Almost every week I do the same thing. I slip on a hat over my bald head and – depending on where I am in my chemo cycle – I or someone else drives me to the hospital to see the vampires. While I used to have a fear of needles, I now let the hospital phlebotomist draw my blood to check for CA-125 like a champ. Honestly, I secretly judge my blood drawer on their experience and rejoice when I get my favorite phlebotomist – an older Indian woman whose name I still haven’t memorized.
Last week, as I settled into my usual seat in the waiting room with a hospital band around my wrist, I overheard a lady talking to the nurse. She stood fumbling with four powder blue scripts and was explaining to the nurse that her doctor gave her several standing orders for blood work and that she needed to get her CA-125 checked every third week. She sounded like me when I first got my orders. I peeked at this woman – middle aged, average height and build. She didn’t look like a cancer patient, but neither did I before my hair fell out. Her hair was still auburn and thick which meant she was starting chemo.
After getting my blood drawn, I pulled my white fleece jacket back on, adjusted my hat, and headed for the elevators. In front of me was another woman, advanced in years, donning a rimmed black cap over her shaved head – given away by the short prickly evidence on the nape of her neck – like me. As we boarded the elevator together, she smiled and said she liked my hat. I smiled back and told her I needed something comfy for chemo. She said, “Me too,” and we left the elevator and walked toward our separate lives.
As I sat in the car and waited for it to warm up, I felt an overwhelming camaraderie with both women – the one fumbling with hospital scripts and the other who was also mid-treatment. We all will come back to the same hospital to get our blood drawn and then go back to our families, friends, and lives. I’ve never really met anyone going through chemo so there’s a sense of sisterhood when I casually chat with other women at the infusion center or smile at other hat wearing warriors waiting for a blood draw.
We will all do similar things. Tonight, I will prepare for my third round of chemo. Like many other men and women who had cancer, I will check all my medicine bottles (pain and nausea) tonight. I will reorganize my hospital bag for another 6 hour infusion. I will find my favorite hat and sweatpants to wear tomorrow morning. I will eat my heart out with pizza and hot wings while I still have an appetite. I will talk to my husband and hold my son while I still have the energy. I will reread scripture to get me through it.
We are not alone.