The command came from a compact woman with a set mouth and a helmet hairdo. I was standing somewhere between the gurney and the hospital bed, supported by my husband and I could only stare at her. I just arrived in a hospital room on an oncology floor that would be my existence for 5 more days. Between 6:30am and that moment, somewhere in the 3pm area, I had had a port for chemotherapy inserted, a bone-marrow biopsy, a CT scan, a PET scan a chest x-ray and an EKG.
I paused for a moment, gathered a little strength and said, “I’m sorry, could you ask me that a little more nicely please.”
Thankfully, six weeks later, I can tell you that awful woman was the only person I have met on my cancer journey so far who has been anything less than wonderful and loving. And I only saw her for a few hours that day until she went off duty by 7pm.
But what happened next proved apocryphal.
Another woman in the room, a young-ish nurse named Jennifer, told the horrid woman that she’d help me get settled and she should check in later. The horrid lady left. As Jennifer gently helped me change a dressing and get a new hospital gown she said very quietly, “you have to give up control. From here on out, you don’t have control.”
The words slammed into me like an out-of-control truck on a rainy night. She is absolutely right. From a medical standpoint, I have had to lie back a thousand times and let someone else DO something to my body. Sometimes it hurts; most of the time it doesn’t. Most of the time the inflicting nurse or doctor or technician is so apologetic and careful. But it doesn’t change the fact that I am the object – my body is the object being acted upon and the actor in this situation is not me. It’s all in the name of healing and getting well again, but it’s still completely out of my control.
I am only six weeks into this treatment plan. I have a minimum of three months to go. I go through all sorts of motions to grab control of what I can – which lab I use for blood draws, which chair I like in the chemo room, or even voicing that I prefer cranberry to grape juice, but it doesn’t change the fact that my control over my own body is all but gone.
As I came home from the hospital, I realized that there were other things over which I had no control as well. My kids were being taken care of by other people; I was at the mercy of airlines in allowing or not allowing us to change around all of our summer plans; I relied on other people for meals.
In case you don’t know it, I am one of the most control freaky people I know. I arrange my kids’ schedules within an inch of their lives. I am always the go-to person for the PTA or my pet charities if there’s something to be done. I don’t sit back and just take things – I dish them out. I have always said that I’m the good type of control freaky: at least I am aware of it. Now, however, I am learning to let go of all control. Most days I can do it gracefully, but there are some times when I just get so blasted mad about the whole thing.
So to me, “The Big C” as they say, means so much more than just cancer. It means control. I don’t know if I’ll ever accept it completely and I don’t know if I will emerge (God wiling) from this experience as a different type of person, but in the meantime, it’s interesting to think about as I sit in my chair in someone else’s home, reading a book generously put into my hands by someone else, and waiting for yet another person to tell me what’s for dinner tonight.
I’ll explain more as we go along. Come join me on my journey.