As you can imagine, there’s no way to ever be prepared to hear you have cancer; and even once you are diagnosed, there’s no way to be prepared for the physical and emotional road that lies ahead.
Twenty-two years into my relatively healthy life – and I say relatively only because I have ulcerative colitis and had never stepped foot in a gym – I was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. You can get cancer from your genetics, from smoking, from exposure to asbestos or radiation, and so on. But with my form of Lymphoma and other blood-related cancers, there’s no warning – no reason to ever think this could happen to you.
Because of my youth (and positive attitude, I'd like to think), I was in remission after three rounds of chemo, and I received a bone marrow transplant for good measure. While I like to avoid platitudes, referring to my year as a cancer patient as an emotional rollercoaster manages to come close to capturing the whole experience.
Thankfully, though, there was no real pain involved in any of this (besides for the occasional bone marrow biopsy), a lot of which is due to the PICC lines and Broviac central line that were implanted into my arms and chest respectively at different points of treatment. So instead of poking me with a needle for every single time I needed bloodwork done (which was at least once a day) and with a thicker IV needle for any infusions or treatments (which was also a lot), I had a long tube that snaked from my arm or chest into my heart, with two or three little lumens popping out, ready to transfer my medication into my bloodstream quickly, effortlessly, and most importantly, painlessly.
I was admitted to the hospital for five nights at a time, with two weeks in between, for each round of chemo, which was followed by a monthlong admission for my bone marrow transplant, all of where I was consistently leashed to my IV pole through my lines for days at a time. Even after I left the hospital as an in-patient, I had to keep returning as an outpatient on a daily basis for infusions. Basically, there was always something that needed to get into my bloodstream, and I had a PICC or Broviac implanted for around eight months.
Staying as an in-patient in the hospital quite obviously sucks, but what you don’t always think about is the time off-cycle; the time I had at home to partially lead a normal life. Even though I wasn’t working, I still tried to keep up with friends, go out to dinner, and – when my energy and the weather allowed it – go on walks. I wanted to continue leading as normal of a life as I could between treatments. So the baldness was obviously inevitable, but thankfully beanies and baseball caps became my best friends.
But there was always that pesky little PICC line tucked away in my throwaway white, mesh sleeve, which became such an obvious and questionable part of my “new look”. There was something about this sleeve that just screamed HOSPITAL when looking at it, especially with the colorful hospital-grade lumens either poking out or peeking through the mesh. So even when this sleeve was “hiding” my PICC line, I still looked and felt different: like some sort of medical alien experiment, which I actually referred to as my "tentacles".
But thankfully I was put in touch with the kind folks at Care+Wear who hooked me up with a sleek solid black band I could put over my PICC line instead of that disposable sock-like piece of white mesh that I was using. Now I could go out of the house in a black t-shirt knowing that I looked more normal.
So much of getting through such a major medical event like that relies on attitude: a positive attitude and good mental health can really make the world of a difference. So thank you Care+Wear, for helping me look and feel somewhat normal during my year spent as a cancer patient.
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