Yesterday, I got a text from a cancer-buddy. “I hate feeling like a cancer patient,” she began. She went on to describe the rapid and slimy transformation from normal person sipping a latte on a sunny morning to cancer patient who can never really be 100% certain her cancer is gone. “It is,” she wrote, “like transformers. I become someone else entirely.” And all you have to do, to become that someone else entirely, is walk through the doors of the cancer-agency (hospital, clinic, whatever you call it- in Vancouver it’s the BC Cancer Agency.) Describing this feeling to my cancer-yoga-teacher-buddy J, she recounted willing herself to only breathe through her mouth, lest she actually have to inhale that horrendous cancer-smell through her nose whenever she goes to the Cancer Agency. Oh, the joys. Oh, the transformations.
Thing is, they are entirely right. This morning, I had a procedure. I rode my bike down, fast, pedaling hard because I slept through my alarm and woke up exactly eight minutes before my appointment, and I wasn’t sure it was like being late for chemo, where if I woke up late I didn’t hurry because really, were they going to deny me chemo for being ten minutes late? Point is, I got there, normally frazzled as I always am before 10am, no matter how much prep time I’ve had. Normally frazzled: those are the keywords. I’m normally frazzled when I get to yoga before noon, normally frazzled when I teach starting at 9am, normally frazzled when I first get to a cafe to write and I still need my coffee. So I arrived, I locked my bike up in my normally frazzled way, and I waited in line for the elevator.
But by the time I was waiting in line for the elevator, it had already happened. I had gone from normally frazzled girl on bike to cancer-patient with a tiny bit of hair and cut-off shorts, wishing she was anywhere but the cancer agency. It was immediate, the transformation that happened at the exact nanosecond I walked through the automatically sliding doors, ignored the hand sanitizer, and rolled my eyes at the volunteers behind tables laden with hand-knit hats (hello, its summertime people).
I knew it was happening, the transformation from normal girl to cancer patient. My cancer-buddy’s text echoed in my brain, and I put my hand over my nose, thinking of J only breathing through her mouth. They took me in right away, but couldn’t find the vein in my arm. Oh no, excuse me. They found it, then proceeded to lose it as it rolled out of the damn needle. Three times. Until the nurse held the vein in place during the whole scan, checking every two seconds to make sure the fluid was still pouring into me.
When you are laying on a hospital bed, with your arms above your head and a nurse is anchoring your veins and you’re only allowed to breathe when the voice says you’re allowed to breathe, you are a cancer patient. A cancer patient hasn’t any control over her body; rather, her body is manipulated by others bending her elbows, ordering her breath, anchoring her veins. A cancer patient is scared: the future’s uncertainty is written across her chart, the pain is inevitable, and there is a palpable sense of severity that the nurses try to diffuse with warm towels and cups of juice and silly stories. A cancer patient is managed: she occupies a space where nurses, doctors, strangers, techs, and volunteers intervene into her body, her knowledge, her world every second, offering suggestions, making demands, asking questions, expecting information. Being a cancer patient is totally sucky.
I got out of there as fast as I could, and I hopped on my bike, and I pedaled to yoga even though I didn’t bring a water bottle or yoga clothes, and I had to borrow a yoga top that was too small and my boobs were kind of hanging out but I didn’t care, because I was so glad to be in charge of my body, stretching my arms as I wished, feeling the strength of my leg muscles.
What a relief. And I was back to being me. Not cancer-me, just me. Transformers, indeed.