IN LOVING MEMORY OF:
RACHEL YINGLING MICHAEL GARLINGTON
Rachel and Michael, we miss you so much and had you in our hearts the whole time.
So, we did it. We pulled it off and had our first annual Prevent Cancer Foundation Fashion Show where all models, and most others involved, had cancer before or are currently fighting it.
It took a lot of planning and dealing and wheeling on the part of our director, the very talented Chaseedaw Giles, but we did it and here are some pictures to prove it.
A short film documentary about the show is coming soon, thanks to Patrick Melon.
The atmosphere was awesome and we couldn’t have asked for a better audience.
BEFORE THE SHOW:
Here are a few pictures of me:
And here are some pictures of my fabulous co-models:
And here are some pictures from after the show:
LOVE AND LIGHT TO YOU ALL!!!
And as Rachel would say: “Onward and upward”.
My plans for this past April 2nd Thursday were simple. I would get to the hospital on time, my blood work would be at 10 AM as scheduled, followed by an 11 AM MRI and a noon follow up with my oncologist.
I should have known things would once again conspire against me, when the simple 5 minute blood draw turned into a 35 minute ordeal.
At 10 o’clock, I was ushered into the infusion room and sat in one of the chemo armchairs, watching others in various stages of cancer progression.
The male nurse tech who came to draw my blood sat down next to me and proceeded to slowly open and prepare all the packets, needles and disinfection wipes. I frowned and shifted in my seat as I watched him bring each item all the way to his face, almost touching his nose, in order to see what he was doing.
He tied a piece of rubber around my upper right arm. Then he informed me that he would start my IV but that he couldn’t take my blood yet because he was “waiting for labels”. When my arm was starting to turn a considerably darker color than the rest of my body, he got up to go check if the labels arrived. No luck. I silently started counting down from 100, determined that when I get to 1, I would untie the rubber tie myself.
When I was at 56, he finally picked up the needle and once again brought it to his nose for an inspection. He leaned over my vein, bulging out of my purply arm. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.
I felt the needle going in for what felt like 3 or 4 seconds. When he was finally done inserting it, he attached all the IV equipment and I started breathing again, trying to ignore the burn from the stick, but happy that the rubber band got snapped off my upper arm.
At 10:30, the labels finally arrived and I completed the first of my three appointments of the day. The IV remained in my vein for the MRI people to inject me with a contrast dye.
At 10:42, I emerged from the elevator downstairs in the hospital, and signed in at the MRI desk. All went well until the point of when I had to change out of my clothes. Pulling my turtle neck over the inserted IV presented some challenges.
“God damned!” I seethed behind the changing room curtain. “Fuck, that hurt!” I exclaimed loudly a couple seconds later when a portion of the tubing got stuck in the sleeve I was pulling down my arm.
When I was done with my curse tirade, I was told to sit in one of the wooden chairs in front of the changing room and wait.
At 12:00, I was still waiting, my feet and hands turned into icicles, shivering with what I couldn’t pin point: It was either cold or rage. At that time I was already supposed to be at the oncologist’s office. I attempted to call and apologize but the basement, where the MRI machines were, had no signal. I managed to ask the front desk to call upstairs and tell my doctor I would be late. It took all my concentration to not scream at them and throw something at their heads. Even if they had nothing to do with the delay.
At 12:30, the MRI tech, a man weighing about 300 pounds at 6 feet tall, swooshed into the waiting room, the tails of his white coat flying behind him. His head was beaded with sweat.
“OK, ready?” He breathed out.
Am I ready? Am I fucking ready?!! YES, I am ready, I wanted to yell on top of my lungs but his desperate and haggard face stopped me in my tracks and I just followed him through the airport like security frame to make sure I had nothing metal on me.
He strapped me on the MRI table and put the Man in the Iron Mask grate over my head. I slid into the MRI and heard all of the loud honks and burps and grinds of the machine because the tech forgot to turn on the music in my headphones.
A little while later, he injected the contrast dye and pulled the IV out of my vein. Thank God. Or so I thought.
About 5 minutes later, I started feeling very hot in my face. I also felt like my cheeks were starting to push up on my eyes. I wiggled my nose, trying to gauge if my face was swelling. I couldn’t tell. My heart sped up. My hands started to feel hot.
“OK, you have about another 7 minutes left.” The tech crackled through the intercom.
OK, I said to myself, you can do this. You can still breathe. You are fine. I repeated this mantra to myself as I felt hotter and hotter and as my heart beat faster and faster.
