The Treatment Room
After I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, I was able to watch and wait for two years. My slow-growing blood cancer was growing slowly enough that I didn’t need treatment right away. But as someone with a cancer that was lingering but that didn’t need treatment, there was one place in the office that made me uneasy: the treatment room.
Expectations vs. reality
The treatment room was located at the back of the office space, at the end of the hallway, past the exam rooms. The only patient bathroom in the office was just inside the treatment room. For two years, when I needed the bathroom, I’d try to quietly sneak into the room, so as not to disturb patients getting treatment. To be honest, I had no idea what the room looked like for two years, or what went on in there. The room was U-shaped, and most patients getting treatment were on the other side of the U, away from the bathroom.
I never stepped more than three feet into it. In my mind, I imagined the room being a miserable place, with lots of suffering.
What does the cancer treatment room look like?
Before I went home, I got a tour of the treatment room, so I’d know what to expect. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had built it up in my mind. There were comfortable recliners all around the edge of the room, with a nurses’ station in the middle, so they could keep an eye on patients who needed help. (This was a good thing for me, since I had an allergic reaction during my first round of treatment.) Each recliner faced a TV. There was a small room off to the side with drinks and snacks; sometimes a nurse or a patient would bring cookies or a cake for everyone to share.
It was not as awful a place as I had feared. Because of my allergic reaction, my infusions were slow, and lasted 6 hours each. I had them once a week for 6 weeks. I’d read, or watch TV, or take a nap. I wouldn’t say I suffered, except maybe from boredom.
Different reactions to the room
I know we all have different reactions to being in that room. A friend of mine, diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma when she was 2 months pregnant, refused to even look at the infusion bag. She wanted nothing more than to leave that room. (She had a beautiful healthy baby.) My father, getting treatment for lung cancer, took a chair next to a man his own age. They quickly discovered that they had both been in the Navy, and the man worked near where my father had grown up. They talked the whole time they were there. Dad was always a talker; it relaxed him and made the time pass more quickly.
I’m not sure the treatment room is ever going to be a happy place, exactly. But sometimes, as the saying goes, it’s the company, not the situation. My wife was a frequent companion. When she couldn’t make it, my mom did. They brought sandwiches and magazines, and good talk.
For one treatment, my wife brought my three kids. It was good for them to see the room, and to see me in there, doing OK. Like me, they found that what they had imagined was much worse than the reality. And for me, having my team nearby made an unhappy place just a little bit nicer.
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