Cancer Lesson #40: An Appointment in the Chemo Chair

Cancer Lesson #40: An appointment in the chemo chair

Chemo appointments have some commonalities with beauty salon appointments, a fact I first noticed when Susan, Dr. H’s nurse told me she’d “book my chair.”

I began to think of other similarities.

  • Both appointments take place in a comfortable chair. True, the chemo chair is slightly more institutional, but it can recline – most beauty shop chairs don’t.  And you can’t beat that handy-dandy I-V pole and convenient built-in armrest for the arm taking the drugs.
  • As in a hair salon, there are specialists busily scurrying hither and yon, trying to keep clients on schedule. In the chemo room, however, the specialists are highly skilled nurses instead of cosmetologists.
  • Like a timer in a beauty shop, the beep from an I-V monitor will bring someone darting to your side to set the next step of your treatment in motion.
  • In both places, each client’s mixture is different.
    • Hair chemicals are used to straighten hair or curl it, to color a client’s locks or to bleach away their pigment, which makes me think we’d all be better off  learning to be happy with what we’ve got.
    • Chemotherapy chemicals (drugs) are also used for a variety of purposes. Neoadjuvant therapy is given before surgery, often to shrink a tumor to a more manageable size. With breast cancer, this type of chemo is sometimes offered so a patient can have a lumpectomy rather than mastectomy. Chemo may also be given as the main treatment, when the cancer has already spread beyond the primary site at time of diagnosis, or if it spreads after initial treatment. My chemo was adjuvant chemotherapy, meant to kill off any of those nasty sleeping terrorist cancer cells waiting to attack later. Since my surgery was deemed successful at rooting out the problem, my chemo was like life insurance, raising the odds in my favor that I won’t have a recurrence.

The similarities end there. Chemo drugs are poison. Medical staff wear gloves and facemasks for protection, and patients are instructed to tell a nurse if even a drop of one of the drugs touches their skin.

Also, those sitting in the chemo chairs aren’t looking for a change of hairstyle – few of them have hair to worry about. They are there because they are to fight the disease which lurks inside them.

The chemo chairs are full, every weekday from 7:30 to 4 pm, filled with people like you and me, who would like to see their grandchildren graduate, who don’t want to leave their children motherless or their spouse alone to raise their family. Sometimes, they are people who are dying and just want to stay alive a little longer.

A full house. Every hour. Every chair. Every day.