Notes from the Chemo Lounge
I don’t want to write this blog. If I do, it become irretrievable and irrevocably true. I have cancer and it’s bad cancer, metastasized in inoperable lymph nodes near my kidneys. It’s not get-your-affairs-in-order time – yet – but the oncologist’s assessment of my five-year survival is “slim.”
Here’s what happened.
In early February, I was feeling bad enough to see my doctor, who scheduled me for a CAT scan. Two days before the procedure, I knew something was terribly wrong, so I went to the ER at Seton Hospital in Hayes County. I was admitted immediately, wheeled into surgery about 12 hours later, and then told through a anesthetic fog the next day that I had Stage 3 colon cancer.
If there’s any humor to this situation, it’s that I woke to find myself in room 420.
I take this news and information cautiously, bearing in mind that I sat in the surgeon’s office with my brother Stephen when he was handed his you’ve-got-about-a-year-to-live sentence in 2006. My brother Scott already beat colon cancer, yet he too was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year. My mother is over 20 years cancer-free, having undergone a double mastectomy in 1992.
Seems to run in my family.
Life out of the hospital demanded drastic changes in everything from diet to managing the tube and vacu-pump I now wore. Additionally, membership in a club stranger than the cancer club awaited – the subculture of handicap cart users at Walmart and HEB. This remains amusing to many of my close friends because golf carts loom large in my personal mythos.
Now HEB, Target, Sam’s, and Walmart all have different styles of carts, and the mega HEB in Kyle gives Walmart a run for its money. Still, Walmart has designed its stores to serve the infirm, elderly, and low income. Where I used to decry their very existence, I suddenly appreciate Walmart’s attention to this under-acknowledged strata of society I was involuntarily inducted into.
The stores are to be commended for wide aisles and reachable displays. I usually use the Buda Walmart and find that others in carts greet me with knowing nods and smiles. We instantly understand each other’s limitations. I smile and nod back, understanding that we on wheels share a point of view: our common enemy is the Small Unattended Child.
You can read the envy on their little faces – and disbelief. Why are vehicles clearly designed for children being used by scary-looking adults? And in a store?? We on the carts agree: life is unfair.
The week before the Austin Music Awards and South by Southwest, I underwent a PET scan. These results were “disappointing” and the oncologist kindly waited until the Monday after SXSW to deliver the news that I was upgraded to Stage 4, with a good shot at a couple of years via chemo.
This was a decidedly different outlook than the cheerful, you’ll-beat-this-easy diagnosis I’d been given before SXSW.
My boyfriend Steve and I decided to see a movie that afternoon to take our minds off things and chose the new Oz movie in 3-D. As we were watching trailers, this line ambushed me: “Welcome to the first day of what’s left of the rest of your life.”
Great. I’d not only drawn the black card, even Hollywood seemed in on the secret.