Finally, the scan was over and the tech came to free me.
“I feel a little weird.” I said to him.
He stared at me in the dimly lit room. “Well, just drink some water and you should feel better soon.”
Hmm, I thought, I guess I look normal. I was relieved a little bit. For about 48 seconds before I saw myself in the changing room mirror.
What stared back at me was a bright red face with swollen cheeks and glassy eyes. I took off the hospital clothes and found a red rash spreading from my face, down my neck, onto my shoulders, chest, stomach, all the way down half my thighs. I twisted around and saw my whole back was as red as one of those cautionary tanning photos.
I quickly put on my clothes and marched back to the MRI room.
“Uhm…I think I am having an allergic reaction or something.” I told the same tech.
Once again, he just stared at me.
“Come with me.” He said and ushered me back in the same wooden chair I waited in for hours.
The radiologist, a woman in her mid-forties, came out, observed me for a few seconds and asked: “Can you breathe?”
“Uhm…yeah…so far.” I said.
“Well, it’s probably just a mild reaction, it will go away soon.” She said. “You can go home.”
“Well, it’s really itchy.” I said.
“Do we have any liquid Benadryl?” She turned to the tech.
“No, I don’t think so.” He said, not leaving to make sure.
“Well, you’ll be fine.” She tried to assure me.
Seeing that sitting down there wasn’t going to get me any help, I decided to just go on upstairs.
“Well, I have an appointment with my oncologist now, maybe they have something?” My voice trailed off.
“Yeah, just go on upstairs.” The radiologist waved me off and was gone back in her dark cave of a room.
When I entered my oncologist’s office, the front desk girl did a double take upon seeing me and stopped typing on her computer.
“Hi”, I said, “I think I am having an allergic reaction to the MRI dye.”
Within less than a minute, two nurses and my oncologist burst into the waiting room and pulled me in the back, sat me in one of the chemo armchairs and I recounted to them all the details from downstairs.
My oncologist rapidly fired off a bunch of orders to the nurses and in the next instant I was getting an IV in one arm and taking some pills orally while my other arm was used to continuously measure my vital signs. Two nurses stood in front of me watching me like hawks. My oncologist stood on the phone behind the glass nurse station barrier, also watching me, while he talked to someone.
Then he came to sit in the armchair next to me and kept asking me how I felt and how my breathing was. Feeling the effects of whatever was in the IV, I slurred:
“I think I’m fine….,” I had a hard time enunciating, “Really, Dr. Lisp…I mean Lipson…,” I just wanted to lay down and sleep, “I feel drunk”.
He inspected my red torso and arms and went back behind the glass to make more phone calls.
Meanwhile, the oncology medical director materialized in front of me, and asked me in painstaking detail what exactly happened. Slurring and taking long pauses to re-tell my story, I could see her grind her teeth and her eyes growing wide at some points.
When I was done, she smiled and patted my arm. Then she turned to one of the nurses, the smile gone from her lips. I only heard pieces of her speech but they included “…I can’t believe they…”, “…not supposed to…”, “…I mean, she could have died in the elevator…”, “…right now…”. And she marched off. I got the feeling someone was in trouble and it wasn’t me.
About 2 hours later, the redness began dissipating as well as the drunk feeling. My oncologist and I conducted our appointment in the adjoining chemo chairs and I apologized for keeping him longer than his usual hours, knowing he commutes from Baltimore.
“Don’t worry about it.” He smiled. “Really.” And I almost got the feeling that he enjoyed, if only for a little while, the adrenaline of a somewhat of an emergency situation. I certainly felt so well taken care of that this was the very first time in years I didn’t feel like leaving the hospital.
Have you ever cried watching a baby elephant poke around his dead mother who was murdered for her tusks?
Have you ever been shocked by the cruelty of the rhino poachers who hunt their prey by helicopter and cut off its horn when still alive?
Have you ever been astonished by people cutting sharks’ fins off, only to throw them back in the water to suffer a slow and painful death, unable to swim any longer?
Have you ever cringed at the majestic tigers being forced to jump through fiery hoops in a circus?
Have you ever thought of what happens to all the race horses and dogs when they stop winning?
If you answered “Yes” to any of the questions above or if your heart rate sped up at least a little bit reading the above, then this book is for you.
I wrote a fiction story that presents one way of balancing this world back to equilibrium. It is not for the faint of heart. It is graphic and it evokes emotions. However, please know, that what I describe in the story is real and happens every day. Even here, in America.
