Just when I start worrying that my recovery is too slow, the universe reminds me how far I have come.
Twice this past week I saw myself in my rear-view mirror and rejoiced.
First was at the office of my radiologist, where I returned triumphant from the day they had seen me last now with a fuzzy head of hair, a sparkle in my eyes and a robust color in my cheeks. My healthcare team truly seemed happy to see me looking so much different than the day of my last radiation treatment on Christmas Eve.
As I sat awaiting Dr. P, a familiar figure came through the door. It was me months ago: a woman recovering from chemo and a mastectomy. She was walking slightly hunched over, most likely from the pain of burns on her chest, and looked wan and frail. A pink scarf covered her bald head.
She sat across from me and I offered a smile. She weakly smiled back. I tried not to stare at this person who was creating such a flashback moment.
Finally I spoke: “You know, you are me three months ago. I have hair; I go to the gym. Before you know it you’ll be your old self, only better. You can do this!”
She smiled and took off her scarf to show me her head. “Thank you,” she said, “I know I can.”
The next day I was back at Stanford in the Infusion Treatment Area hooked to the drip bag delivering the chemical therapy I’m on until October – Herceptin. I actually love going there every three weeks because my healthcare team always seems excited to see the progress I’ve made.
But being hooked to a chemical anti-body through a port in my chest always gives me pause. At least it’s not the toxic chemotherapies that nearly killed me last summer, I reminded myself as I stared at an older woman in the recliner across from me rubbing her shiny bald head. That was me six months ago, constantly weak and nauseous from Adriamycin, Cytoxan and Taxotere, but willed to fight by my friends and family.
With my bag of chemicals half done, hers dripped to an end. Her husband pulled out a camera as the nurse removed her IV. She started sobbing, but they were tears of happiness. I heard her say that it was her last round of chemotherapy.
I was flooded with emotions as I remembered my own last round and the nurses and doctor who gathered to sing as we celebrated the end of a life-altering ordeal. I wanted to speak to her, but am mindful that some people don’t want to be bothered. So I did what came naturally – I started clapping. Slowly at first. Then others around us joined in when they realized what was happening. We all either know what it means to finish, or we imagine the joy we will feel on the day we no longer submit our bodies to poison in an effort to save them.
The woman slowly stood up, dried her eyes, and gave me a thumbs up sign.
I could barely see it. My eyes were brimming with tears.