This whole journey began over three years ago when, by sheer accident, they discovered cancer in my right breast. It never showed in any imaging. They did a lumpectomy to remove what they thought was a benign papilloma in one of the ducts--it was, indeed, benign--and discovered carcinoma. After three surgeries in two months, I ended up minus that breast and all its lymph glands and counting myself lucky, since the breast had been riddled with carcinomas that didn't show up in any diagnostic imaging. We had caught it just before it began moving out of the breast.
The mastectomy left me with lymphedema in my right arm, a condition that can't be cured but must be managed for the rest of my life. And my fierce, little oncologist who sees herself in a never-ending battle with cancer (and whom I love and respect) put me on daily meds and an every-six-months infusion to try to prevent the same kind of hidden cancer from growing in my left breast. The side effects of these however, exacerbated my lupus and fibromyalgia, leaving me in massive flare continually. The fatigue and weakness, joint pain, and muscle pain and weakness decreased my mobility more and more as time passed. So I finally decided that I needed to stop at three years, even though she had wanted me to stay on this regimen for at least five years.
So I was nervous when I went in for my six-months treatment and told her I didn't want the chemo and had already stopped taking the Aromasin. I explained that I saw it as a quality-of-life decision--and to my great relief, she agreed with me. I didn't want to anger her. This woman, my wonderful female surgeon, and the rest of my medical team probably saved my life, and I'm eternally grateful to them. I just didn't want to spend any more years as a semi-invalid.
So, as I finally put cancer behind me, I want to post this poem I wrote one day after my time in the chemo clinic. I met so many people who were fighting hard and sometimes pretty hopeless battles with such courage and dignity. I always came out of my time in the chemo chair--which was nowhere as awful as what some of them endured each time--with renewed respect for those other patients and for the nurses, who were always upbeat, kind, and truly caring.
IN THE CHEMO CLINIC
In the chemo clinic today cushy chairs raise us above
the ground like children with feet dangling until the nurses
put us in recline with our feet out in front
of us and our heads tilted back fluorescent colored
bags hang from rolling chrome towers a different color
for each of us we’re having a real party here this cold rainy
afternoon colorful plastic lines drip the bright
liquids into us every one to her own poison it’s just us
girls here today no guys this time gaunt gray cheeked
white haired if we had any left girls except
a few of us who have swelled like helium balloons
at home and of course the nurses so good at finding
collapsed veins and installing new ports we’re trading
jokes cemetery humor and laughing even if some eyes
look scared or tired of the fight no one willing to be
the party pooper though all too familiar with the job
those bright colored chemicals leaving the bags
for our bodies do on the gut everyone laughing and praying
let me keep it down let me make it out and home
before it hits let me make it let me not die and leave
the drab dripping trees that I know will put out new shoots
green and lacy in the spring let me live to see them
let me be one of the ones who beats this
let me make it please let me make it
©Linda Rodriguez 2016