This book is not a regurgitation of animal abuse. To the contrary, this book strives to give people, who are as sick of animal abuse as me, some relief and some reprieve from the unfairness and injustice that happens every day all over this world.
All proceeds go to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust; however, this weekend (May 9 and 10), the book will be available FOR FREE on Amazon in its electronic format. Please click here to download it if you are interested. Every click will help move the book up in the searches other people may do in the future. Thank you for your support! We can change the world. Animal abuse will end one day!
Cherri was an angel that was sent to me in a form of a nurse from – since I don’t believe in God – some awesome place where atheists hang out after they die.
She was a tall, willowy nurse with blondish hair tied in a low pony tail and a perpetual smile on her face and low melodic voice like Sade.
It was time for my next Zoladex treatment and I dreaded this shot like a dog would dread a bath. Or worse.
Last time I had received the shot, I was doubled over in pain and cried in the doctor’s bathroom. Later at home I had burned through the internet and found out that the tech administering the shot last time used a technique that was pictured on the medicine packaging with a big red “do not” sign. It was then that I had decided that she would never ever give me the shot again.
Today, I arrived to the doctor’s office, my head bursting with images of coffee straw sized needles, my teeth clenched, my hands shaking and my eyes wide open in anticipation of what in my mind amounted to medieval torture.
However, this time, I decided to take at least some control of the situation. I approached the sign-in sheet in the chemo infusion room, wrote my name, looked at the nearest nurse and, remembering with disgust my polite and weak requests from the past, decided that a lie, told in a confident voice, would get me the furthest:
“Two weeks ago I talked to Dr. S. and he said someone else than the usual girl is supposed to give me the shot.”
Then my bravado fizzled out and I added:
“Is that possible?” I would have slapped myself if it didn’t look weird. Don’t get weak now! My brain ordered. I stared the nurse in the eye with what I hoped was renewed determination.
“Sure”, she said and smiled, “If you don’t mind getting it here instead of a private room.”
I agreed immediately. Who cared? Everybody had a stomach, I wasn’t special. Curtain or no curtain, I didn’t care. As long as it was a different person.
About 10 minutes later, Cherri, the aforementioned angel, approached with a plastic basket filled with gauze, antiseptic wipes and other medical things that made the doctors’ offices smell like fear.
“So which side are we doing today?” She referred to my abdomen.
I frowned: “Well, the girl before you just stuck all of them here”, I pointed to a couple of red dot scars on the right side of my stomach.
Cherri cocked her head: “No, no, no, we want to give each side a break…so let’s do the left side today.”
I tried to fight the anger that started bubbling in my body. Why the hell didn’t the tech tell me we should alternate sides?
“Would you like some cold spray?” Cherri asked smiling.
I stared at her: “What’s a cold spray?”
“Oh, it’s something to numb your skin a little. You’ve never had it before?” She frowned.
“Uhm…no, but spray away.” I lifted my shirt and held the waist of my jeans down.
Cherri sprayed and I immediately felt a funny fuzzy feeling on my skin as the numbing took effect.
She then prepared the shot. I looked away and felt my heart pound in my chest. I felt my face get hot and I blinked several times. Here it comes, I thought. I pinched my eyes closed and held my breath.
I felt Cherri’s fingers squeeze a little bit of fat on my abdomen, just like the instructions on the box demanded. Then she stuck the needle in.
I opened my eyes in shock. While I felt it and it definitely wasn’t pleasant, this shot felt like a mosquito bite compared to the hornet sting last time. Then I felt the needle slipping out and Cherri putting a band aid over the injection site.
I was lost for words. I just stared at her with a grin on my face, ear to ear.
“Oh my god”, I said, “This was a night and day difference compared to the last time. Thank you!” I was so much in shock that I realized I was still holding my shirt up and my jeans down. I slowly lowered my hands and wanted to scream: I love you, Cherri! I LOVE you, Cherri! I LOVE YOU, CHEEERRIIIII!!!!!
Instead, I asked if I could request her next time and she nodded with that sunny smile. I got up and walked out of the office, waving good-bye at her, still in awe of how easily everything went. Yes, Cherri was my angel and I hope she will be there next time for me again.
This is the second time I am going to my new oncologist’s office to get my monthly ovarian suppression shot. Supposedly, it will keep my aggressive cancer from coming back. Or so they hope.
I attempt to stall the unpleasant prospect by taking a detour off Wisconsin Avenue and sitting in an Illy café, drinking coffee and eating a blueberry scone. Half an hour later, I glance at my phone and realize I really need to get to the doctor and get this over with.
