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Angela's story: Facing chemo with mom

Angela's story: Facing chemo with mom

Mom receiving her first chemo treatment in October 2014, at the Cancer Center at Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare in Utica, NY.

Mom receiving her first chemo treatment in October 2014, at the Cancer Center at Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare in Utica, NY.

Dangerous. Scary. Poisonous.

Hair loss.

Life-saving? Life-ending?

I knew nothing about chemotherapy as I walked into the cancer center in Utica, NY for mom’s first of eight treatments.

And now that stuff was about to go into my mother’s veins.

I shuddered as we walked into the chemo room. 

A headband held Mom’s long, thick hair. She carried a bag filled with crackers, ginger chews and an iPad – items friends and various websites told her she’d need.

We approached the nurses’ station in the center of a large room.

Mom smiled.

Her eyes didn’t.  

A row of reclining chairs lined the walls wrapping the desk.

The chairs, with their brown, outdated, cracking, fading, leather, told their own tired stories.

How many people had been in those chairs? Tears filled my eyes.

I panned the room.

Hairless heads. Graying skin. Wearied eyes. Burdened smiles.

My mom. She didn’t look sick.

My stomach clenched. 

My mom has cancer.

“We’re going to give you a bag of saline,” the nurse said, situating mom in a private room. “It’ll help lubricate the vein.”

Mom stopped smiling.

My mom has cancer.

“You’re going to be here for several hours,” the nurse said, pressing along mom’s arm for a vein.

“Do you have a port?” she asked.

It’d only been two weeks since the doctor called her with the news, mom explained. There hadn’t been time. 

The nurse stopped.

“The chemo you’re going to receive is quite strong,” she said, raising her eyebrows and glancing at mom. “We don’t really like to go through the vein. The port is important.” 

I wiped my hands on my pants.

I closed my eyes and gently massaged my forehead.

My mom has cancer.

“Is this dangerous?” I asked.

“Well …,” the nurse said, looking away.

I ran to the nurses’ station.

“I need to speak to the head nurse.” I pounded my fist on the counter.

It wasn’t long before Annie greeted my fist-pounding.

“Hi, I’m Annie,” she smiled warmly. Her big brown eyes reminded me of the ones you’d see on a cartoon character – bright, friendly, open, sparkling.

My hands stopped sweating.

“Everything is going to be fine,” she said after I listed my concerns.

Port. Cancer. Dangerous.

My mom has cancer.

“Let me come into the room and check things out,” she said coming around the counter leading me back to my mom.

Annie agreed chemo without the port could be risky, but nonetheless necessary to begin immediately.

“Right now, you feel like this,” she said hunching over, using her arm like a pendulum.
“And then you’re going to be here,” she continued, swinging her pendulum arm to the opposite side.

We laughed. We really laughed.

Mom laughed. She really laughed.

And chemo began.

“How do you feel? Are you OK? Does it hurt? Are you tired? Do you need anything? Does anything feel weird?”

“Angie. Shut. Up,” she finally said after 20 minutes of being questioned.  

I watched the liquid slowly drip from the bag. I pictured the chemo taking over Mom’s body. 

Drip. Drip. Drip.

I massaged my forehead and tried to sit comfortably next to mom. I watched as she played Candy Crush on the iPad we packed in her chemo bag.

My mom is strong.

Annie stopped in with a joke.

I watched from the room as moms like my mom and daughters like me approached the nurses’ station.

After about six more check-ins from Annie, a dozen more patients approaching the station, and what seemed like 5,000 more rounds of Candy Crush, treatment ended.

My mom is strong.

We made it.

One down. Seven to go.

Angela's story: Fearing hair loss

Angela's story: Fearing hair loss

Angela's story: Time to face the doctor

Angela's story: Time to face the doctor