Sunday, January 19, 2014

From the Archives: Crossing Over

This week it will be three years since I completed chemotherapy treatment. To mark this occasion, I'm sharing with 100 Resolutions followers a blog post I wrote for my Carepages followers after that poignant last appointment in January 2011.

The machine dispensing the last of the saline solution beeped audaciously. My heart dropped. It’s not that I wasn’t expecting it to beep, in fact the machine’s beeps have become a familiar, almost comforting part of my treatment. Sometimes it was an obnoxious signal to the nurse to switch my meds, other times a startling way to wake me out of my drug-induced half-sleep. But no matter what, it beeped.

This time was different, however, because the beeping signified something more than the completion of my Benadryl dosage, or the end of my third, or sixth treatment. This time, the machine had beeped for the last time, it had dispensed the last of my intravenous drugs. It was signalling the end of treatment, and announcing my liberation from the burden of poison-fuelled recovery.

My heart scrambled at the pit of my stomach.

The weight of the moment hung over me as I gathered my scattered belongings, slipped into my shoes, and collected what was left of my physical strength. Around the corner, just before the exit, the ‘bravery bell’ awaited me, hanging so coolly in between me and my life after treatment. After cancer.

I looked at my mom and my boyfriend, silently asking whether they were ready. Nobody had asked me, after all. With eager and anticipatory nods, they followed me as I made my way toward the bell.

I passed by the nurses’ station, and my nurse Ladna. She had delayed her lunch break (it was now 2pm) to see me ring that bell, a fact which inevitably added to the weight of the moment. Excitement was evident in her glowing face as she fell in line behind me, a radiance I only saw in the nurses at moments like this, when one of their patients was leaving for the last time. She dutifully called to the other nurses to join her in support. I felt my feet getting lighter with each step.

Walking down that corridor, tailed by an entourage of both familiar and strange faces, I couldn't help but liken those nervous, weighty strides to those of a condemned man walking toward his execution. I imagined one of the nurses calling, “live woman walking!”, or somehow otherwise announcing to onlookers the gravity of my steps. But, much unlike that doomed man on death row, I was walking toward life, toward freedom. The injections I had just been given were life-saving rather than life-ending. Even still, the likeness of the moment struck and surprised me.

I arrived at the bell with nervous but eager hands. Beyond the threshold, I could see my big sister and my newborn niece, cuddling close together and smiling at me. My little sister was standing with her hands on her hips. She gave me the thumbs up while maintaining her stern glare. Behind me hovered my mom and Mike, excited and eager for this moment to come for their sakes, as well as for my own.

I grabbed the string and swung hard, about four times. I giggled sheepishly when I heard the loud noise reverberating through the ward, and then let go. Mike’s mom was instantly there with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and hugged me intently, cancer survivor to cancer survivor. His father looked on from just beyond.

As I scurried past the waiting room toward where my sisters were waiting, a slumped over older man with a full head of hair appeared in front of me and grabbed a hold of my free hand. He looked up at me with watery eyes, shook my hand and muttered a heartfelt, “Congratulations.”

I beamed back at him and thanked him sincerely, continuing past him to meet my sisters. Finally, relief washed over me.

I made it to the other side.

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