I’ve never felt like more of a loser than in my second week of chemo while ease dropping on the women next to me. We were sitting in large clinical geri chairs, hooked up to our individual chemical concoctions hanging from IV poles that rolled nearby. It was a beautiful spring day, the soft ten o’clock sun streamed through the windows and illuminated the woman who was speaking.
Strange, I thought, it looks as if she’s glowing. I wondered if ‘chemo glow’ was a thing? If so, what week did that kick in? I sure as hell wasn’t glowing yet.
In fact, I was looking downright halloween-ish, eyes sunken, dark circles forming, and a new pallor had taken over my skin. A far cry from how I looked walking in here one week ago. On my first day I too gave off the illusion of a healthy glow as I walked in to the suite determined and ready to start treatment.
My mom and I had pre-planned that first week to keep us busy while attending daily treatments. After my daily hit of radiation and a weekly dose of chemo we’d hit a mid-day yoga class followed by a superfood juice, then we’d grab some whole foods at the farmers market and whip up a delicious dinner. I also planned on catching up on a few fiction reads, working on my tennis game, and learning spanish- because why not! I figured if I was off work I may as well nail this whole cancer fighter thing. I was all set to accomplish my list of goals that week and even did play tennis immediately after my first chemo treatment!
Six hours later, I was no longer checking off goals. Instead, I was becoming acquainted with the hard water ring in the toilet bowl, the dirt lines on the bathroom linoleum, and the best sleep position adjacent to the toilet. The nausea hit me like a truck followed by the never ending vomit train. My list of goals became laughable considering I lived in a fetal position for most of the week.
After that reality check I crawled back to the chemo suite for round two. My mom, aka my never fail chemo companion and I judged the dresses in Us Weekly and chatted about the celebrity gossip. This time we both knew better than to start planning our week ahead.
I glanced over at the glowing woman seated next to the window who was joyfully talking non-stop to her geri chair neighbour. I figured it must be her first time receiving chemo. Her lively attitude and strong voice reminded me of my initial vigor only seven short days ago. Even though she was talking with the woman immediately to her right, she spoke loud enough for the entire room to hear. She was listing her plans for the day. How sweet I thought, better to go in naive. She said she would be done with this chemo in ten minutes, then she would drive to pilates for two classes in a row. She much preferred the second instructor but she needed the extra workout so she regularly stayed for both classes. Wow, I thought, good for you! I could barely get through one workout when I wasn’t feeling cancerous -not to mention the fact that I was at least twenty five years younger than her. She carried on saying she was then going to grab lunch with a girlfriend at this new restaurant they were dying to try. I recoiled at the phrase ‘dying to try’, something about using that line in a chemo suite was sort of like angrily saying Jesus in a church, it just felt wrong. Then she would meet up with her grandkids at their soccer game, she was in charge of the oranges tonight. Oh and if she had enough time between lunch and soccer she would go for a quick dip in the lake, she would need a cleansing swim after all that pilates. Ok well then, I thought, she certainly has big plans for day one of chemo. I had to admire her innocent yet hopeful planning in the face of a daunting treatment. Poor thing, she didn’t know what was coming.
During this woman’s almost boisterous announcements my mom periodically looked up from her magazine glancing over at me with a side eye. I knew instantly what she was thinking, is this woman for real? I almost leaned over to inform my mom that this woman was clearly a chemo newbie. A role we easily related to just one short week ago.
The woman was getting unhooked from her IV pole by the rotating nurse when she reached to fix her flattened hair and with one strong tug she shifted her entire hair-do.
Wait a minute…
This woman was wearing a wig…
This was not her first chemo at all. She had been at this long enough to have lost all her hair and replaced it with an incredibly perfect matching wig.
My little brain scrambled to figure this out. This woman wasn’t naive at all. She was either completely full of shit or she was a true chemo champion. She was actually going to participate in all her plans and she really did have a chemo glow!
I instantly felt less empathetic and more annoyed. Why had she gone on and on like that about her big plans? Couldn’t she see the rest of us were just holding on? The room was full of people in their late sixties, seventies or possibly eighties. It was hard to tell since they all looked sickly. In just ten minutes she had shamed me, all without ever speaking to me.
I couldn’t believe how well she was carrying on and how incapacitated I was the previous week. Turns out you can feel inferior anywhere.
My mom’s side eye turned into a dramatic eye roll as she jokingly whispered to me,
“I guess there are Type A’s everywhere… even in the chemo suite!”
I looked back at my mom and we cracked up. Our muffled giggles turned into full on audible laughter. The situation was just too ridiculous, we had to laugh.