[cancer] Field notes from Cancerland

Therapists’ waiting rooms

My therapist, like many, is in a shared set of suites with a single entrance and a little set of buttons the patient presses to indicate that one has arrived. There’s an interesting etiquette to therapists’ waiting rooms. In my experience, the patient (i.e., me) generally politely ignores all the other poor souls there desperately needing help and pretends that I’m just fine, thank you, only passing through. Making eye contact is somewhere between creepy and verboten, and God forbid there should be casual conversation. After all, you never know what those other weirdoes are in there for.

Except I am the other weirdo. Especially these days with my rather lax dress code, patchy facial and scalp hair, visually unappealing skin condition, and obvious air of exhaustion and dilapidation. My usual verve, my strength of personality, is long gone in the haze of chemo side effects. I mostly shuffle through life now, when I move around at all, like a post-modern zombie strung out on Lorazepam and existential angst.

So when I do cross paths with other patients, I smile politely if need be, and pay attention to my book or digital device of choice. It’s just easier that way, and I don’t accidentally creep anybody out. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen another male patient in the waiting room at my therapist’s suite, which adds another potential gender- and privilege-based dimension of accidental conflict of which I need to be firmly conscious.

Yesterday I went to therapy, not on my usual day because of a work meeting the day before. I was sitting there minding my own business alone when a woman and her teen aged daughter came in. I tracked them briefly in my peripheral vision, then resumed my Sudoko game. They began talking. (This is a bit unusual in that setting.) It was a private but not particularly personal conversation where the mother was doing a wee bit of parenting and day planning, and surely none of my business, but there I was fifteen feet away and without my earplugs.

For a weird, long moment, I felt a strong sense of identification with these two total strangers. [info]the_child sees a therapist, to deal with the intersection of my illness/mortality issues and her own burgeoning adolescence. I’ve been the parent in the waiting room with my daughter. That sense of identification was wildly inappropriate, and I kept both my eyes and my words to myself, but I really did want to speak up, to say something encouraging about whatever had brought them there.

Of course, I had absolutely no way to do such a thing. Nor should I have sought one. A therapist’s waiting room is an odd intersection of private and public space, a declaration that no, we’re not quite all fine here, but we’re taking care of business. I mean, that’s what I’m doing there.

So I expressed my good will by politely ignoring the both of them. I couldn’t even tell you what either of them looked like. But it was a strange moment for me. Not sure what that means.

Sitting around with my digestive tract

In seeing my therapist, we talked as we often do about my chemotherapy side effects. One of the odd things about this round is that I have a lot of trouble sitting up in an ordinary chair. There’s a persistent discomfort in my gut that is only eased when I am standing up, or stretched out nearly horizontally. The longer I sit up, the more uncomfortable I get. It never really becomes painful, but the sensation is awfully annoying.

I don’t remember this particular problem from either of my prior rounds of chemotherapy. I had to lie down or stretch out a lot to manage fatigue, but I could still sit at my desk or at a dining chair or in an automobile. Now by preference I will flatten any chair I possibly can, and when I do ride in cars — say, to my therapist’s office — I recline the seat as much as possible. I spend parts of my workday flat in my recliner with my laptop on my lap, which is actually a remarkably inefficient way to conduct work. I sit up for meetings, shared work sessions, or when I need to do intense work with our various internal applications on the big multi-monitor rig on my desk.

But sitting up is uncomfortable to the point of distracting.

Lisa Costello used her mad librarian skillz to do some more reading on Vectibix, the core drug in my chemo cocktail, and confirmed that yes, pretty much every form of GI discomfort known to man is a potential side effect of the drug. (Including, according to one report I read, fatal diarrhea. Good God, what a way to go.) So this low-grade bloating and persistent discomfort is just life in the big city, I guess.

Think about this: I haven’t been able to sit up comfortably in a chair for two months. I likely won’t be able to until next May or June. Consider how that impacts one’s daily life. Especially when standing isn’t really an option either. Add that to a continual state of very low-grade nausea (characterized by episodic retching day in and day out for no particular good reason), and, well, it’s a party all the time in my world.

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