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Replacing Cancer Memories

Article

When my daughter was going through cancer treatment, we often heard the beeping of her chemotherapy IV. But recently, the memory of that sound was replaced with something much happier.

There are many sights, sounds and smells Adrienne and I associate with her cancer experience. I can’t see a bag of M&Ms without it taking me back or watch an episode of certain television shows that we would watch together while she laid her head in my lap and I gently ran my hand over her bald scalp. I sometimes find myself staring at certain foods in the grocery store and struggle when I see a pink ribbon decal on a car. But one of the biggest trigger sounds of all is the beep, beep, beep of the IV that signaled that a medication needed to be changed.

I sat beside Adrienne while every bag of chemotherapy dripped into her port. I adjusted pillows and blankets and made sure she had ice water to sip on. I dug out the mints she used to minimize the awful taste she got in her mouth from the saline flush that ended every session. I walked with her to the bathroom when she was groggy from the Benadryl they used to combat the potentially life-threatening reaction some people experience from chemo.

And for six months, week after week, I heard the incessant beeping letting the oncology nurses know that a patient needed attention.

On Feb. 17, that memory got replaced by a very special new one. This time, the IV was hooked up to my daughter’s arm instead of a port, and what flowed through it was the medication that was helping her bring her baby into the world.

Infertility is a horrifying potential side effect of the chemotherapy they use to treat breast cancer and neither of us was aware that it could be a consequence. When the choice is do chemotherapy and have the chance of living, or don’t and have a baby but the cancer will likely kill you, it’s not really a choice and my daughter knew that. I remember sitting there each week watching the drugs drip into the tube wondering if they were going to let me keep my baby only to take from her the chance to have one of her own.

On February 17th we got our answer when seven pounds, 14 ounces of joy arrived into our lives.

When the decision was made to augment Adrienne’s labor, I knew that meant an IV would be placed and when it beeped the first time her eyes met mine and she said, “Well that’s triggering.”I’m not sure anyone else in the room heard or understood what that meant but for the two of us it was a freeze-frame moment where the rest of the world disappeared, and it was just she and I pulled back into the experience of sitting in the oncology ward. It was only a flash, but it was so huge, and I was angry that cancer had made an entrance into this space that was supposed to be full of joy and hope. Then a contraction hit and we were brought back to the present, me holding her hand and breathing with her as the pain peaked and ebbed.

I couldn’t tell you how many more times that IV beeped over the course of the next few hours, although I know it did because I saw the nurses changing the bags. What I can tell you is that the sound has now been overlaid with a new memory, the memory of watching my daughter bring her child into the world and listening to her singing to her baby when she was placed on her chest seconds after delivery.

The next time I hear an IV making that sound it will not bring me back to a time of great despair. Instead, it will whisk me into a room full of anticipation and love, full of pride and wonder at the miracle baby that joined us that day. The tears it will bring to my eyes will not be at the helplessness of not being able to make cancer go away. They will be tears of gratitude that with all cancer took from my child, it did not take this.

Welcome to the family, baby Elise. You are so, so loved.

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