The lobby by the elevators in the doctor’s office building is filled with old people. They all have grey hair, two of them are leaning on walkers and one is in a wheelchair. I feel a wave of my cancer anger swoop over me and cover me with its grey wings. I shouldn’t even be here! Why am I here? I don’t belong here! I HATE IT HERE! I grit my teeth as if to prevent the scream of misery from escaping my mouth.
“Go on in the back”, the receptionist at the oncologist’s office smiles pleasantly.
The “back” is the chemo infusion room. My whole body is bucking at the idea of stepping in there, smelling those smells and watching the people, tethered to the poison tree stands, like in some twisted Matrix movie.
I manage to get a seat across from the row of windows that cover the entire wall. As we are on the 13th floor, sunshine is pouring in and I try to steady my heartbeat and breathing. I look around and see a girl close to my age with her legs bent and tucked underneath her, and my trained eye recognizes a wig on her head. I look away when she makes eye contact. I feel guilty for being done with that part of my treatment and not needing a wig anymore.
There is a man sitting in another chair, he is about 48, sturdy, with a full head of dark brown hair. He asks the nurse something.
“Well, in about two weeks.” She responds, as she scribbles something on his IV bag. “But it won’t come out all at once.” She continues, smiling. “You will know when to…” She makes a motion as if one is shaving his head.
There is nothing funny about this! Why is she smiling? Why is she joking about this? I want to go and push her over on the ground. Then I want to look at the guy and say:
“Hair will be the least of your worries, my friend.”
But I just sit there and continue staring out the window.
“Eva?” I hear my name being called.
I spring up, grab my coat and a purse and follow the nurse to a private room to get my shot. She closes the door and to me it sounds like a Swiss bank iron vault door being slammed, imprisoning me, with no escape.
I watch her unwrap the shot. My heart is pummeling against my chest and I feel the veins on my neck throbbing in the same mad rhythm. I know what to expect. I did it once and I masochistically watched it on Youtube.
The Youtube video always had the patient laying down, with the nurse pinching a chunk of their belly fat, inserting the shot quickly in and out. But my nurse insists on me standing up.
I pull up my sweater and turtleneck and my low rise jeans expose my abdomen. She approaches me with the spring loaded needle. The needle itself is several millimeters thick because it has to deliver a small capsule that will slowly dispense the medication over the next month.
To me, it looks like a thin dagger, a stiletto of pain. The nurse steps closer to me and we are now standing, facing each other, only about a foot apart. I take a few panicked breaths and she leans forward and without pinching anything, she plunges the needle in a stabbing motion straight in.
I gasp and my face twists in pain. I subconsciously take a small step back and she pulls the needle out. It hurts ten times more than the last time. I stand there, still holding my sweater and turtleneck up, taking shallow breaths.
“I am sorry…” she says and puts a Band-Aid over the injection site that starts seeping blood.
“It’s OK.” I am able to get out. I feel bolts of pain shooting from right to left of my abdomen. I stand there frozen. The pain slowly tapers off. I turn around to grab my coat but as soon as I bend down to pick it up from the couch, a new jolt of pain cuts through my belly. My throat closes up.
“Where is the bathroom?” I squeak.
The nurse explains it to me and I flee in there, closing the door, locking it, hanging my coat on the hook, then leaning my back against the wall, bent in my waist, hands on my thighs, right above my knees. I try to take deep breaths and stop the panic but it is too late. My eyes fill up and I sob and cry and watch the tears fall on the linoleum floor.
“I can’t do this.” My brain screams in protest. “I can’t do this. I can’t do this again.”
I straighten up which produces another shot of pain. I pace around the bathroom, tears continuing to roll down my cheeks. I don’t know how to stop my panic attack.
After another five minutes, I grab my coat and purse and leave the bathroom. I run through the doctor’s office, the waiting room, out in the hallway, down the elevator and out on to the street. I feel another wave of panic squeezing my heart and pushing more tears in my eyes. Thankfully my sunglasses hide my face. I try to breathe deeply as I walk to the subway.
When I stand on the platform waiting for the train, I feel pain if I shift weight to my right foot. I lean on one of the columns and close my eyes to try and prevent another wave of tears.
On the way home I feel ashamed of myself. I thought my pain threshold was pretty good, given my history of two cancers and all the surgeries and treatments. So how come I can’t handle this? Is it me? Is it the nurse? Or is it just what it is? Is it just one of those things? It hurts like hell and it always will? I don’t know. But I have another 30 days to think about it.
