Last week I visited Renee over at Kaiser while she lounged in the “Chemo Infusion Suite”. I don’t know what I was expecting the experience to feel like but it was both weird and normal at the same time. Even for someone like me who deals with cancer all the time it was strange to wander around oncology looking for my friend. As I walked into the room I felt an overwhelming anxiety. I could literally feel my blood pressure rising, I guess because it was one of those moments where I had to face the fact that this is really happening.
When I got there she was lying in a Leopard Print Snuggie recovering from a bad allergic reaction to the first attempt at chemo. I know that chemo takes awhile before you start feeling the side effects so I was surprised to see her lying listlessly when I arrived. I think I expected her to be doing the N’sync “Bye-bye-bye” dance for the other patients or something.
“I already barfed” she declared.
“Of course you did” I replied. “You are an overachiever.”
The more dire things are, the more I joke. I try to be nice but it comes off stodgy and unnatural and then Renee eyes me suspiciously "Wow, being this nice must really be wearing you down!" It does really wear me down, she can't imagine how I suffer! Oops, there I go again. If things get any worse I might start showing up in clown makeup.
If I'm relying on a steady dose of silly than Renee is relying on a steady dose of kick-ass courage. She’s the definition of a fighter, and this is not the normal “fight cancer” cliché, she truly can kick some ass. A few hours after her allergic reaction, something she described as feeling like “an elephant was sitting on me”, we were sitting there wolfing down ham sandwiches and perusing the Anthropologie catalog. You know, just another day in the chemo suite.
We talked and laughed and teased the other patients and it was fun, except you know for the cancer. That damn lymphoma is really a downer.
But isn’t this real life? The mundane and the surreal co-existing in the same space. Sometimes I think about the cancer and I feel totally overwhelmed, it is like a wave that I desperately want to stop from crashing. Most of the time though, even in the chemo ward it feels normal.
Me and her having fun like we always do: planning hijinks and imaging our future life as rockstars. And laughing. We’re always laughing. We are the best at laughing. And there is no way cancer is going to kill that.
If anything that effer is providing new and creative material. Witness a recent e-mail exchange:
Me: I think you should start getting some special treatment because you are sick. Why don’t you start demanding things like I should be carried on an elephant to Anthropologie for I am sick
Renee: Great idea. I must wear a leopard-print Snuggie and bunny slippers to work for I am sick...
Me: I must eat only beef jerky and cornuts for I am sick…
Renee: I must be entertained by stupid human tricks every morning for I am sick...
Me: I must watch endless Alias re-runs because Sydney Bristow is my inspiration and I am sick...
Renee: Someone must give me a piggy back ride to the water fountain every time I need a drink for I am sick..
Me: Someone must hand feed me these grapes one by one and wave palm fronds over me for I am sick...
Renee: Children must sing my name whenever I pass for I am sick...
Me: Kanye West must interrupt speeches in my honor for I am sick...
It’s the new excuse for everything. And for the record when you say "For I am sick" you have to imagine Renee swooning dramatically onto a velvet chaise lounge. The irony of course being that even though Renee is a drama queen she is not a wuss. She only missed one day of work after her chemotherapy. I am the complete opposite, I start crying the minute I get a cold. "Arnold my head hurtsssssssssss!" If I had chemo you better believe I'd be on that chaise lounge for real.
Not Renee though, it's her toughness that makes the joke all the funnier.
Last week I showed up at her house with a dress newly bought off the Anthropologie clearance rack. “I had to buy this dress for my friend is sick….”
She smiled and said “Of course you did! Now come inside, take off your coat and eat some candy.”
Okay, my dear readers I have a request for you. Renee is having a not so fun week and I would like to give her a reason to smile. Please leave a comment letting us know what you would add to our list of ludicrous things that she should request people do! I know Renee will love reading your comments and besides I command you to do it… for my friend is sick.