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The Day I Realized Chemo Would Change My Life Forever

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This is an essay I wrote two months into my chemotherapy treatment for a freshman college English class. Today I am happy and healthy, however I am a completely different person because of this day.

​The phone alarm that is supposed to be a joyful morning song was comparable to needles in my ears on March 5, 2012. It was 7:45, and this is the earliest I have been up in months, and I had to put on my tough skin and be an adult today. I went into the typical freshman bathroom after I lugged myself out of bed, and the smell of vomit took over the bathroom because it is a Monday after a rough weekend for the freshmen of the University of New Hampshire. The cleaning staff has not made an appearance yet. I had to look my best because I was about to make a first impression on someone who would be a big part of my life for the next few months.

​I packed my black nylon bag and was frightened I would forget something on this day. I made a list the day before of what to bring so I would not forget anything from snacks, to needles, or vials. My morning consisted of me tip-toeing around my room in fear I would awaken my roommate, even though my alarm probably already did. Once I decided I looked worthy of a Boston city girl I took a deep breath because today my life would change for the next six to eight months.

​I made the walk down the three flights of stairs realizing these cement steps would be so difficult for me for the rest of the year. I walked out the heavy doors, and the sun was shining extra bright reflecting off the thin layer of snow into my eyes. I put on my tortoise shell Ray Bans to hide my eyes from the sun and so people could not see the tears I was holding back. Philbrook dining hall was my destination, and it was so quiet at 8:30. I ordered a large omelet because I needed something that would hold me over because I didn’t not know when I was going to be able to eat next.

I decided it was time to truly face the day, and I walked the eight-tenths of a mile to the Amtrak stop on campus. I sat at the picnic table and waited for the train for about eight minutes, and I walk up the three yellow-lined stairs and picked a spot to sit in coach so I would be riding backwards. When I ride backwards in any moving vehicle, I associate it with the happiness I had the one time I sat on the backwards seat in my aunt’s station wagon in fifth grade, when I was too young to understand the severity of any problems.

The train had Wi-Fi and I was beyond thankful because it allowed the hour-and-28-minute ride that began at 9:04 to pass like a breeze to 10:32. My appointment in the Yawkey Building was at 11, and I had no idea how to get there. The nurse on the phone told me to go out of North Station and take the white Partners bus because it is a shuttle bus that transports patients for Massachusetts General Hospital. I did not know where to get on this bus because North Station is like a maze to me. I asked a lady behind a window, and she knew the answer to my question she had a heavy accent and my mind was elsewhere for me to try to comprehend. I kindly thanked her as if I actually knew what she had said. I followed the crowd of businessmen and women rushing towards the sign to Causeway Street.

​When I walked outside, I felt almost violated by the number of people offering me a taxi ride to my destination. I saw the white bus on my right pulling away from my curb. I ran like people in movies run, waving my arms above my head to catch this bus. The bus driver stopped for me and I told him I needed to get to the Yawkey Building. He told me I was on the right bus and I looked up to see the crowd on this bus. About half of the passengers were completely bald and accompanied by a significant other or loved one.

​I got off the bus with everyone when I saw the sign on the building that said Yawkey in silver letters, piercing the eyes of anyone who looked at it because of the sun’s reflection. I walked past three ambulances into the entrance of the building. I followed the green signs in this 10-story building to the elevator. I got on the elevator with a woman who had a pink scarf tied around her shiny scalp and she was standing with her sister. I lit up the button that had an “8” because that is the child oncology unit. Both women were making cancer jokes, and one looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, it’s just my coping mechanism.” I smiled at her and told her not to worry.

​We arrived to the eighth floor, and I had to find my way to suite B. When I looked onto this floor, there was an array of colored papers that said, “I fought for” followed by a name. Others said, “I love my mom” or “I love my dad.” All of these signs were made for patients who were strong fighters. This hit me like a big yellow school bus. I was not the only person who has it tough and I was not the only person who is fighting.

