If everything stays on track today, I’ll be heading home this afternoon after my sixth bag of chemo (22nd bag total, yikes). This stay in the hospital was very different from my first two. I had a roommate, started socializing with other patients, and was not allowed to have the kids visit (boo!).
Initially I wasn’t happy about having to share a room with a bedridden 60-year-old. No privacy, less space to myself, more nurses coming by all day, double the beeping and chittering of IV drips at night. But on the third day, she woke up from the sedation she’d been under and turned out to be pretty entertaining. Hearing about her three months so far with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (for the first two months, the hospitals in Calaveras and Sacramento had no idea what was wrong with her, and she ended up being airlifted to UCSF before finally getting diagnosed) and talking about my experiences was like being in a continual mini group therapy session. She ended up contributing to my hoard of goldfish for the kids, and I ended up putting her hair in ponytails for her.
I think this is what led me to be more open with other patients in general. Previously, when I came across others doing a circuit of the blood cancer hallway (the primary form of exercise, pulling our IV poles alongside or behind, avoiding an obstacle course of staff, visitors, blood transport robots and other equipment, cleaning carts, and slower patients), I would quickly smile or nod and move on, with no desire to get to know anyone. When I peeked into the family room or solarium, I would wave and then turn the other way at the sight of anyone who looked eager to meet me. This was partly because I’m shy, partly because I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear anyone else’s cancer story.
This time, I slowed down, sped up, or even switched direction when it looked like someone was open to walking together. I entered lounges and sat with people who seemed to be looking for conversation. I knitted next to two other patients (one of whom was making his first scarf) and a nurse for more than an hour. Unprecedented.
I met a children’s librarian-turned-administrator who was diagnosed shortly after learning that she was about to be promoted to department head – she is beginning to be happy about retiring instead. I met a rural Oaxacan with an 18-month-old baby who wants to return to Huatulco once “all this is done” so he can be surrounded by family, grow his own food, and live without rent worries – in the house his brother had just finished building for him that very day after a six-month stall for lack of funds, finally completing it with an $11K lump sum disability payment (the total cost for his land and three-bedroom house: $25K). I met a startup marketing exec whose recommendation of egg-in-the-hole off the breakfast menu was spot on. I met another AML patient whose cancer was most likely caused by working with toxic medical disinfectants for 36 years – her leukemia recurred only two weeks after remission, and she was given a December estimate but sat next to me with sparkling eyes, knitting and talking about her pets and crazy neighbor, more than two months into her borrowed time. Her story scares me a little, but I remind myself that the differences in our subtypes point to different prognoses.
All this atypical socializing did not help me miss the kids less, but it filled my time, I met cool people, and I learned a little about other blood cancers. Who knows, by the end of my consolidation therapy, I may actually join the weekly community circle.
Meanwhile, here’s the beautiful sunrise I woke to this morning: