Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Buzz in the Chemo Unit

Well we managed to smash our goals yesterday: long day, but made it through, and saw everybody we needed to see at Sunnybrook - and in record time!  All pokes, prods, and conversations done and we were on the road home by 4pm.  The day went quickly but was very productive.

Yesterday was my fourth (already!?) infusion of the melanoma treatment drug, the last of four treatments three weeks apart, so now a break on melanoma treatment until January 19th, for the first of four more treatments, three months apart. We met with the Head & Neck Surgeon yesterday as well, but I will post about that in a subsequent entry - first I need to tell about the excitement!

There was certainly an undertone of awe and busy-bees in the Odette Chemotherapy Unit like I have not before experienced. The chemo rooms are like small hospital wards, but with just four beds or recliner chairs per room, open concept but arranged for privacy as well, and each have big windows overlooking the Sunnybrook entrance and parking lots and lots of trees, though the windows are mirrored on the outside for interior comfort.  

Each room and chair within is numbered, and patients are assigned to their chairs as their medications are ready; they are arranged in no particular order from what I can see, except for patients needing beds vs. those able to sit up-ish in recliners. It is always a mix of patients receiving treatments for various types of cancer and with various IV treatments.  Coincidentally yesterday was the first time I met a fellow melanoma patient, it was interesting to share stories. 

There is always one nurse assigned per room, and she or he is assigned to start, monitor, administer and end her wards' treatments, with an extra nurse or two floating between units to cover breaks and malfunctioning beepy unit things and get extra blankets and help us all through our tasks. Yesterday my nurse was a horse-hobbyist semi-retired chemo nurse veteran with a needle touch like air, and she called me "Love." Very nice.  

Now being an "old hand" at this chemotherapy unit stuff, I was calmly experiencing my treatment day as any other (funny how humans adapt to their circumstances, I know this story may sound a little strange to be excited about, but it's all I've got right now - work with me LOL)   ...Scott was peacefully perusing a magazine by my side, I was reclined, cozy under pre-warmed blanket, sipping my apple juice, one other lady quietly snoozing through her treatment, when in through the door walked a busy-looking leather boots to the knees business woman that made me do a double-take.  I was a bit star-struck - I turned googly-eyed to Scott mentally saying holy crap do you know who that is? and looked back, being ever so subtle, thinking naawww... too much saline, Nat, it can't be.  

She was getting settled in the chair beside me, the nurses explaining that she had to stay for her treatment for four hours - a slow drip this time instead of her "to-go" usual where she removes her own IV etc after finishing her treatment at home. You can't help but overhear this stuff, the rooms are cozy and information sort of freely passes... we are all comrades in the same boat. 

Then she spoke.  If I wasn't sure when I first saw her, I was almost sure now! Unmistakeable voice, and I was discreetly googling the television show I believed her to be the co-host of.  I showed Scott my phone screen pics of her, and because he had a more direct view of her, he could surreptitiously sneak peeks to see if the images matched (though I'm pretty sure he wasn't as excited as me - he doesn't get to watch much morning TV in his line of work hehe! tho he listens to CBC radio he couldn't really help me on this one). 

Back to the buzzing... the nurses were pretty calm, the one that did my room mate's IV didn't seem to know who her patient was, and the other nurses kept a cool tool, but the hallway seemed to be twittering. Then one of the little (elderly) volunteers came in, smiled at me then turned to my neighbour and asked her if she "would like some juice or soup and was she the one on TV yes?"  It was so cute!  She confirmed yes... and he quietly scuttled back into the hall.

I got the chance to ask her if it was her first time here, and she replied that "no, she comes once a month."  Out of respect for her privacy, I did not say anything else, though I wanted to offer her support and wish her success in her recovery.  Because everyone seemed to be being so quiet about it, and because I did not know if she was public with her obvious illness (cancer patients often LOOK ok on the outside but the tell-tale IV bruise from a visit to the chemo unit tells a little known inside story), I quietly laid back and observed the scene, minding my own business.

This morning I googled her and I see she is publicly open about her disease and is a spokesperson for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, so I would not have been out of line to be more open with her.  But I also know how it feels to want some quiet and privacy while enduring a chemical infusion, comfortable as the surroundings could possibly be, you still might just want to be alone in your head for a bit. 

When my treatment was finally done and we were gathering up our things to head to the next appointment, I turned to her a couple of times to offer a good-bye smile and eye-to-eye friendly support, but she was ear-phones deep into her ipad, likely researching a major political or entertainment figure for her next interview.  

I am content to have left it that way, and I won't mention her name also out of respect for her privacy, but I must say the whole thing made my treatment time fly by, and I am still thinking about it!  I tuned in early this A.M. to see if she was at work after her four-hour chemo yesterday and yes she was.. much to my chagrin Scott jokingly suggested perhaps I should be at work too as look SHE is! HA!  Pretty sure I threw something at him. ;-)

This experience also reminded me of how fortunate I am to be receiving world-class health care in this fantastic facility. Lots of people do, even celebrities. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre isn't just some huge mythical beast building in the faraway city, it is an incredibly professional headquarters for much of the ground-breaking and best medical services in our country. Having said that, I can attest that many patients agree that they still feel like they are treated like family. In the Cancer Centre for sure, a total view of my well-being and needs as a patient is taken into consideration with every step my medical team takes.   I thank my family physician again for so strongly encouraging me to proceed with my care there rather than chickening out with the closer centre.  

Back to nap-time now... and later I will read the issue of Sunnybrook Magazine I brought home from the sun-lit waiting room of the Odette Cancer Centre.  Thinking maybe I will email my polished Chemo neighbour as well and offer her fan support after all, let her know she has a friend in Meaford.

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