I checked my email and clicked on the attachment – a questionnaire that included my medical history from the past five years.
My eyes skimmed the page and halted at the box that had “Any kind of cancer” written next to it.
I felt a mix of emotions wash over me, with anger and sadness dominating the bunch. I clenched my teeth and pressed my lips together.
I was so sick of that. Constantly repeating my two cancer saga, listing all my surgeries, explaining how it was found, what was done, what the prognosis was.
I wanted to rip the paper in pieces. I didn’t want anyone else to know! Why did I have to drag this cancer shit with me? Leaving a pathway like a snail. Dribbling drops of water like a leaky pouch. Dragging mud into the clean house on the soles of the shoes.
I was done with it! I worked so hard to block it out of my life and push it to the fringes of my brain. Now this stupid questionnaire brought it all back to the light. It opened the black box of tar and molasses and sticky problems. God, I felt so stupid for thinking I could actually live a normal life. And FORGET about it.
I realized that I have tried to avoid something that permeated my existence even after its physical presence was gone. Like a hard slap on my hand that I kept feeling long after the perpetrator has gone. Why did I think I could get away from it?
I see my hair in the mirror every day. So why did I think that the new chic cut and color will make me forget why my hair is as short as it is?
I buy expensive bras on my silicone, larger-than-before-cancer breasts but then I sit in the movies watching 50 Shades of Grey knowing I will NEVER feel again what the heroine feels.
I go outside to play in the snow with my dog and within a few minutes my fingertips hurt so bad from chemo induced neuropathy that I want to punch the wall in anger. I HATE these cancer intimations. I don’t know how to get away from them.
I hear a phone voicemail oncologist appointment reminder and I have to pinch the bridge of my nose because I feel the tears rushing to my eyes. My throat closes up and I sit frozen, thinking about how I will have to walk into the office and be immersed in CANCER.
I scroll through Facebook and find that four of my vibrant young friends have had a re-occurrence. I remember their faces, their smiles and how healthy they looked. I throw things across the room, I punch a pillow and then I just cry. Why won’t this go away?
I think about the visits to the counselor and how they didn’t help. Normalcy is just a stupid mirage that shimmers in the distance while I run to it, panting like a dog, my eyes wide, anticipation high, only to fall down on the black asphalt and realize….hey, THIS is your reality.
As soon as the announcement concluded, the incredulous looks on all the faces morphed into an angry grimace. They whipped out various high-end cell phones and, swiveling their heads around as if the answers were written in the rafters of the train station, re-arranged their tightly packed schedules.
When we whizzed through Secaucus in New Jersey, I glanced at my watch and saw we were only going to be late by eight minutes. This didn’t halt the scramble for the doors, briefcases nudging the backs of the legs in front of them, impatient feet sidestepping slower passengers.
As I walked through the underbelly of Penn Station following the signs for 7th Avenue and 34th street exit, I didn’t dare to make eye contact with the soldiers in full gear, strategically placed every 20 or 30 feet. I smiled at their complacent black labs with a “Do Not Pet” jacket.
I had almost an hour to get to my eye cancer doctor’s office. I wasn’t in any rush. I didn’t know what kinds of news I was going to get except that if my cancer came back, my eye would have to come out.
I stood on the corner of 7th Avenue and 34th street and pulled my tightly wrapped scarf around my neck higher to cover my chin. It was only about 30F and windy.
The air smelled as I remembered it. Exhaust fumes and food truck whiffs of hot dogs and pretzels. As I waited for the light to change, tapping my feet on the uneven pavement, I recalled how I used to cross this exact same street to go to my class. Except that back than it was hot and I wore linen pants, the food smells were stronger and I didn’t have cancer yet.
I sped up my pace as I exited the subway on Lexington Avenue because I really needed to pee. I went in to the doctor’s building and nodded at the concierge lady who didn’t smile back. The elevator rattled to the 5th floor. Here I was again. I could feel my heart speeding up despite my best effort to breathe deeply and rationalize that even if I lost one eye, I still had another one. Or maybe my heart was beating fast because by then I really, really needed to pee.
I stopped cold as soon as I entered the doctor’s office. The left side where the bathroom was normally located, was covered by a huge plastic sheet and I smelled fresh paint. I checked in and probed the receptionist:
“So, do you guys still have a restroom here somewhere?” I crossed my fingers in my pockets and held my breath for a second.
“Oh yeah”, she said, “but it’s on the first floor.”
