Remember at the start of “Cheers” were the theme song says
You want to go where people know, The people are all the same. You want to go were everybody knows your name.
I have found that chemotherapy treatment at KU Cancer Center is quite a bit like being at a restaurant.
The medical assistants are the hostesses, the nurses are like the servers and the pharmacist is the cook (Actually that’s not a fair comparison. They’re highly trained, medical professionals. In this analogy they will be chefs.)
After 8 months of treatment, I’m now a regular here. I like to call myself that rather than a “lifer”. When they ask me what number treatment this is and how many I have left, I have the distinction of being able to say “I’m in for life”. As a regular, I’m afforded a few more perks than your average “6 rounds Jane”. I get better rooms (while being close to the bathroom is great for the one time a visit you need it, no one wants to spend their whole day with every middle-aged enlarged prostate shuffling by your room every 10 min), the snack volunteer already knows that I like peanut butter crackers and I get my favorite nurses most visits.
You start your visit in a waiting area surrounded by all types of humanity. There’s the guy who thought he could get in and out way faster than is really possible and he’s about to be sorely disappointed when every hold up known to man happens to him. There’s the old couple who bring the iPad their grandkids taught them to do crossword puzzles on, the newly retired dude who loves to tell everyone he’s retired “I don’t mind waiting, I’m retired. I’ve got all day”. There’s what I call the “sisterhood of the traveling something or another” group” who are all dressed in yoga pants and feather boas to support one of their girlfriends going through treatment. There’s the lady who just came in for fluids (happy hour!!) and then there’s David and I sitting in the corner, side-eyeing anyone holding an uncomfortably loud phone conversation and giggling our immature butts off at inside jokes – just like we would waiting for a table at our favorite restaurant. Each one of these people are fighting their own fight in the best way they know how. Some are patients, some are caregivers but all are waiting their turn for the thing that connects us all… the hope that this damn treatment that makes us feel crummy will somehow help in this crummier situation. Oh and the shared misery of sitting in a waiting room waiting and waiting and waiting.
I’ve identified my favorite nurses. Mostly they’re my favorites because I’ve had them so often and their familiar faces and the ability to avoid explaining my backstory to another soul is a comfort. There’s Kyle – she’s funny and kind and makes me laugh every time she walks in my room. At the beginning of a treatment, if I see her walk in my room I greet her like the patrons at Cheers greet Norm with a resounding “KYLE!!” There’s Toni – she reminds me a lot of Tanya Tucker and calls me “kid” every time she leaves my room “ok, Kid. You’re all set”. “Have a great nap, Kid.” “Need anything, Kid?” You get the picture. Being called “Kid” may have irritated me when I actually was a kid, but now that I’m decidedly middle-aged, this makes me feel youthful and spry. Then there’s Anne. She was nurse of the year last year and while I’m sure it is a great honor, her teammates like to tease her about it. I always remind her that I feel that I’m in especially capable hands while being cared for by such a decorated professional. She’s sweet and caring and really does make the hours I spend in that recliner a little more pleasant.
Heading back to the kitchen (the pharmacy)….. My favorite pharmacist’s name is Nikki. Being a regular, I get the honor of being introduced to the chef at every visit. Ok, that’s a lie. Nikki is a client of mine who happened to notice as she mixed up my “chemo-cocktail” that she recognized my name. Looking at my chart and my unfortunate patient photo attached, she confirmed that the Rachel Moore she was prepping chemo drugs for was indeed her friendly wedding/family photographer whom she had seen just weeks before for her family’s annual family photos. It must have come as a great shock to her as I made no mention of my “current condition” at their session. Nikki was kind enough to stop in my room and visit one day.
After treatment you’re sent out into the world with a cheerie “see you next time” and a little ” to go” bag. My bag is a pump that continues to infuse chemo drugs for 42 hours — yum!
In all seriousness, I get asked a lot how I have such a positive attitude about all of this and the answer is that making the best of a situation, remaining positive and having hope really does influence outcomes. If I’m able to turn these experiences into something that can be laughed about, I feel like they’re manageable. Mr Rogers said “If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable” my little twist on that is “If it’s laughable, it’s livable.” Not as eloquent but you get the point.