Cancer Lesson #50: Everyone Needs a Hand to Hold on to

Cancer Lesson #50: Everyone needs a hand to hold on to.

John Cougar Mellancamp sang about it in the eighties, and it’s true. Cancer treatment is challenging, with the difficulties being different for each person.

I found the constant needle jabs particularly distressing, so my “hand” was literal. Whenever I had to get a shot or have my port poked – and I’m sure the medical profession has a more technical term for that procedure – The Engineer or Darling Daughter came along to hold my hand.

Before chemo, I would have sucked it up. Now, three years later, I do the same. But when I was in treatment, I realized there was no harm in asking for a little comfort.

If that made me a wimp, I didn’t care. There are plenty of things about cancer that can’t be made any easier so if this one small thing helped, I determined to grab on to it with, well, both hands.



The point is, cancer treatment is hard enough without thinking you need to be brave every single minute. So quit trying to be a hero already. It’s okay to accept help now and then.

It’s a “whatever gets you through the night” kind of thing, with no right or wrong way to do it.

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Cancer Lesson #47: We Rarely Get What We Deserve

Cancer Lesson: 47: We rarely get what we deserve.

People were overwhelmingly kind to me when I was in treatment. In addition to the cards – which I know numbered over a hundred – I received flowers, fuzzy blankets to keep warm during chemo, a lovely handmade wool wrap, more meals than I could count, books (both to read and to color – my friends are nothing if not creative), visits, several soft hand-knit caps for cool nights, plants, home-baked goods, candy and Caramel Frappuccinos.

I’ll admit I hinted pretty heavily to get the Caramel Frappuccinos, but mostly, I felt undeserving of my friends’ generosity and fretted about to repay such kindness.

Then, my friend Kathy – who’s smarter than me – said, “Don’t you know that’s what grace is, Kym?”

She was right. I didn’t ask for those things (other than the Caramel Frappuccinos <blush>). And I understand now that most people share an inherent compassion that makes them want to help others.

So, if you find yourself besieged with goodies, try not to feel guilty. Instead, accept the gifts with grace and gratitude  and reflect on how lucky we are to have such people in our lives.

Because no one “deserves” to get cancer either.

“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

 — Anne Frank

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Cancer Lesson #41: A Cancer Glossary

Cancer Lesson #41: A cancer glossary

I could never be a doctor or nurse, or even an aide. For one thing, the medical field isn’t for wusses, and I believe we’ve already established my legitimate claim to the title of Head Wuss of Wussville, USA. Doctors and nurses deal with blood, pus, puke, piss, and more shit than the rest of us can even imagine. Frankly, I got enough of that when my daughter was a baby.

Then there are the pesky math and science requirements. Basic biology was enough for me. Even then, I refused to do the blood type experiment required to pass the class. It was bad enough to get a shot when I was sick. No way would I stick myself voluntarily. (I passed the class anyway, probably because the teacher didn’t know how to handle the intransigence of an honor roll student.)

To say I admire anyone working in the medical field would be an understatement. I grovel at their feet in abject admiration for being proficient at a job that must be trying on the best of days. In the course of my battle with (journey through?) cancer, I received better care than I ever would have expected.

I’m lucky to live within driving distance to Cleveland, a city known for its fine hospitals. Of these, “The” (never spoken without a hushed capitalization) “Clinic” is probably the most well known.

But I didn’t go to “The Clinic,” and I didn’t go to “University” either, though I’m sure both provide excellent care.

My OB/GYN is based at Metro, so I went there.

Metro is the other hospital, the one people refer to as “urban.” Where they warn you to keep your doors locked. The place you’re more likely to see a prison inmate, shackled and cuffed, or a welfare mother, than a suburban matron like me.

Still, I dare you to find better care anywhere.

At Metro, my surgeon didn’t give me referrals; her secretary gave me appointments, scheduled on the same day so I didn’t have to drive in multiple times. My OB/GYN called to say how sorry he was to hear of my diagnosis and came to see me on his first day back from a two-week leave.

