I’ve walked through those doors dozens of times but there was something about today that made me all nerves and apprehension. It wasn’t a fear of rejection but teetered more toward belonging too much – as if – if I entered the doors of my own volition – that I would have to stay.
After meeting with a friend in the lobby of the infusion clinic building, I insisted on carrying the box full of encouragement bags on my own. They were heavy, full of small gifts to make chemotherapy easier and lined with prayers of the women who filled them. My arm was sore from lifting furniture at work, but I didn’t want help carrying the box – not in this building – not where I’ve needed help to stand and keep my head up.
Punch the elevator to the third floor.
It’s the last door on the right.
The receptionist knows me.
I waft in the sterile bite of alcohol wipes and non-latex gloves.
I dropped the box on the floor next to the nurses’ station and grabbed the purple bag on the top with white printed words: “But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior,” Jeremiah 20:11. A fragile woman with cotton wisps of hair and whose smile illuminated the room looked my way. I didn’t know what to say. I fumbled through words and gave the gift bag to the woman with her. The only way I felt I could communicate was to pull my tank collar to reveal my MediPort scar.
“See?” I said, “I’ve also been here.” She was in talks with her oncologist about getting a port like mine to administer chemo.
After she left, the clinic was empty and the only people left were my oncology nurses. They hugged me with smiles as if we were at a 4th of July family reunion barbecue and they haven’t seen me in a while. I told them more about what I wanted to do with Teal45 and how I brought the bags to give back in my own way. I tugged on the strands of hair dyed red with growing brown roots from my scalp and showed pictures of my son whom they remembered as a small preemie.
Then the tears flowed.
I thought I locked mine up before I walked in – safely turning the key – but it was my nurse who began crying. Her relief spilled as she smiled. I was finally on the other side. The cables didn’t call my name and the monitors didn’t demand my vitals. There was no appointment keeping me locked into my seat and no slick band around my wrist to scan.
Then I walked out.
I still don’t know what it means to be on this side of treatment – or how I can force myself to hold back tears when I smell alcohol wipes. To be able to walk in and out the sliding doors of my own free will is a tremendous and terrifying feeling.
Who am I supposed to be if not a patient?
There were many nights during treatment when people looked at me and wondered if I was going to die, but now after treatment, the people I want to love, thrivers still undergoing chemo and surgery, I pray for them to live too.
On this emerald grass of post-treatment, I’m still trying to learn how to live.