5 min read

Cancer in Quarantine Diaries: Getting to Know You

Creating my own cheering squad during cancer treatments
Cancer in Quarantine Diaries: Getting to Know You

Creating my own cheering squad during cancer treatments

Image photographed by the author

The exciting news in my life right now is that I went to my last blood draw for chemo last night. I’ve gone every week for the last 13 weeks and the phlebotomists have become friendly faces. Since I go at night to avoid the most traffic, I’m usually in and out in less than 10 minutes. But in those few minutes of finding a vein, drawing blood, and bandaging up by arm, we’ve chatted.

Even though I’m an introvert, I have found over the years that I get really chatty at appointments. It not only puts me at ease, it puts other people at ease. I have found that when you take the time to get to know someone, even if it’s just for a moment in their week, it makes for a more pleasant visit. By the time I leave, we’re both smiling. My husband is always surprised that by the time I walk out of a building I’ve gotten to know about someone’s day or some event in their life.

I might not know all the names, but I can tell you that the tall man, Michael, who’s done most of my blood draws calls me Madame Monday or Bebe in a friendly tone and that he’s frustrated by the people who refuse to wear masks. He also doesn’t like people who are too nice. He’s teasingly told me that he does not like people like me because we are too nice. “Bebe, tell people when they are idiots!” I think he’s had several frustrating discussions with people who don’t want to wear their masks. He’s alway calm, but firm, “Wear your mask!”

The blond lady with homemade masks with a pocket for a filter always wears a face shield. She is in my state for a couple of months from Chicago and has two kids. Her oldest son graduated from high school two years ago and with his first job he bought her an e-reader for Christmas and was excited to use his first earnings to buy Christmas gifts for the entire family. She proudly showed me her e-reader when she keeps tucked in the large pocket of her scrubs. The night shift is pretty quiet so she has time to read between appointments. She also recommended author Dan Wells to me and I recommended Diana Gabaldon.

The lady whose station is on the end of the lab goes for a walk every morning. She was a little startled when I saw her two weeks in a row and asked about her daily walks. I think she thought I was following her. I wasn’t. I was asking about her walks as a means to distract myself from the blood draw. I hate needles and as long as I don’t look or don’t pay attention to it, I’m fine.

The phlebotomist that worked with me last week talked about how she taught her three grandsons how to play baseball and how frustrated they were when they weren’t good at it from the start. We laughed and commiserated about our teenagers and their moodiness.

Last night I encountered someone new. We talked about the downpour that happened minutes before I walked in. We were laughing and chatting when my usual guy, Michael, came in and joked that he was jealous because he could hear my voice and I was laughing and joking with the other phlebotomist. I told him I was happy because it was my last blood draw for chemo. Both of them cheered with me and Michael said, “Praise God, Bebe.” I told him that I don’t know when I’ll see him again, but I’m sure that I will. Both men said that it being my last chemo appointment was a happy reason not to see them again and they’ll take it. We all three smiled as I wished them a good week. They wished me well. I have to say it was nice to have my own personal cheering squad last night.

I’ve done the same thing with all of my oncology nurses. Each of the nurses have overseen my infusions at least twice. And with each of them I have learned about their families, how many children they have, what their husbands do for a living. These conversations usually take place as they prep me for the infusion. The prepping takes 5–7 minutes. As they have other patients they don’t stay in my little cubicle and I spend my time crocheting baby blankets and listening to audiobooks.

Why do I bother when these relationships will not develop into friendships outside of the 5–7 minutes where they are poking me with some sharp instrument? I do it because it puts them at ease and it puts me at ease. I’m sure that I’m known as the chatty lady when I go in for my appointments. Even with a mask on, the desk attendants are able to recognize me week after week for my appointments. I make a point to ask them about their day or ask about them.

I have been going to chemo treatments for the last 13 weeks. My third infusion almost killed me when I had a highly sensitive reaction. That sounds dramatic, but I was definitely on the verge of passing out and becoming very sick when I called out to Jane. I even hesitated, but since I knew her name and she was close by, I was able to call her by name. She wasn’t my nurse that day. My nurse was a few chairs down assisting another patient. If I hadn’t taken the time to get to know each of the nurses for a few minutes at each appointment I may not have asked for help as quickly, and the outcome may have been worse. Instead, as I started to pass out she grabbed me to steady me, immediately stopped the infusion, and flushed out my system. Now I know that there is a call button next to my chair and allllll the nurses have made sure that I know where it is for every appointment. They also know me by name, too.

Is it worth it to know the bits of a lot of different people? Is it worth it to make the small talk and to get to know them? Is it worth it to spend a few moments and ask them how their day is going? Unequivocally, yes.

How do I know? I got my own personal cheering squad when I left my last blood draw. Yesterday, as I shimmied and danced my way out of my last chemo appointment, the nurses cheered, danced, and clapped for me. It’s worth it.

Each of these people have played a vital part in my cancer journey. By getting to know each of them, I have become more than just a name on their roster for the day. I am that chatty lady who will ask them about their day, their families, and anything under the sun. As a result they get to know me, too. I am more than the cancer patient in their chair. I am a wife, a mother, a bookworm, a writer. They begin to ask me who I am and they are able to pick up the nuances underneath the smile. They can tell when I’m really not feeling well or when I’m having a good day. They know when to stick close or when they can let me be.

And yesterday, they were my cheering squad. They co-victors in this journey with me as we rounded the corner on this leg of my treatment.

Up next, radiation and a new group of medical personnel that I’ll see daily for four weeks. Let’s see if I can get them to be part to of my new cheering squad.