‘Shock to the Heart’: A Cancer Survivor Recalls the Emotions of Her First Chemo Treatment

After not knowing quite what to expect from her first chemotherapy treatment, colorectal cancer survivor Yla Flores describes the pain she felt in her heart after seeing other patients in worse conditions.

When Yla Flores began chemotherapy for colorectal cancer during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, she didn’t know what to expect from the experience.

Her physical reaction to the first few treatments was difficult, but what she did not foresee was the emotional impact she’d feel after seeing other patients with cancer undergoing treatments alongside her.

“(Chemotherapy was given in) just a big giant room, and in this room, they have all these chairs and they spaced them probably like six feet apart,” Flores said during an interview with CURE®. “Probably prior to COVID-19, maybe they were spaced a little closer, but (they were) about six feet apart. So, you can see people from across the room and everybody is having some kind of treatment, somehow or another.”

As she watched the other patients undergoing treatment, her heart was struck by seeing people in worse conditions or who were very young. When her friend picked her up from treatment, Flores said she broke down crying.

“I think (my friend) thought that … I was crying from the chemo — like (that) I was crying for myself,” she said. “But, after I was able to compose myself after, I don't know, 10 or 15 minutes of just letting it out, I was able to tell her, ‘Hey, listen, I'm not even crying for myself. I'm fine. I'm OK. You know, it's just seeing what I've seen today, just people who are really in dire straits, and how bad this is.’”

Transcription:

The first treatment was horrible — the first couple of treatments. They ended up adjusting some of the anti-nausea medication and some of the things. It was just, you know, I think your body's just in shock. You really don't know what to expect, they can verbally say to you, “Hey, you know, this is what could happen, or these could be your side effects and everything.” But until you're fully experienced those things you really don't know until you're literally in those shoes. So I wish I would have had a little bit of heads up because maybe it would have eased my first couple of chemo treatments, just knowing what I could preventively do to just make them maybe a little better for me.

The staff was great. They had us — it's interesting, it's like this whole room, you know, it's like just a big giant room, and in this room, they have all these chairs and they spaced them probably like six feet apart. Probably prior to COVID-19, maybe they were spaced a little closer, but (they were) about six feet apart. So you can see people from across the room and everybody is having some kind of treatment, somehow or another.

It's just, you know, you see everything. There are people I think probably like myself, that you would see on the street and you wouldn’t say, “Oh, that's a cancer patient. Yep, she's going through chemo.” Like I was probably one of those, nobody would probably have known that. And then you see the ones that are very frail, that are just very sick. You see different age groups. I think that for me, personally, was very hard, emotionally.

(For) my first chemo treatment, my friend dropped me off, my friend Jennifer. And she lives adjacent to the hospital – very close to it. So she dropped me off and I come out, and I'm literally just bawling. I'm crying and I'm crying. I get in the car, and I'm crying and crying. And she doesn't know what to do, because she's never really seen me like that. You know, people get to see a different side of you. So I'm just bawling. I get in the car and she just doesn't know how to comfort me. She doesn't know what to say, she's like, “It's OK, It's OK.” I think she thought that like literally I was crying from the chemo — like (that) I was crying for myself. But literally, after I was able to compose myself after, I don't know, 10 or 15 minutes of just letting it out, I was able to tell her, “Hey, listen, I'm not even crying for myself. I'm fine. I'm OK. You know, it's just seeing what I've seen today, just people who are really in dire streets, and how bad this is.”

And some of the things that I overheard — you overhear a lot of people like chattering, the patients and just everything and it was an eye opener. I've never been involved in anything like this. I've never accompanied somebody to chemo treatment — doctor's appointments, of course, all-day-long, surgeries, yes — but nothing quite like this. So this was really a bit of a shock, not just to my personal system, but also to my heart to what I literally saw in there, so.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.