Just What I Needed.

It’s been ten years now since my cancer diagnosis, the perfect time to see that the hospital where I went for treatment offers an Introduction To Chemotherapy class. It’s a great idea and I’m glad it’s being offered, but where was it when I needed it? I could have used something like that when I was at the beginning of treatment—it would have been even better to have it before the first day I walked into the clinic scared out of my mind because I had no idea what chemotherapy was going to be like or what it would involve. I’d watched Breaking Bad and seen Walter White go the clinic for treatment but I don’t recall actually seeing what that involved until close to the end of the final season, when he was living alone in a cabin in New Hampshire. And, in spite of knowing far too many friends who’d been through cancer themselves, I didn’t realize he was getting chemotherapy. I’d also read memoirs by people about their own cancer battles, specifically Robert Schimmel’s Cancer On $5 A Day (which was originally supposed to be called I Licked The Big C), Gilda Radner’s It’s Always Something, and Julia Sweeney’s God Said Ha!

So I was prepared to face cancer with a lot of humor. And I was prepared for side effects, which I got. My hair fell out, I had bouts of nausea, and my fingernails got dark and crusty. I got a rash from sunlight. And I felt tired all the time. What I wasn’t prepared for was what the process of getting chemotherapy actually meant. Nothing I’d read or seen, I thought, actually showed what happens to a person getting chemo, so I imagined it was too gruesome to be shown or even described. This may sound really stupid, and my wife and other people have even asked me, “Why didn’t you ask about it before you started?” Because I was terrified of what it meant but also trying to put on an unnecessary brave face. And whatever chemotherapy involved I was going to go through it because the other option was, to be blunt, death.

Here’s what happened on my first day, and every subsequent full session after that: I went into the clinic and sat down in a room. Some nurses came in and gave me a few pills and a cup of water. Because it was really cold in the clinic, in spite of it being 90 degrees outside, they offered me a warm blanket. They brought in an IV pole with a bag full of fluid, stuck a needle in my arm, and said, “Call us if you need anything” and left me there by myself for three hours. When the bag of fluid was empty an alarm went off, they came and took the needle out of my arm, and that was it.

When someone gets a cancer diagnosis they’re bombarded with information: what it means, what their chances are, what their treatment options are. I get that a detail like “At least part of your treatment will involve sitting in a chair for hours so figure out something to do with your time” is not something most doctors will think to say.

And I doubt any of them would recommend filling that time with some bad lip syncing.

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  1. mydangblog

    I’m sure even knowing what it entailed wouldn’t alleviate the fear, but better to know up front, I agree. I’ve never gone through this, and I’m sorry you had to, but I’m happy that you recovered–and got your hair back:-)

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I think if I’d known that getting chemotherapy mostly just meant sitting in a chair–there were also days when I just came in for an injection–I would have been a lot more relaxed going in. I literally stopped eating before I started treatment but then recovered during my first week. The funny thing about losing my hair is I found there were a lot of advantages to being completely bald. It made showers a lot shorter.

  2. Ann Koplow

    I love you, Chris, and I love this post so very much. Thanks for all of it.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thanks for still being here after all these years, Ann. I think I started reading your blog while I was I’m treatment, or at least shortly after, and it’s still a comfort.


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