Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I’ll Throw You Off the Tappan Zee Bridge!

A while back while I was being injected with the radioactive dye that would reveal any cancerous cells within my body, a little boy was in the cubby next to me doing the same thing. He was maybe six years old. He did not want to be at the clinic that day either. None of us did, but he was able to articulate what all of us patients in the PET Scan pre-testing room were thinking with his cries and shrills that we all wanted to yell.

In between sobs he yelled at the nurse coming at him with the IV access needle:

“Get that thing away from me or I’ll throw you off the Tappan Zee Bridge!” He screamed the threat over and over as his mom tried to calm him down and the nurse continually tried to enter his vein.

“I’ll throw you off the Tappan Zee Bridge!”

“I’ll throw you off the Tappan Zee Bridge!”

I hear ya, little brother, I thought, feeling his pain.

It gets damn tiring getting poked and prodded and having to stand up to another round of treatment. I awoke yesterday knowing that I had to go in for a sixth infusion of Adcetris (SGN-35) and I was moaning to myself: “Don’t make me go. Don’t make me go.” But I had to also tell myself that having a treatment session to go to was so much better than the alternative. 

I've seen this poster at every cancer center I've been to -
a good example of cancer clinic
motivational paraphernalia.  
It’s no longer just the looming after-effects that get me down, but rather the idea of being back in the cancer center surrounded by everything that screams cancer: the bald-headed patients, their heartbreaking expressions, their unbreaking optimism, the smell of alcohol swabs and latex, the familiar framed posters on the walls about how “cancer can’t take away your spirit …” or “ways to love yourself” (take a hot bath, light a candle, hug a cat, sniff a tulip, or some bullshit). I don’t want to be any part of it: been there, done it all.  

I was back where I started at Hartford Hospital’s Helen & Harry Gray Cancer Center in Hartford for my sixth infusion of my drug du jour. Now that SGN-35 (brand name Adcetris) is FDA approved, Hartford Hospital has started administering it there, though I’m one of very few receiving it ­– the first one my nurse had given it to. I think that made her a little nervous, especially when I told her that at times I’ve gone into bronchial spasm. She told me that she brought home the teaching sheets and read up on the drug’s effects the night before – very reassuring. I kept it cool though and didn’t cause any fires. Smooth treatment except for a little port wrestling until it ultimately gave a good blood return.

It’s both comforting and unnerving seeing the nurses that I’ve been seeing for three and a half years as it brings up so many repressed feelings and memories. My mom was with me at yesterday’s treatment and we both felt a little uneasy and uncomfortable remembering all the times we sat in those cramped little rooms and took in difficult news about diagnosis, relapses or the need for heavier treatment. I sat in the exam room where I once had a bone marrow biopsy right on the exam table – no anesthesia.

Everything changes, but nothing changes. The walls still had framed pictures of the doctors’ and nurses’ kids, pictures of the 1999 UConn women’s basketball team, Red Sox and Yankees paraphernalia, dusty plastic plants, a framed poster of the Brooklyn Bridge and a desk lamp with fringe. Odd décor choices, but to me it’s kind of home, though the perspective through which I see that home has certainly changed over the years.

Dr. Dailey’s secretary ran out into the waiting room to give me a big hug and many of the lab techs and nurses swung into my room while I was receiving treatment to say hi and tell me that they think of me. This does mean a lot. My chemo nurse snagged a private room for me as soon as my bloodwork was done and we squatted there with Dr. Dailey so I could receive treatment in privacy. I do get a little preferential treatment being such a longstanding customer and all.

Seeing Dr. Dailey is always very assuring as he is incredibly thoughtful and thorough and has watched my case from the very beginning. I’m always impressed with how up to speed he is on me even when I haven’t visited in a while. Just being in his presence puts me at ease as he has a very soft spoken and positive delivery. I like how he thinks about my case. We talked about some future options and about some new drugs that he’s heard about and thoughts to bring up with my Sloan team.  

My mom escorted my drunken Benadryled self home, fed me lunch and cleaned our dishes for us until I passed out on the couch and she snuck out. The best part about chemo days is that my mom usually cleans our kitchen.

I felt awful all evening and did nothing more than sleep and watch TV on the couch. Then slept and watched TV from our bed. Craig cooked me dinner and heated up my heating pad to spread across my achy hips. I’m still very tired and achy and think I may be coming down with a cold or those pesky seasonal allergies as I woke up today with a scratchy sore throat and a bit of a cough. This is unacceptable as my brother is getting married this weekend and I want to be in top shape. That means as much rest as I can fit into this busy week and as much tea and lemon water I can drown myself in until the big day Saturday! 


  1. What an amazing post. I'm sorry that you are still dealing with all of this (although yes - the alternative is worse) but I'm glad that you have comforts and supports. The details in this post make it really real to your readers. The bits about your mom cleaning the kitchen and the same poster being everywhere are great. The Tappan Zee bridge kid is brilliant. I can't imagine dealing with all of this at 6. As always, I wish you the best. My husband and I went to a post-chemo celebration for our dear friend who just finished ABVD. She and I were talking as we went to breakfast on our last day there about how she's the only young person she knows who has been through cancer and treatment. It breaks my heart that some of our young people (hell, any of our people!) have to go experience this. Sending love and prayers!
    -Sarah B.

  2. Hope you feel well by the time the wedding comes round. The rest..is too awful to comment on. That poor child, all of you..dreading going there..You're opening up a window that I never even knew existed.

  3. Hey Karin--I am still reading your posts religiously!

    I hope you are feeling great for the wedding--i was sick as a dog at my brother's but i still managed to look amazing in the pictures :)

    You are in my thoughts and I hope round 6 works super duper well.

    The other Karin Diamond

  4. I am 20 and was recently A.L.L. and have experienced many of the same frustrations and anxieties you write about, especially in regards to infusion suites and clinics... going in tomorrow for my fifth day in a row of chemo this week, not fun. Anyways, just sending some fellow patient good vibes your way as well as some prayers. Take care and keep writing! I have a blog too, it's very therapeutic getting to write, isn't it? Even more so getting to read another patients as well.