Perplexed, I said I would be right back and rode the shaky elevator back downstairs. I walked around the first floor with no results. I had no choice than to ask the un-smiling concierge:
“Hi, I am sorry, I am Dr. F’s patient and…”
“The door over there!” She cut me off loudly with a sharp smoker’s voice and waved to a door to my left.
I nodded thank you and opened the door.
I found myself in a four by three foot space with tiled floor and a buffet style table that ran along the longer wall. There were boxes and sinks, microwave and backpacks. There was also a young guy sitting on a bar stool by the table, eating. He turned when he heard me come in, his tired eyes completely uninterested, and nodded at me, his mouth full of food.
“I’m….I’m just…,” I stuttered as I scanned the room for the bathroom, “I’m just gonna use…if you don’t mind…”, and I disappeared into the tiny bathroom I finally found at one end of the small room. I realized that the whole time I peed, he could probably hear everything. Bon appetit.
Back upstairs, I experienced a surprisingly pleasant visit with good news and a clean bill of health. For now.
On the way back to Penn Station, I stopped by Pret a Manger and picked up a roasted red pepper and falafel wrap and a bottled water. Since the store was packed, I decided to eat my food at one of the metal tables and chairs on Broadway. Surprisingly, I wasn’t the only lunatic sitting outside in 30 degree weather. Three pigeons circled me hopefully, tip towing around, their city-fed plump bodies waddling like ducks. Feeling that my butt turned to ice on the metal chair, I jumped up and continued my trek.
I was now freezing and in a hurry to get to the warmth of the station. Some of the New York attitude must have rubbed off on me by then because I proceeded to push by people with faint “excuse me’s” and “sorry’s”. I side stepped map gazing tourists and cut slower pedestrians off. I didn’t care. I was in New York, right?
The train ride home was uneventful except for a 45 minute delay. But this time, I was just in a regular Amtrak. No business suits and no power lunch meeting cancellations this time. However, I did manage to find a seat in the emergency exit row/large luggage storage area and had at least four feet of space in front of me. I could also recline my seat without inconveniencing anyone behind me.
I got home 15 hours after I left. My head was spinning, my eye was red from all the tests but I was OK. I could keep both of my eyes for a little longer.
I sat in my Russian language class and the teacher corrected my classmate:
“No, pak (*pronounced rahk) means cancer.” She nodded in self approval. “Yeah, it means cancer.”
At that moment my carefully maintained composure for the day collapsed in pieces like if someone pulled out the wrong jenga block. Cancer didn’t mean the harmless zodiac sign to me or the mellow crawfish. It meant the last two and a half years of my life.
“Eva?” I heard through the molasses of my state of mind. “Eva!”
My eyes focused on the teacher: “Yea….Yes?” I stuttered. “What…I am sorry…izvinite”, I stumbled, my tongue refusing to cooperate.
“Pracitayte”, the teacher commanded, pointing to a sentence on the smartboard.
My eyes and mouth completed the task as if on autopilot because my brain sat frozen by the word cancer. No one knew my secret. They didn’t know why my hair was only 4 inches long. They didn’t know that my breasts were just silicone sacks covered by skin. They didn’t know why my eye got red with strain towards the end of the five-hour class.
I watched myself interact with my classmates and the teacher, with the cafeteria employees, with the language lab instructor. And no one knew.
It felt as if my brain was split in two. One half governed the outside persona while the other half was keeping the real me under control. And then something as simple as the zodiac sign description reduced me to a trembling mess of nerves.
I struggled till the end of my class, trying not to give in to the hot lava of panic that quietly rose from the pit of my stomach up to my heart and lungs, squeezing my throat and trying to fill my eyes with tears.
They are gonna think I am crazy. I took deeper breaths, focusing my eyes at the top of the smartboard. I managed not to cry.
I thought of telling them. Hey, by the way, I got two cancers, so if I sometimes freak out, don’t worry, that’s just a part of it! And then I would turn back to the board, ignoring their open mouths and shocked eyes.
But I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone. Having two cancers somehow made me feel faulty and inadequate. Like a factory defect. Like a broken toy. Like an unreliable car. If I told them, I would get those is she gonna die looks. I couldn’t manage going through every day deflecting those looks or receiving well-meant advice from others about cancer they saw on the Dr. Oz show.
So I kept my secret to myself.
Most of the time, it feels liberating, having everyone treat me as a normal human being, even if my hair is styled in the 80’s fashion of a 7th grader.