​I got to suite B and a kind receptionist greeted me. I told her my name and she was smiling ear to ear that I had made it there successfully; everyone in the office knew I was coming today. I took a seat next to the mini aquarium in the waiting room and remembered always wanting one like that when I was younger. I wanted my own scene from “Finding Nemo” in my room. I called my parents in the waiting room to let them know I had made it to my destination successfully. Each phone call made me a little more upset I’d told my parents not to come with me today. I wanted to do this all by myself to prove I could. Why did I do that?

The nurse called me into the back and she complimented my outfit. This gave me a warm feeling in this office filled with warm-hearted people. When she took my blood pressure, I saw a bald girl who could not be older than the age of 4, and she yelled “Mommy, no!” when she entered the office because she had just realized where she was. I was taken to my room and offered a hospital gown, DVD list, and anything to eat or drink. I said no to every offer. I just sat there and stared at a wall.

​The walls of the room had a hand-painted beach scene. There were umbrellas to protect the painted people from the radiating painted sun. That day, I wish I could have been on that wall, but instead I sat in the hospital bed waiting to meet my next nurse. When I was sitting in the room, there was a mother and a father who were standing at the desk outside. Both were dressed in grungy clothes and looked very weary. I looked down by their knees and there was a girl who could not have been older than 2. She was sitting in a little red wagon that had tubes that looked tangled all around her. The little girl had a sock over her hand so she would not pull on the tube. I waved to her and the mom pulled the wagon so she was no longer in my view, and I didn’t understand why. After about an hour of waiting, my nurse entered the room and introduced herself. She apologized that they run on hospital time in the office and nothing ever is according to plan.

​The nurse began explaining to me what exactly Interferon-alpha-2b is, and she handed me a packet that felt like a novel filled with information. I began to read the side effects and pretended like I was accepting of all of them. She then proceeded to hold up a needle with water in it and pulled a fake rubber arm out of the cabinet. She taught me how to pinch a piece of fat, insert the syringe that has a half-inch needle, push the syringe to inject the medicine, and then cover it with a Band-Aid so blood does not get on any clothes. She asked me if I wanted to practice on the dummy, and I said no, I just wanted to get it over with.

​The next thing I knew I was drawing up the medicine from the vial. I felt as though someone else was inside my head telling my fingers and arms what to do. I felt like a zombie with little control of what I was doing, but my mind knew this had to be done. I pinched the fat of my belly like she told me to, entered the needle at a 45-degree angle, and injected the medicine.

The nurse told me if I were to get graded, I would have received an A plus. I was so proud of myself for doing this successfully, but then I froze. I did it. The medicine was in me. There was no turning back. There was no undoing what I just did, and this was a routine I would have to do every single night for the next six to eight months. I was now officially a patient on chemotherapy. I was now a fighter taking the medicine people with cancer take. I didn’t even have cancer; I had a tumor, and now there was chemo in my body. I wanted my mom. I wanted my dad.

The nurse could see everything that was going through my head. After all she was working in a child oncology unit. She probably dealt with this every day. She asked me if I was going to be all right. I tried to joke about it and say, “I guess there is no turning back now.”

​She smiled and said, “No there isn’t.”

​I started nervously laughing to hold back the tears I did not want to cry. She saw right through me and asked what she could do to make me feel better. I told her there was nothing, that I just wanted my mom and dad. That moment I looked up to make eye contact with her, and she told me I was brave. She started crying and told me I would be just fine. I thanked her and asked her to leave so I could call my parents so they could hear I managed my first shot out of the potential 238 I would be receiving of chemotherapy. This would be the last step in the process of being diagnosed with a tumor, having a biopsy to determine if I had cancer or not, seven root canals on my bottom teeth, and surgery to remove the tumor.

I was almost done but just beginning.

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Thinkstock photo by zlikovec

Originally published: March 24, 2017
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