In the radiation waiting room

I am almost half-way through my radiation treatments and it occurred to me that the waiting room experience may be unique to this area. When you go to your family doctor there is usually lots of time to wait and lots of other people in the room. If there are 20 patients waiting, they may all have a different issue for the doctor. There is little sense of shared experience. This is the same at almost any type of waiting room. Even in the general oncology waiting room you know that everyone is there about cancer, but you don’t know what stage they are at or what will be happening when they are called in. This is not the case in the radiation waiting room. 

At least at the Saint John Regional, each radiation machine has its own waiting room. There are chairs, a tv, a water cooler, and a little fridge with the Ensure name and logo and full of various ensure products. Sometimes the tea cart comes by with coffee, tea, and juice on offer. 

People usually arrive in pairs one the patient and their driver (most people have a family member or a friend go with them to their treatments for company as well as to drive). The patients go by the door and drop their schedule in the slot and then go change into johnny shirts. And then the waiting begins. Some days they are exactly on schedule, so there aren’t many people there. You can tell things are running behind when the room is full! Sometimes it is very quiet and at other times conversations get going, especially if things are behind.

You get so you know the folks who are being treated on the same machine. In this room, you know that each person who is a patient will be called in turn. They will walk down a hallway, around a corner, and into the room with the radiation machine. You know that each person will find the threatment bed set up specifically for them. They will be settled into position, reminded to remain still, and then the technicians will all leave the room. They will be alone with the machine. As they lie still the machine, and sometimes the bed, move around and periodically the there will be a click as the “beam on” sign lights up and the machine hums. They click off together and positioning begins again. They will know when the treatment is done when they hear the technicians talking as they come down the hall and into the room.

In the waiting room you see them come out and head off to change into their own clothes and then they appear back often with an expression of accomplishment, and tell their driver that they can go. If it was their last treatment they will have rung a bell and will have a big smile as they celebrate, hoping not having to come back. When my treatments are done, I will be the one hoping never to return. I will likely never see those people again, but I expect I will remember them as they have shared in this experience with me.

An Aha Moment

bitmoji158916047When I discovered that I never really understood!

I went to visit my best friend the other day and came to the realization that while I thought I understood what she has gone through in her life, it is not until now that I can really understand.

My friend, not yet 55, lives in a nursing home. She has advanced Multiple Sclerosis and it has been many years since she was able to work, walk, drive, etc.  She has dealt with so many losses due to MS as well as struggles in terms of services and financials.

I remember  all the hassles she had with forms for disability coverage when she was first forced to stop working. I was reminded of it while filling out forms for salary continuation and had a new understanding of just what she dealt with. Given the “protestant work ethic” which was ingrained in our generation, it is demoralizing to write on paper that you are unable to do your job!

Another thing I have realized we now have in common has to do with people’s automatic reaction to us. Her disability has almost always been visible and I remember seeing people’s various reactions to her when we were out shopping or for a meal. While some people seemed uncomfortable, the main reaction seemed to be pity.

I didn’t really think of cancer as being visible, but the fact that I have almost no hair seems to work like a neon sign over my head blinking “cancer patient!” I remember the first time when a woman came up to me before yoga class with a sympathetic look on her face and told me that she understood, she had gone through chemo too. I felt really uncomfortable that day, somehow like my privacy was violated.

Most of the time I don’t think about cancer…though I guess it may seem like I do based on writing about it. So there I am in a store thinking about what I need or whatever, make eye contact with another shopper and there it is, the sadness, pity, or whatever. The, “Oh, you have cancer!” look flashes across their faces and at first I wonder what is wrong. Do I have something on my face, or in my teeth? Then I realize what it is, oh yeah, cancer. Thanks for the reminder!”