This is my second session of chemotherapy and I hope the second of many. I look around the room to find myself 20 to 30 years younger than everyone. The hospital has done its best to normalize the waiting room. There is an attractive stone fireplace that separates a pseudo living room from what can only be called a dining room. The interior decor detailing and colour choice is warm and inviting, for a hospital.
A giant flat screen tv depicts stories from the outside world through national news as if to say “life goes on” to the those of us who are waiting. The hearth of the fireplace has three baskets that hold what I assume to be on-going group knitting projects. Although knitting has become a revitalized past time for my generation, the choice of wool colours in baby blue, pink and yellow exposes its intended audience. The needles have been carefully chosen to be a large enough dimension as to allow for the manipulations of arthritic hands.
The room is filled with people from all walks of life. Cancer doesn’t seem to discriminate who it partners up with. I look around the room and can’t help but to focus on the status of everyone’s hair. I haven’t lost mine yet. An older Italian man in his 80’s has come formally dressed. He is wearing a beautiful, pristine, well fitted dark suit. He takes off a black felt hat that exposes his closely cropped hair as he begins a conversation with two middle aged women.
Although the women seem to have an intimate and familiar connection with him, they are here independently. In a thick Italian accent he asks them about various mutual friends and family members. “I told them it doesn’t matter, increase the dose” he loudly declares, describing a conversation he had with his oncologist. The nuances in how he dresses, sits and expresses himself tells of a man who is not going to let cancer get the better of him. He sees himself as a formidable opponent.
Across the room I see a middle aged women wearing a shoulder length auburn wig. Unlike some of the other people who are by themselves, she seems particularly lonely. She is reading a well worn novel and every now and again she searches the room for a familiar face. I notice her eyes begin to light up as the snack cart volunteer walks into the room. The snack cart is filled with a selection of cookies, crackers, juice, newspapers, badly knitted hats and baskets of the all important lollipop. As she passes me, the volunteer forces numerous lollipops and cookies into my bag. She stops and warmly greets the solitary woman. “How are you doing today darling”. The women becomes animated as she describes her struggles with the side effects of chemo. You can tell she has been looking forward to this interaction all morning.
Chemo is an interesting process which can only be described as waiting. The whole operation starts first thing in the morning with waiting to get blood work done. You sit in a crowded room full of what seems like hundreds of people all anticipating being poked and prodded by an overly cheerful individual in blue scrubs. The resulting vials of blood then are sent to the lab, where they determine who is fit or unfit for chemotherapy. The determination and data is sent to the oncologist who writes the script for the particular cancer’s intravenous drug of choice. The script joins a multitude of others in the pharmacy, where the chemotherapy drugs are bagged and tagged. This whole operation from start to finish can take up to 3 hours. During this time the cancer patient is patently sitting in the chemo daycare ‘living room’ listening carefully a hospital issued pager to go off. This signals that the drugs have arrived and chair has opened up. The woman at the front desk cheerfully describes your pod colour and chair number as you are directed to your assigned grey vinyl hospital lazy boy.