This is the only picture that exists of me getting chemo. I stumbled across it the other day, and my stomach sank.
My dear friend Meghan took the picture (she also made the adorable sign). If you look closely you can see a clear tube running up to the top of my chest, my sweatshirt is covering my port.
I stared at it for awhile.
My eyebrows are thin and small. I have scarf on my completely bald head. It is April, but I have a heated blanket covering up my super thin frame. (I lost about 10 pounds during my treatment). I’m a bit pale, but that smile is real. Although I was dreading the aftereffects, it was the last time I was going to have the slow drip of lead forced into my veins. I couldn’t wait to fast forward time, and be done.
This picture does something to me. It digs up something that wants to stayed buried.
There are no other pictures of me getting chemo. And that is on purpose. I did not want to capture it. It was too painful, too raw.
But as I look at this picture, I feel grateful to Meghan. Her bright spirit handed me the sign, told me to smile, and snapped it in a blink. And now I have this image. This image of me at one of my weakest points in life.
What I see behind that smile is flashes of the raw pain that cancer brings. I see my face puffy, red, streaked with tears. I see Joel’s sad eyes when he found me sobbing in the shower, my fists balled up, my chest heaving with fear and anger. I see my boys walking out the door in the morning without my hand in theirs. I hear their laughter as someone else chases them to the park. I smell the lavender oil that I would swirl in my bath, and the ginger tea I used to settle my stomach. I see the pill bottles and sticky spoons.
Recently when I was back at the cancer center for one of my shots, I got stuck in the waiting room for over an hour. I always dread going back there. The smell of the building gets my heart beating fast. I feel like I am awaiting impending doom. It is hard for me to sit still. I try to distract myself with my phone, but I can’t help but notice.
I notice the dad that has his two kids with him. It is summer, they don’t have school, so they have to be there to see this. The grandma that has already lost her hair, and looks so tired, but smiles and holds her grandson’s hand. The man in the wheelchair that is asking why his insurance won’t cover something, the woman that looks like she can’t be a minute over 25, the scarf that sits lopsided on her head. The husband and wife that don’t speak, but clutch each others’ hands close to their chests. The elderly lady carrying a container of her urine, she has to wait in line to ask the receptionist where to bring it. I hear the words, “oncology, radiation, pet scan, MRI, chemotherapy . . . “.
It all makes my head spin. The suffering is so orderly. So neat, with lines, and comfy waiting chairs, and brightly colored magazines.
As each minute passes, I grow increasingly anxious. I start fantasizing about taking the hand santizer stand and using it as a baseball bat to break the beautiful stain-glass wall that divides the space.
“Melissa,” the nurse calls my name and apologizes for my wait. I smile and collect my keys and purse and walk back to the lab for my shot. The deep sting of the needle is nothing compared to waiting room waiting. My friends tell me this could be PTSD. I think they are right.
When I was making my way through the first part of my diagnosis I compared my cancer journey to a triathlon.
Chemo= the swim Surgery= the bike Shots+pills for five years = the run.
On July 10th I will competing in my first real-life (sprint) triathlon. I will bring my broken body to the edge of a lake and swim. I will hop up on my borrowed bike and ride. And then I will run.
When I cross the finish line, I will be thinking about this photo. This reminder of where I have been. It does not define me, it is just a snapshot of my story. I imagine I will be crying, but there will also be a joyful bursting in my chest. I am here.