The second night of my hospital stay, I awoke around midnight to find my plastic surgeon at my bedside, dressed as though he’d been to the theater. He was just checking in.

And my Metro-based oncologist still calls to let me know how my tests and blood work turn out.

But, I digress. What I’m trying to establish is my unbounded respect for anyone working in the medical field before I poke a little fun at some of the language I heard during my “Cancer Year.”

Below, in no particular order and as a service to mankind, please find “Kym’s Glossary of Medical Terminology.” Feel free to print out this handy guide for your next visit to the doctor.

Procedure: Feels like an operation; costs like an operation, but if it were an operation, we’d have to keep you overnight, and we’re sending you home.

You may feel…

     A pinch: This will feel like you’re being jabbed with a needle. Because you’re being jabbed with a needle.

     Pressure: Imagine an elephant. Balanced on one leg. On your body.

     Discomfort: As Sarah McLachlan sang: “Hold on. Hold on to yourself. This is going to hurt like hell.”

     Some pain: It will be agony, but you’ll live. At least, we hope you will. Disposing of bodies is so inconvenient, and we’re short-staffed today.

     Drowsy: Hey! Wake up. I’m talking to you.

Someone will be with you in a few minutes: You did bring a book, right? No? Then, enjoy this March 2007 issue of Triathlete. Or perhaps you’d prefer a nice catalog of cancer hair accessories. I hear they even sell bangs and sideburns you can clip on to your scarf or hat.

Sorry, we’re running a little behind: I hope your book is a long one. Like the Dictionary. Or Bible.

This looks like a good vein: I hope it’s a good vein because it’s the only one I can find.

Sorry that didn’t work out: I’m sorry that vein didn’t work. You may not believe it, but I actually don’t enjoy jabbing people with sharp instruments. Especially sniveling, weak-kneed, veinless wonders like you.

Be sure to call if you need anything or have any questions. Here are the numbers: I mean it. Call! We’ll call you back more quickly than you expect.

As a special bonus, in case (unlike me) you are ever without a book in the examining room, I offer the following suggestions for your entertainment. (And again, I’m joking!)

  1. Bet your husband or, better yet, your teenager they can’t hack into the hospital computers. Offer monetary incentives.
  2. One by one, start calling the numbers listed on the phone. Identify yourself as Dr. Jones and tell whoever answers you need help, stat, in Examining Room B.
  3. Steal an assortment of latex gloves. They’ll be handy for your next home improvement project.
  4. Rearrange the supplies in all the drawers and cupboards.
  5. Measure just how much paper is on that little roll they use to cover the exam table. Go on; I’m sure they can roll it back up and use it.
  6. Pop your head out into the hallway and ask everyone who walks by, “Are we there yet?”

Got any definitions you’d like to add? Drop a comment. Everyone who does will receive a free pair of latex gloves and a gauze pad.


Me and the Man Who Held My Hand Through the “Discomfort” of Breast Cancer Treatment

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Cancer Lesson #18: All cancer patients have a date with destiny.

Cancer Lesson #18: All cancer patients have a date with destiny.

I believe there comes a time in each patient’s life when s/he is excited to get the date of his/her surgery and/or commencement of treatment. My particular date was Wednesday 27 April 2011, and I was thrilled to be getting the show on the road.

Before that, I had a minor “date with destiny” in the form of my plastic surgeon, Dr. K2. By then, I had to decide if I was going for the vavoom factor or a more natural look.

When I wrote about this in my blog, I said, “That’s w-a-y more than you needed to know, right? And yet, I feel so unrepentant.”

I refuse to be embarrassed by the things I wrote then and am writing now. I’ve shared my cancer lessons because it’s important for others to realize this is something they can survive. And face it, there are a lot of bizarre things about being treated for cancer. How could I not write about the experience?