But then there are those times when the façade cracks and the cancer slithers out like a malicious snake. It waits for any opportunity. It looks at me from my cancer eye in the bathroom mirror, it reminds me of itself with a relentless hot flash caused by my cancer medication. It is sprinkled all over my brain like the finest dust and I must tread oh so lightly not to disturb it.
So I keep on cheering one part of my brain, propping it up, feeding it, pumping it for the fight. And I gag the other, I stomp on it, I push it under the lid, I strangle it, I weaken it any way possible.
It is exhausting. I live with two people in my head.
Six months ago, I participated in a fashion show fundraiser video campaign and wrote about my experiences here. Well, the time arrived and the video is out! We are looking for donations and contributions so we can make this project happen. All models and the producer are cancer survivors or currently in treatment. Any amount of money will help. You can click here to donate. We thank you all for watching.
I lay in bed and felt it. I snapped my eyes open. It can’t be! I just peed not even 15 minutes ago!
Reluctantly, I threw the blanket aside and felt my way to the bathroom, careful not to step on my dog.
Five minutes later, I was under the covers again, this time wide awake. I got it. I got a UTI. It was starting.
I glanced at the alarm clock. It was a few minutes after midnight.
“I think I have a UTI.” I whispered in my sleeping husband’s ear. “Can I just drop you off in your class tomorrow and then take the car to the doctor?” I continued, willing him to wake up.
“What?” His sleepy voice mumbled.
“I need the car tomorrow.” I said in a normal voice. “I have to go to the doctor. I think I am getting a UTI.”
“Oh, Christ.” He moaned. “Are you serious?”
“It hurts.” I complained. “I can’t sleep.” I stared where I thought his face was. “I’ll pick you up from class too.” I pleaded.
“That’s fine, whatever, I’ll take the metro home.” He grumbled in his pillow.
I lay back in the bed. The adrenaline was successfully beating the melatonin supplement I took earlier to sleep. I had at least 8 hours left before I would be in the doctor’s office.
I tried to find a comfortable position but no matter how I lay, the overwhelming feeling to go pee kept me awake. It felt like standing in line to the bathroom on St. Patrick’s Day. It felt like I drank a tub of water. I started sweating. My heart beat faster.
Desperate, I reached for my tablet, pulled the blanket over my head so the glow wouldn’t wake my husband up, and searched for any Urgent Care centers that might still be open.
Meanwhile I drank water, secretly hoping I might be able to flush it out, and kept going to the bathroom.
Around 2AM and exhausted, I opted for two Ibuprofens. To my immense relief, they took the edge off the pain and urge to pee and I was able to fall asleep for a few hours.
The next day, at 8:15AM, I stepped off the elevator at my general practitioner’s office. Her practice was on the same floor as my oncologist and I was familiar with almost everyone there. Anticipating the upcoming relief from my torture, I stood by the check-in desk. There was one patient waiting, a man in his 40s, reading a newspaper.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes, I am Dr. P’s patient and I know she isn’t here today but I kind of have an emergency and I thought I could see someone else.” I was referring to the other three doctors in the practice.
The woman behind the counter frowned and looked away from me to her computer screen.
“Hmm, let’s see if we have any…I don’t think we have any appointments available today…” Her voice drifted as she scrolled through her screen.
“Yeah, I know you are probably booked but I am in a lot of pain and I am already a patient here so I thought someone could see me real quick.” I started to feel panic creeping up my toes.
“No, we got nothing today.” She said uninterested and switched her chewing gum from one side of her mouth to another.
“I really need to see someone.” I started feeling the first sting of tears in my eyes.
“You can come back tomorrow at 4.” She said in a flat voice.
“By then I might have a kidney infection.” My voice rose a little.
Her heavy eyelids blinked slowly and she stared at me placidly.
“You can go to the emergency room.” She said.
“And pay like $5,000 for that?” I asked, starting to feel hot from the anger rising up from my torso to my face.
“Well, we can’t just have anyone from the street come in here and be seen.”
“I am not just someone off the street,” I said sternly and leaned on the counter, “I am a patient here, I’ve been here many times.”
“No one will see you today.” She said with a definitive tone in her voice, swiveled her obese body in her chair away from me, and started talking to the other receptionist about something else.
I glanced around the room and caught a glimpse of the man with the newspaper midair, his jaw slack, staring at me.
“Unbelievable.” I said out loud.
I spun around on my heel.
“This is freaking ridiculous.” I marched to the door, slapped it open and stood in the hallway, feeling the tears roll down my face.
I decided to go to my oncologist office on the same floor. Everybody knew me there well. The receptionist there, noting my face and hearing my story frowned, shook her head and picked up the phone.
