Clergygirl Cancer Councel: Memoirs of a First Chemo

It must  be the first week back to school.  I have good intentions to write something and then I just get tired, or busy or sense that I am experiencing writers block and I ignore my site for a while.  But usually when this happens I think about my next post.  Or maybe I get a few going in my head.  So I’ve got one brewing.  And on this early Saturday morning, thanks to 3 wonderful little kiddos who are getting back in to a routine, I am up early and am feeling rested.  So I write.

I’m not sure anyone ever walks in to their first day of chemo, without feeling absolutely petrified.  First, you really don’t know what to expect, especially if you’ve never been in a chemo room before.  I had not.  Secondly, the idea of toxins pulsing through my veins was a little disconcerting to say the least.  Most of us are a little concerned with what we put in our bodies to begin with, like pesticides on our fruit and vegetables.  So the idea of actually choosing to put something lethal into my veins in the hopes that it kills one thing, to save the rest, well, if I’m being honest sounded completely crazy.  Like when you’re in high school and you do really crazy things just to see if you can do them.  Heart racing, palms sweating, just to see how it comes out.  The two times I remember this strange rush is:  A.  When I was a lifeguard for a middle school camp when I was in high school and one of our friends had the wise idea of canoeing in the middle of the night.  the camp was in the middle of no where, with absolutely no lights to even know how to get back.  I tried to get them to stop, but in the end jumped in a canoe (peer preassure ya’know).  Thank goodness, we found our way back and no one tipped.  And then:  B.  Jumping off a cliff at Johnson Shut-in’s (MO) with the “guys” in college.  I needed to be the brave girl, not really sure why.  But it was a long way down to the water….lol!

I often tell people that chemo and cancer was enough of a thrill rush for me to last a lifetime.  No need to jump out of an airplane.  No need for deep sea snorkeling with sharks.  I’m fine right here in my safe little house.  Flying sometimes seems a little scary to me now….lol!

So cancer diagnosis and that first entrance into the chemo room is something like that.  Thrill rush, but without the smile.  And here’s the good thing that I can tell you about chemo, that might ease your mind if you are going in for the first time.  It worked.  It attacked the right cells and I had a complete response.  The cancer was gone. 

So when I walked in the chemo room for the first cocktail, as they like to call them.  I took the long walk to the back of the room.  I always took the back corner.  Maybe I thought I could hide back there.  Maybe I thought it would be quiet.  I actually think Jeremy and I were hoping they would forget about us buried in the back corner and we’d get out of doing it.  But alas, I was pumped full. 

If you’ve never been to a chemo room, it’s usually a large open area so that a handful of nurses can keep an eye on several patients and if there is a bad response, they can see immediately and take action quickly.  At first, this was hard for me.  I didn’t really want people watching me doing this seemingly inhumane thing, like I was going to end up inebriated from my cocktail or something crazy like that.  But you know, in the end I was happy to be near people I could chat with, and quite often those people chose the same back corner like me and they were on the same schedule as me and so I looked forward to chatting with them and having a familiar face at chemo. 

But on my first visit to the chemo room I will always remember two women.  Here’s why:

The first woman was a someone who I had known growing up through church.  I didn’t know Martha very well, but I knew she had breast cancer.  When I was diagnosed, she immediately tried to help.  As a breast cancer survivor, I am familiar with this desire.  When I had my first day of chemo, she came and sat for several hours with me.  Bless her heart, it was a very kind thing to do.  She sat and filled me in with the life that sat before me.  She told me about chemo, and radiation and reconstruction and reccurance. 

The other woman was my age.  She was in the chair next to me.  I didn’t know her (then, but I do now….Hi Kristen:))  She was my age.  She was wearing a bandana on her head and her husband was there with her too.  I remember thinking, wow, she just seems so calm and relaxed about this.  I remember wondering if I too would come in to the chemo room with such confidence eventually.  I remember they both had their laptops and they both went to work.  They laughed and smiled and chatted with the nurses, as Jeremy and I sat their frozen in our seats, wide-eyed and scared.  But watching her gave me hope that there would be some resemblance of normalcy about my life again and that I would actually adjust.

