I remember the first treatment, when I had expected to be sitting in a big room or rows of chairs getting chemo with a bunch of patients, and it turned out we each had our own room, thinking: “How am I going to make any chemo buddies?” This is part of the experience, so says whatever literature I was reading at the time.
I was ambivalent about “chemo buddies” from the beginning. In film we’ve seen where the girls in the psych wards lose friends to suicide or in the treatment facility lose friends to overdoses, and where people– especially young people but often just friends of the lead character– die of cancer. What would that mean? Was I ready to take that on?
And when the cancer survivors, and cancer patients, started coming my way, not in the chemotherapy room or in an organized and focused support group, I felt tentative and guarded.
Today I visited with my new friend D, who I met back at the “Look Good Feel Better” event in St. Cloud and then ran into again in the lobby when we shared a treatment day and time. We liked each other immediately, and of the group I would say were maybe similar in outlook and attitude. Today we talked about side effects, staying well through treatment, and hats.
“How are you doing with the heat?” she asked.
“I’ve spent a few nights on the couch with a cool cloth on my forehead,” I said.
“I’m sleeping bald. I’m just hot.”
“I’m sleeping bald, too– I’m hot and uncomfortable sleeping.”
“And around the house? Are you going bald”
“Yes, more and more. My husband has adjusted to that.”
“I’m comfortable around my husband, but that’s it. My daughter has seen me bald, but it’s still weird. I don’t want to be bald around my kids.”
“My stepdaughter is visiting and I’m careful not to be bald around her. And friends or people coming to the door. I keep a hat handy.”
She seemed glad we were on the same page on that issue. She is a much more public person than I am– with a daughter who just graduated from high school, a more public job as a medical tech where her clients don’t know about her cancer. She wears her wig often. I feel like my whole small town knows, everyone who knows me knows, and they can just deal with the scarves and hats.
“Chemo Buddies” are an interesting part of the cohort. I have run into and visited with another woman from the class at the Cancer Center. Unlike support groups, which often have a larger number of survivors, we are in the exact same place right now. There is another woman, someone I didn’t know in college but was in a Facebook group of alumni with me, who I consider a “chemo buddy.” Our conversations are the same: side effects, how many weeks left, and being bald. D. recommended a summer hat source. I recommended an essential oil blend. She gave me the inside scoop on a holistic/wellness therapist who has joined the Cancer Center. I gave her the scoop on oncology facials.
We check in– we know about good days and bad days and hope the good days outnumber the bad. We know how much we don’t know, and are freaked out by changing protocols with the possibility of new or different side effects. We are learning as we go along, and by the time we’ve learned what we need to know, we’ll be on to another part of the journey.
If D. came over to my house, I wouldn’t reach for my hat. Or maybe I would.