“Our triage nurse will come out and talk to you.” She said and smiled.
My body quivered with a glimpse of hope. I was taken to a small room with supplies stacked along the walls. I explained my story all over again. The triage nurse, D., looked slightly more sympathetic. Until she started speaking.
“We don’t treat UTIs here in the oncology office. You could go to one of the Urgent Care Centers or to the Emergency Room downstairs.” She stuck her hands in the pockets of her nurse uniform.
“I can’t go to the Emergency Room.” I sobbed. “It’s too expensive.”
No response from her.
“I don’t know where any Urgent Care centers are, I am not from here.” I insisted.
“Well, you can call your insurance company and ask them. They should have a list and help you.” I could tell from the tone of her voice that even she didn’t believe that gem.
“Look”, she said, “I know a UTI is uncomfortable, but we can’t do anything here.”
Uncomfortable!? I wanted to scream. Headache is uncomfortable! This is PAIN!
I sat on the chair and didn’t get up. The nurse sighed.
“I will write down your information and give it to your oncologist, Dr. S.” She pulled out a pen and clicked it open while raising her eyebrows and smacking her lips in disgust over my apparent hysterics.
She then ushered me, not unlike an annoyed bouncer, out of the office.
On the way out, we bumped into my oncologist who was coming down the hallway. She noticed my teary face and said:
“Are you OK?”
“NO!” I shouted and got ready to spill my story to her.
I felt the nurse’s hand dig into my arm.
“Will you give us a minute here?” She bore her eyes into me like Terminator and pushed me out into the waiting room.
I sat there, sniffling. A couple minutes later, the nurse opened the door and nodded for me to come in again.
“OK, Dr. S. will take a urine sample. She will not give you a prescription now. We have to wait for the results so in a couple hours we should have them and then we’ll call you.”
I sucked my tears back into my eyeballs and completed the task flawlessly.
I drove home, calming myself with the images of torture that I wanted to perpetrate on the first receptionist and on the nurse.
A couple hours came and went and no phone call. Five hours after my specimen was taken, I received an electronic notification of the lab results. They clearly showed there was a problem. I waited another half an hour. No phone call.
My hands shaking, I wasn’t sure if because of anger, sadness or pain, I dialed the oncologist’s office number and asked for the triage nurse.
“Oh, Hi, I was just about to call you.”
Yeah, I am sure, I sneered in my head.
She then proceeded to tell me that the doctor called a prescription in to a pharmacy.
“Which one?” I inquired, knowing there are two on my file. One, an hour away, inside the hospital, and one about 5 minutes away from my house.
“F. pharmacy”. The nurse announced. It was the hospital one.
After further discussion, she agreed to try and have the prescription transferred to the pharmacy by my house and call me.
I hung up and cried again. This time because I knew the relief was within my fingertips but yet so far away.
I waited until almost 4 o’clock. Nobody called. I knew the hospital pharmacy closed at 5 so if I wanted to get these pills, I needed to know right away which pharmacy to go to.
I spent the next fifteen minutes calling both pharmacies. It turned out the nurse hadn’t called anywhere yet. I was informed that a prescription transfer can only be done pharmacist to pharmacist so I called the pharmacy by my house asking them to call the hospital pharmacy to get the transfer. The girl on the phone told me she would call and then let me know when the prescription was ready.
Around 4:50PM, in pain, unable to work or do anything else but think about the pain, I called the pharmacy again.
“Oh, I didn’t call yet to get the prescription transferred.” Said the girl cheerily.
I swallowed my tears and said slowly and clearly:
“The other pharmacy closes in 10 minutes. Do you think you can call now and get it transferred?”
I saw my medication glimmering in the distance like a mirage and with every minute disappearing slowly out of sight. It seemed like the UTI knew it and decided to turn up the volume on the pain and the urge to pee.
I waited until almost 5PM and called the hospital pharmacy. To my immense relief they told me they just got off the phone with my pharmacy and transferred the prescription.
Half an hour later, I stood by the counter, waiting for the clerk to bring the bag with the pills. I watched him like a hawk. I watched him like a dog waiting for a bone. I looked like a junkie salivating at her next fix. I leaned on the counter to see better. I could tell he couldn’t find it.
Come on, come on, come on…I pleaded silently.
Finally, he approached with my bag, I signed for it and sped home. It was now close to 6PM and I finally, triumphantly, swallowed my first dose of the antibiotic. My UTI monster screamed in agony and shriveled up in fear. I won.