But here’s the deal and why I want to tell you about these two women. 

Martha, the woman who sat with me for several hours actually died of breast cancer last July.  Only 5 months after sitting with me for my first chemo.  I so appreciated that she was willing to do that for me, but Martha knew she was dying.  And I knew Martha was dying.  Whatever conversations I had with Martha were pretty grim.  It really wasn’t what I needed for my first chemo session, two weeks after diagnosis.   Jeremy and I discussed it later….and we felt like it was so kind of her to do that for me, but it really wasn’t very good for me emotionally.  What I really needed was a woman who was surviving breast cancer and was moving on with her life.

But here’s the funny thing, just a few months later I met another woman with breast cancer through a friend.  We were at similar points in our journey.  We talked on the phone and later agreed to go to a fundraising event for the American Cancer Foundation.  When I arrived at our meeting place, there she was.  The confident woman next to me at my first chemo cocktail.  We have remained in contact and email often as we encourage each other along the way.  She is doing well and so am I. 

All that to say, that if you are facing your first chemo, and you’ve just been diagnosed, cling to the people who can give you hope.  You will have many opportunities to read blogs, visit with survivors and meet others on this cancer journey.  Some will be negative because they have to be.  It gets really cruddy sometimes on this cancer journey.  It sucks to be diagnosed and it sucks even more to get mets.  And sometimes the treatment is really draining.  You will be negative at times along the way as well.  But my advise to you is to let healthy people read those blogs and listen to the crud.  Let the ones who are surviving read those blogs. 

Stick with the people who are upbeat.  Not that a good dose of reality isn’t good sometimes, but too much is hard emotionally.  Cling to the Kristen’s in your life right now.  Seek out survivors.  Do what you can to stay positive.


2 thoughts on “Clergygirl Cancer Councel: Memoirs of a First Chemo

  1. Becky says:

    Jen, this is so good. Thanks for taking the time this Saturday morning to write. I completely agree with you. It is so important to cling to those who are surviving, getting on with their lives, to see that it CAN be somewhat ‘normal’ again. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Kristen M. says:

    Well, reading this made me cry tears of joy. It reminds me of a conversation that I just had with one of my best friends. We talked about how our actions and our lives effect people that we don’t even know. I guess we are all a part of God’s great plan.

    I remember seeing you on your first day of chemo Jen. I knew that it had to be your first chemo because you had beautiful brown hair. I also remember thinking that you were my age and it seemed that you had so much love around you. I took notice of how Jeremy doted on you and you both spoke with the nurses in such a friendly way. Didn’t you also have other people visiting you? I just remember what a sweetheart you were…you didn’t seem scared at all.

    I recall my first chemo and I can totally relate to what you wrote about being petrified. Each time I went in for treatment, Tom took pictures of me and I added the pictures and wrote a mass email to family and friends while I had the treatment. For my first chemo picture, I had long auburn hair and my brown eyes were huge with fear. Everytime I look at that picture, I can see the fear in my own eyes. It was probably one of the scariest days of my life. I was in one corner and didn’t see anyone my own age. Everyone looked old and sick. I remember the nurses saying that you HAVE to drink lots of water. So I drank and drank and drank and peed and peed and peed.

    I guess by the time you started and saw me and Tom it was probably my 3rd or 4th treatment, so I was typing away as usual to my family and friends. I’m so glad I inadvertantly made a difference for you. I’m even happier that our mutual friend Kathy gave me your number and we have helped each other along our journey.

    God’s plan is amazing, isn’t it? You are so right with what you said about being positive. You just have to surround yourself with positive energy from others. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences and including me. It means a lot to me and gives me such a boost!


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