Friday, November 25, 2011

The long tail

The dragon tail is back.

It's as though the Taxol knows that today is my final chemo treatment. This week brought swollen hands and feet and a feeling that my fingernails and toenails are going to rip off. It's as though I have slayed the dragon only to have the tail come around and spike through my armor with the animal's last breath. That's what I feel like today.

But screw the dragon tail, as long as I'm still standing.

Today's the day I've been looking forward to ever since that first treatment six months ago. Today David gave me an enormous hug and said "Last chemo day, Mama, last chemo day." So many miles under our feet for this phase. So many miles that these little people to have gone, too.

But today, I'm not counting my chickens before they're hatched. I'm going to wait until I get there, wait until I get in the chair, wait until the bag of taxol comes, wait until they unplug me the one last time, wait until I actually leave that building before I believe it's done. Because something could happen. Anything could happen.

It starts with the gal at the parking lot booth. "Do you have--oh HI! How are you today?" she breaks off as she sees me in the passenger seat. We are old friends by now, the regularity of my Friday 1pm visits makes me a familiar face in a sea of patients coming in for care.

Familiarity is what gets you through the process of chemo. Familiarity and ritual. Walk in, check in for labs and pray that the lidocaine cream you forgot to put on has had enough time to numb your port before they need to stick an absurdly long needle through your skin. The guy in the labs that I always seem to get is sweet and knows my name. We have a running conversation on sports (not my strong suit) and weather to distract from the gagging smell of saline and heparin that gets the port ready. Then upstairs for a coffee and a look at the beautiful jewelry that has been on display for the past few months. The woman at the coffee shop smiles and says "Medium skim latte?" and I want to hug her because she remembers me out of the hundreds of orders every day.

From latte, it's back to wait. Check in with Darrin, the guy who sings like Luther Vandross under his breath and who is two-man comedy act with his co-worker. I love Darrin.  When I imagine what Darrin looks out at every day as he checks people in to infusion...incredibly sick people come in with the hope of being healed...and I am incredibly thankful for his laughter and levity.

This is not small shit we are talking about. This is a cancer center where people hold out hope like the shrine at Fatima that they will make it. There are children and elders, there are mothers and daughters, there are people crammed into this waiting room who have the anxious eyes of the newly diagnosed or the dull countenances of those who are going through the motions. I can't imagine what it is like to sit in Darrin's seat, to deal with the spector of death every day with patients you have grown to know. To try to keep your mind focused on the healing. To know that every interaction, every check-in, every "how are you today?", every bit of a smooth sailing visit means something to a person who is trying to do what they can to stay alive.

When I say to Darrin "You know, you aren't going to be seeing me anymore, Darrin." he says "I know, and I am so, so thankful, Fran." And he means it, because for the here and now that means I have survived.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, that here and now. It's basically all we have - and look where you are in this here and now. No more chair, no more lovely Darrin, no more gagging smell.
    Good luck with the finger and toe nails.