While I was visiting my parents for Christmas, I had the opportunity to go with my mum to a chemo appointment. I was glad to have the chance to do this with her for several reasons. First, just to know that I can be a support for her right now, even if it’s just being the person to drive her to the cancer centre and fetch her coffee and push her wheelchair. And second, out of sheer curiosity – I had no idea what was involved with a session of chemo.
Sonya, a family friend who also recently underwent cancer treatment, came with us, to show me where to go and park, and for the company. After dropping Mum off in her chair and returning from the distant parking lot via the free shuttle, we discovered that we were going to be there a lot longer than we had originally planned for. Because of the two holidays, there were a lot more people than usual waiting for their appointments. We learned that we would also have to wait until several blood tests had been completed and analysed; these are normally done the day before, but, again – that was Boxing Day.
The cancer centre wasn't the serious, somewhat depressing place I half-expected it to be. It was full of light, despite the gloominess of the day. In fact, after some wandering around the hospital after being gently kicked out of the treatment room, I came to the conclusion that the cancer centre is the most light-filled area of the whole place. The people were not despondent and hopeless - rather, they were strong and friendly, and open to share with each other their challenges, symptoms, and triumphs. And there were knitters who politely admired my blanket and shared stories of their own projects.
After a couple of hours of waiting (approximately six inches of baby blanket) we were lead into a large room lined with armchairs, similar to a blood donation clinic. Mum took a seat in one of the chairs, and, after checking temperature and blood pressure, and reviewing symptoms and progress, the nurse hooked up a saline drip to her PICC line. Over the next two and a half hours, Mum received four drugs: a combination of simple injections and IV bags.
Once all of the syringes and bags had been emptied into Mum, we were finished for the day.
Overall, I was impressed by the cancer centre. Downstairs from the waiting and treatment areas, there is a high-ceiled, open space furnished with couches and bookshelves full of books that can be checked out by patients. While waiting, I read a book about cancer and humour. There is also a small store stocked with wigs, hats and turbans, all available for purchase, or, for someone who can't afford to pay, just to be taken and used.
Mum's doing okay in her treatment so far, but she is experiencing some negative side effects. She has pain in her fingertips and has lost most of her hair now. She was informed yesterday that her body isn't making enough red blood cells. If she wants to continue the chemo, she needs to start giving herself daily injections.
But through everything, Mum is keeping positive and strong. A positive to losing your hair? No shaving your legs for weeks! And it's funny to hear her talk about food - you don't often hear someone say, "Oh, I really think I should have more butter on this - for my health, you know." Today she had a small triumph in the gaining of two pounds - her first weight gain since everything started months ago.
On the knitting side of things, two of the hats I knit were too big - my mum apparently has a freakishly small head. The fuzzy, brown chenille hat fits alright once the brim is turned up, and the blue hat fits okay, but the white, lace-edged hat is far too big. I've asked Mum to give any hats that she won't use to the cancer centre hat shop, so none will be wasted.
I'm glad I could go once, to see and meet the people who are helping my mum to get better.