relate to my parents on a closer level. He asked if Walker was too loud the prior evening and apologized on his behalf for the noise. That was nice of him, but I guess I couldn’t blame him for the noise; it is a traumatic process to go through for anyone.
I was just hoping that it didn’t happen too often because the chemo was kicking in and I felt a moody day coming on…
This is an ongoing story of my personal battle with Cancer. My hope is that it helps others who are currently experiencing their own battles (whether it be for themselves or a loved one) or to help with early detection.
The way I’m doing it is terrifying for a writer. I’m writing a publically available first-draft outline for an eventual book, chapter by chapter in weekly form. The only reason I’m doing it this way is to get the story out as soon as possible for someone out there who needs a survivor to visit them during their own treatment. If you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, tweet at me and I’ll give you a call. No questions asked. This story is for you and I’ll help any way that I can.
Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new chapter every Monday until the story is complete.
And remember if you experience any Anemic symptoms– get checked for Leukemia as well.