Cancer in Two Acts

I pretend I’m at a spa day as an oncology nurse in a hazmat suit unhooks me from the intravenous drip machine.

Act 1

It was like any other summer day, warm but not too warm. With the room a bit cool, I was trying not to shiver while buttoning my blouse, waiting silently for the technician's return, looking and finding nothing, if I were a kleptomaniac, to steal. There were no sharp instruments, no pretty pictures. I have no use for jars full of cotton swabs or boxes of powdered gloves.

I followed the woman to a windowless room as she insists that I call someone to sit with me.

“There is no one,” I say. “No one at all. Tell me quick. Look me in the eye and tell me all, the black and the white and all the grays in between. Tell me all so I can breathe, tell me all.”

Act 2

Tethered to tubes the cancer tribe gathers their bald heads and scarred bodies into the quietest of infusion rooms. Wrapped in warmed blankets, everyone speaks softly with intention as lights are dimmed. Tubes in arms and chests silently pump poison as daybreak peeks through the dusty windows.

Nurses quietly ask questions: “Nausea? Fever? Have you been eating? Fainting? Do you need more medications?” The small tribe answers each question in exquisite detail, as if our answers were the keys to unlock our broken bodies.

A young thin woman describes a night of sitting in her own feces and vomit, as she was too weak to rise from her bedroom floor. "But it was fine — only lasted a few hours and my husband was so sweet to clean up the rug. I'm fine, no big deal."

We downplay every horror for the comfort of others because we don't want to spread our pain or acknowledge how hard this new life has become. So we nod and smile and pretend. We are actors in a macabre play where we all know the ending, but pretend it's just another day in another life. Our gods give us too many lessons.

Closing my eyes, I feel the comfort of the heating pad on my back. With a warmed blanket covering my scarred chest, I pretend its spa day, and I’m waiting patiently for a soft healing massage to soothe me. A gentle touch on my shoulder is the nurse pulling on her latex gloves and hazmat apron to unhook me from the drip machine.

I’m gathering myself to go back into the world I thank her. Outside the infusion room no one knows I am full of poison collected from the bark of a Himalayan yew tree.

I walk to a coffee shop, place my order, take my warm cup to my car, sit and sip. Briefly sitting alone feeling the strangeness of my day and of my life as it has transformed.

Will anyone see how hard it is to survive? Will anyone care that I now no longer own my body? Will anyone recognize the person I have become while I pretend to be the same as I once was?

I gather my humor and my courage and begin another day.

This article was written and sent in by Clare Olivares.

This article reflects the views of Clare Olivares and not of CURE®.


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