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Monday, January 17, 2011

Ring That Bell!

One day last December, a couple weeks into my radiation plan, I was in the dressing room at the cancer center changing back into my clothes after a treatment when I heard Kristen, one of the radiation techs, going over the procedure with a newbie: "You'll come in here, get a gown from this closet, choose a dressing room, and get changed.  Make sure you take the key when you leave the dressing room.  Go ahead and get changed and I'll come back for you in a few minutes." 

When I came out of the dressing room, there was the newbie: a woman about my age with curly blonde hair.  She looked scared to death.  I was not so far removed from my first treatment that I didn't remember how it felt.  I smiled at her and said, "Don't worry.  You'll be back here changing again in less than ten minutes and you won't feel a thing."  She didn't say anything but she smiled a little, still looking terrified.  I was thinking maybe I should sit with her but then Kristen came back and off they went to the treatment room.

Over the next few weeks I saw the newbie almost every day.  Her appointment was right after mine.  We usually passed each other in the hall and just said a few words to each other.  We never had a proper conversation and I don't know her name.  The only things I know about her are that she also had breast cancer, and she lives an hour's drive away.  I looked for her on my last treatment day, but it was December 23rd and the cancer center was closing early for the holiday.  None of us had our regular appointment time.

Today, I had follow up appointments with both the medical oncologist and the radiation oncologist.  I was hoping to see my no-longer-a-newbie friend, but I wasn't sure if she would even still be taking treatments.  My first stop was the lab for a blood draw, an ordeal that sometimes takes a good hour due to the tiny veins I inherited from one of my parents.  While I was sitting in the lab, swaddled in hot blankets and sucking water down as fast as I could (two methods thought to "plump" the veins) I saw my friend pass by the window.  I figured if the phlebotomist hit blood on her first attempt (a rarity with me) I might just get back to the waiting room in time to say hello.   Well, the phleb did, and I did, but my friend did not come out of the radiation area.  I was out there for a good half hour and no sign of her.  Eventually I was called back to a treatment room, where I waited alone for the medical oncologist.  It was there that I heard the most musical sound imaginable to a cancer patient  - the "I'm done with treatment" bell was clanging away.  I could hear everyone cheering, and I cheered, too, alone in my little room.  I was pretty much certain that my newbie friend was the one ringing that bell.  She would have had a meeting with the cancer guide after her appointment, which is why she didn't return to the waiting room.  When I came out from my appointment there was my family - my mom, Diva, and Walker - waiting for me.  Walker confirmed that the bell ringer was, indeed, Ms Newbie. 

I know how dumb this sounds, but I am so proud of her, and so happy for her!  I don't even know her name but it was all I could do to just not lose it.  I really felt like my good friend had just kicked cancer's ass, even though I doubt all our "conversations" added together were even ten minutes' time.  Somehow it doesn't matter.  I know what she went through and she knows what I went through and we encouraged each other, in our own way.  And I know she would understand what I mean when I say I hope I never see her again.

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