First off, a little cleaning up. I know I haven’t written anything now for a couple of months. I have found I go through stages with this whole blogging thing. Sometimes, it seems like I can’t write stuff fast enough, like I have all kinds of things rattling around in my brain that I just can’t wait to write about. And then I go through periods of time where writing just doesn’t appeal to me. I want to blog when I feel like it, when it helps me, not when I think I have to.
And sometimes, there are so many things going on in my life that I want to blog about, but when I sit down to write, it just comes out as a massive jumble of words. The past couple of months fall into that category, and then it becomes a matter of discipline to sort it all out. With Holly’s business starting to take off, Jeff’s wedding plans, and the big change in our lives right now, Travis’s move to Seattle, things have been a bit busy in the Cole household. This blog you are now reading is the first in attempting to categorize the craziness in my head, and describe to you the experience of going through chemotherapy. Hopefully, in the near future, I will write about other things on my mind as well.
As I approach the one year mark of my most viewed blog, No Mas, I realize I need to update and revisit my decision to forego treatment for the last 6 months of 2017. I’ve gotten a lot of questions on whether that was a big mistake on my part, now that my cancer has moved into stage 4, and if I regret my decision. That blog will be coming soon, I hope. But for right now, I’m going to write about my chemo experience, which has been one of the most difficult trials of my life.
Day 1. Bag day
The day I receive chemotherapy has been christened “bag day” by my good friend Jim, for the lovely bag of medicine, or as I like to call it, “poison,”that gets dripped into my system through a port in my chest. The port, a little piece of plastic that was installed before my first treatment, is an easier way to get the treatment than a standard IV in my arm. It’s pretty slick. It is under my skin, a little bump that is barely visible. The needle is pushed into the port, and a tube from the port takes the medicine straight into my jugular vein. Quick an easy without a lot of fuss.
When I first arrive for my appointment, I get a blood test to make sure my numbers are where they should be. My meds are taylored just for me, based on that test, which takes the pharmacy on site about an hour to prepare. Until then, I get a saline drip into my port to make sure it is working properly. I have had four sessions now, with two more to go, and the whole process has become pretty routine. Bag day has become pretty easy, no trauma, and my nurse Julia, who administers the whole process, is awesome. Easy peazy.
The hardest thing for me on bag day hasn’t been the physical part, the blood draw and then sitting there for a couple of hours getting the lovely poison drip. The hardest thing for me is the mental part of going through the whole experience. Even after almost 8 years of this crap, I still have the feeling of “What the heck am I doing here?” going through my head. I still feel like I’m a healthy guy, and somehow this is all a mistake, a bad dream that I can’t wake up from.
Before I started chemo, I had to get a biopsy on one of my tumors. You know, to see if it was cancerous. I know, ridiculous, right? After 7 years of fighting this shit, somebody would have had a lot of explaining to do if Ricardo was benign. They take me back to prep for this procedure, and tell me to take off my clothes and put on the gown. Of course, the gown is missing a tie, so I climb back into bed with an open gown, trying to cover myself. My son Travis was with me that day, keeping me company. He comes back in the room after I have finished struggling with the gown, making sure the entire world can’t see my junk, and I’m frustrated. As tears well up in my eyes, I tell him, “I hate this shit. I hate all of it. I hate being here. I hate being a patient. This isn’t me. This isn’t who I am.” He looks at me and shakes his head and says, “I know, Dad, I know.” He got to see first hand the sometimes ridiculous struggle of being a sick person, and how little things like an unnecessary test and a stupid hospital gown can bring on an emotional moment.
The Cancer and Hematology Center of West Michigan is located on the third floor of the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion. It takes up the majority of the floor, although it shares the floor with a small cafe and a reading room. It seems like cancer centers are always trying to make things pleasant and homey. When you enter the building, someone is usually playing a piano on the main floor that you can hear on all the floors because of an open atrium. The building is new, with lots of plants and greenery and chairs set up for both close intimate contact and privacy if you want it. The office itself is huge, with a big waiting area and lots of rooms for appointments and private consultations. The chemo rooms are pleasant, and they are kind of set up like a open office system, where patients have they’re own recliner, with a TV if you want it and a chair for your support person. They give you a warm blanket if you want, and will even bring in musicians to soothe you during your treatment. They try to make it as nice as possible.
But here’s the thing. It’s chemo. It’s cancer treatment. I appreciate all the niceties, but it doesn’t change what I’m ultimately there for. When I get there, I just want to get it done and go home. I hate the place.
The first time I walked in the Cancer and Hematology office I was amazed at the amount of people in the waiting room. A lot of people are battling this awful disease. And I’m only there every third Friday. I’m sure the place is packed like that everyday. And here’s another thing about the people in the waiting room. You will never see a more diverse group of people. Men, women, black, white, rich, poor, old, young, you name the demographic, they’re all here. Cancer is an equal opportunity destroyer. Some have lost their hair, some have a full head of it. Some are in wheelchairs and look like they are nearing the end. Some don’t even look sick. They sit in the recliner reading a book, or working on a laptop like they are at Starbucks.
There is laughter. There is talking. There is silence. There is crying.
But, ultimately there is fighting. Everyone there is in the ultimate fight. The fight to get better. The fight to be normal. The fight to live. And that’s why I’m there too. I want to get better. I want to be normal. I want to live.
And I guess, that why I put up with the inconvenience, the bad gowns and the feeling of being a sick person.
I want to live.
Thanks for reading.
My next blog will be about days 2 thru 10 in the chemo process, which is the hardest days because it is the sickest days. It won’t be easy to write about those days because it ain’t easy to live in those days. But I’m gonna try.