William Ramshaw resides in the expansive Pacific Northwest. He is a six-year survivor of pancreatic cancer and has written a memoir Gut Punched! Facing Pancreatic Cancer.
One cancer survivor recalls a recent return trip to the chemo room where he received his treatment seven years ago. This time, it’s to get an IV for a follow-up scan. But he can’t help but reminisce and think of those around him.
I recently found myself back in the chemo room. Thankfully, it was not for chemo but rather to have an IV set for yet another six-month follow-up scan. Having survived pancreatic cancer, a sardonic executioner, my oncologist leaves nothing to chance. Should my cancer try to make an encore for a last curtain call, she wants to drop it in its tracks.
It seems nothing much had changed since I sat there seven years ago for my treatments. The same 16, nothing sweet about them, chemo chairs still sit around the perimeter of the room facing toward each other.
Although the room strains to be cheery, there is nothing joyful about it. Washed-out salmon paint coats the walls while cheap art reprints in respectable frames hang on them. Today, half or so of the chairs are empty but I remember take-a-number days when the music stopped.
Today, across from me on the far wall, a woman sits distracting herself by scrolling through her phone. Next to her, another woman is asleep with a blanket pulled up around her neck; no doubt worn thin by her treatments. Next to me sits a gentleman of better years hooked up to a pump. He wears fright on his face. We barely exchange a glance or say a word to each other. What can we say? The sadness between us is palpable.
I remember sitting there every other week for my treatments. Other than a new set of victims, nothing much has changed. The nurses who provided loving care to me back then are long gone. I am sure there are many reasons, but I suspect dealing with this carnage week in and week out takes a toll on even the sturdiest ones. I always wonder why anyone chooses this. But I suppose the ones who work with children have a tougher slog.
While there I make a point to thank the kind nurse who sets my IV for her caring so much about others. My hope is she’ll hang in there long enough to help a few more of us survive but I fear within a couple of years she’ll be on to bigger, not necessarily better things.
A rather smallish person, to me she looks about five or six months pregnant. I say nothing as I don’t want to put her at unease. Instead, I think about the contrast of bringing a spanking brand-new human into the world while she cares for so many of us near our end.
While I wait for the scan tech to come and get me, I see much the same things I saw years ago. Some look like me other than having a thin plastic line tucked inside their shirt or blouse connected to a port in their chest. Some seem to be at ease with their plight while others have heartbreak etched in their washed-out faces.
Having been through the treatment gauntlet, my heart always breaks for these kind souls. Who knows if some genetic anomaly caused their cancer or exposure to an exotic chemical compound or yet another reason. None of this matters, cancer is cancer, and its treatments are tough at best. But today I am happy to be alive doing my best not to come back to the chemo room.
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