This lovely story shares the experience of being the care support for a friend in chemotherapy…

We Have Done This Before 

Nan Collie

We stop at the store and buy eight bags of frozen peas – two bags for each ankle, each hand, in hopes of evading the chances of neuropathy when the Taxol begins its slow drip into her body.

We have done this before.  We know the routine, we know where the damn candies are over on the counter by the sink.  The coffee has improved from eight years ago, when they first sicced all the chemo dogs on the ovarian cancer, when my warrior friend endured the barely endurable, back when we hoped for cure and the promise of poisons.

We take the elevator upstairs with the red and white cooler of peas, books we won’t read, and hope a whispered prayer, unspoken, deafening in its gentle roar.

We go over to the corner, past the large room with twenty or more chairs, a woman alone, a couple, friends sitting beside their loved ones, aiming for stoicism, sometimes finding it, sometimes succumbing to the hard realities of that room.

We find the cushy side by side chairs where we have sat many times before, four chairs alone, allowing sometimes for intimate conversations, sometimes for quiet or sleep, sometimes for laughter as the steroids kick in and my friend turns on her innate funny button.

We wait for the goddess chemo nurse, an eight-year friend, a soothing balm for every soul in that room, a wise magician with the medicines, with words, with much needed honest gentle grace.  She pierces the port, my friend flinches and holds the tiger’s eye stone I give her before each treatment. We hold rocks, earth, in our bare hands, connecting to a deeper place outside of this room, away from cancer, the sheer jagged cliffs of a golden rock-walled canyon, a walk into the coastal mist surrounding ancient singing redwoods – anywhere else while that sharp hooked needle opens up the port, the portal that we hope will bring my dear friend more time, more health, more songs, more walks with her sweet golden, Abbey, and adventures with her sweetheart, anything that keeps her here, even in brown leather chairs, tethered to hope.

When it is time for the Taxol our nurse/angel friend brings me the bag automatically.  We have done this before.  I hold it in my hands and offer a prayer, for her health and help and happiness, all any of us can really ask for another, and hand it back, imbued with hope, with love, with courage and commitment.

I pull open the drawer where the tape is stored – I have done this before – and take two bags of peas, strapping them to her ankle, two more for the next ankle, two more for each hand, ice for my friend whose thermostat is broken from earlier rounds, my friend who is always cold and bundled up.  I bring over a warm blanket and tuck her in up to her chin.  She closes her eyes and sighs and is sandwiched by two heating pads, our best attempts to keep her warm while we freeze her hands and feet.

Our gentle nurse friend runs the chemo slow, wanting to avoid neuropathy in the hands of the guitar-playing song-writer, the woman who eases metaphor and art into every stunning song, a redwood herself, rooted and all-seeing.  We hope to hold the potter’s hands safe for another season of new creations – stars and cups and butter dishes with hilarious dogs on top – the world needs more of these, I need more of these in our already teeming kitchen cupboards.

We sit back, I bring blankets and listen in awe to the quiet beginning of stunning conversations; she asks the woman across from us, Mary, what type of cancer she has.  They trade diagnoses and dates –  months, years, how much longer they will come to let the chemicals run – then the two of them wander away from cancer into the rest of their lives – exchanging recipes, travel stories, and the lyrics of old country-western cowboy songs. People unknown to each other before come together quickly in these chairs, the ones no one really wants to sit in.  It is life they speak of.  There is quiet, there are tears, there is love, and there is laughter.  There are no strangers in this room.

Mary’s husband Ed reads his tablet.  I listen. We have all done this before, and we will do it again.



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