In the middle of last summer, my car broke down on the way to work. I was able to make it home and straight to my mechanic's house where my Beloved met me to drive me the rest of the way. When we knocked on the door and Carmen opened it, she was bald and wearing a surgical mask. She explained that she was in the middle of chemotherapy for leukemia she was diagnosed with earlier in the year. Yep - shocked doesn't quite cover it.
Through varous car issues, my family has seen our mechanic many times since. A few times, I'd call when they were in the car together either going to or coming from chemo. When I called to see if he could take alook at my now 10-year-old car earlier this week, he said he and Carmen were on their way up from chemo and he put her on the phone so I could chat with her. She said her bloodwork came back a little weird and her onc did a bone marrow biopsy that she needed to come back down for the next day to get the results. Usually one to refuse help, when I asked her if she needed any, she asked if I'd mind driving her down the next day so her hubby wouldn't have to spend another day away from work. I'm off on Fridays, so it wasn't a big deal at all.
It had been a while since I'd seen her, but when I got to her house to pick her up the next morning, the first thing I saw was her head full of hair. It was growing back salt and pepper in color and very curly. Chemo does that sometimes.
When we arrived, she introduced me to her oncologist, but I noticed that Carmen would not look her in the eye. The doc started right in."Your test results weren't good," she said. "We found some leukemia cells. I'd like to admit you today and start you on a steroid while we wait for the complete results - which I should get by Monday - and decide where to go chemo-wise from here."
Carmen is as upbeat as the day is long. But she was a little shaken when she heard that. Imagine thinking you are nearing the end of the treatment tunnel and the light you see is just a train waiting to flatten you. Again. Who wouldn't be shaken by that?
Between leaving the doc's office and being admitted to her room on the other side of the hospital, Carmen had to call her hubby to tell him what was what, call her oldest daughter to ask her to pack a bag for her with some essentials so her husband could bring it by later, call her mother and brother and tell the nurses on the floor she'd spent three months with during her last extended stay why she was back. By my accounting, by the time she got to her room, she'd told the story of her new diagnosis a total of eight times in less than an hour.
While the hospital staff prepped the stuff they needed to prep, we grabbed some food from the cafeteria and brought it back to the seventh floor lounge to eat. We talked about almost everything under the sun - from evil ex-husbands and fast-growing children to life in our town and our chosen career paths. We talked about everything but cancer.
I stayed with her until she was settled and they started and I.V. for the steroids. My plan was to wait with her until her hubby arrived but she seemed like she was getting tired and I realized that she hadn't had any alone time since she got the news from her doc.
This is the "new normal" that is cancer - plowing ahead and praying for the best, but knowing the absolute worst could be just a blood test or scan away. It's worrying about how your family will take the news that the horrible that dotted the year would have to be repeated once again. It's trying to keep upbeat and positive when you are scared out of your mind. It's meeting a hospital roommate who just turned 30 a few days before but has been dealing with cancer since age 16.
It's really trying to stay sane where there seemingly isn't any rhyme or reason to the crazy that has become your life.
Carmen was 51 weeks out from her intial diagnosis. She did all that she was supposed to treatment- and lifestyle-wise, and still it was almost like the previous year of chemo, scans and blood work even didn't happen. As a survivor, it's hard not to wonder what kinda sense that makes. Such an absolute crap shoot this disease is.
I called to her husband as I left the hospital to tell him how she was doing and let him know I was heading home. He sounded absolutely terrible, which is understandable. When a person is dealing with a cancer diagnosis, their family is dealing with it, too. The weekend, I'm sure, will be spent with them worrying about each other an awful lot.
But there is normalcy, too. Carmen, who handles her household's bills, said she was worried because her hubby would be in charge of the finances until she made it home. "I can imagine coming home and there being no TV because he forgot to pay the cable bill," she said. Totally normal. What mom doesn't worry about the home front when she's not there?
"The best part about starting high-dose chemo again is that I won't have to worry about shaving my legs this summer," she told me while the nurses were trying to find a vein for her I.V. Pretty normal. What woman isn't looking for a way to save some time?
Cancer sucks, by the way...