What a waste of a day. Today was not a good cancer day. If Chris were not right there laughing with me there were several moments today where I might have cried. Or slapped somebody. Or both. Simultaneously. And repeatedly.
Where to begin?
Okay, so first we drove to the Cancer Care Center in Pomona where they have the “wig program.” You careful readers may recall I expressed concern about the “free wigs” and whether I’d have to qualify and would government cheese be handed out with the wigs. Um, the cheese would have looked better on my head. More natural. Even orange American cheese. Still in the individual plastic wraps. I was too stunned to take photos and I kinda regret that now. But let me start at the beginning… throughout our UCLA experience, I continued to marvel at the youth of the professionals. But marvel as in “wow, what a young genius” and “wow, you got through Columbia, Harvard and fellowships at Johns Hopkins and UCLA and you’re only, like, 25?” That kind of marveling. Today we marveled at how young the girls we dealt with were in the “the only other job you’ve had involved babysitting, right?” and “I realize the bell just rang to let you out of class, but you are working right?” way. So we walk into the Cancer Care Center and there is a young woman in her early 20s (at most) at the reception desk. I explain why I’m there and she stares blankly at me–stares in a way that makes me think I just told the gum-cracking teenage daughter in the car of the guy pumping gas at the local ARCO station that I need a wig, instead of, you know, the young woman seated at the reception desk of the freakin’ Cancer Care Center. Finally she says, “Today?” No, tomorrow, but I thought I’d practice today. Let’s hope it goes better tomorrow. I should have said that and left, but I’m a sucker. I stayed.
Someone else came out and offered to sit at the front desk so teenager could attend to me. No, really? This is the “cosmetologist” I’d been told would work with me and find the “perfect wig”? Wig-teen takes me to the “wig room.” Which is really more of a closet. And she says to me on the way, “Usually when people come in for wigs they have less hair. So that’s why I was confused.” Yeah, well, hair can be confusing at a cancer center. So I explain that my chemo starts this week so of course I still have my hair. She seats me in a chair, looks at me in the mirror and says, “Yeah, but now I can’t get the wigs on your head. I don’t know how to fit them.” Oh, well, by all means then, let’s just shave me now. She has a better idea. She gets out what looks to be a wide knee-high nylon and stretches it over my head, tucking all my hair up into it. Very pretty. She asks if I want to stay blond, I say yes (I see where the voting is going) and she proceeds to get out a bin of brown wigs. Short, curly, “road kill” looking wigs last seen on the Golden Girls. I explain the difference between brown and blond and ask, sitting there in my knee-high nylon cap, if she has any that are longer. Longer than 2 inches, say. For example. And she says no. They don’t have long hair wigs. Okay, medium? Like to my shoulder? No. Just short.
This would have been useful information to have before the drive to Pomona, before the nylon was stretched over my head and before I strangled her. (Okay, it was said before the last one). I said, okay, well, what’s the longest you have because I’ve never had short hair. She gives me one, we squeeze it onto my head and I’m Bea Arthur. Only older. And crazier. Chris and I both start laughing (and he starts screaming “NO NO NO NO NO!!” but only inwardly, outwardly he yelled “that’s a beaver pelt!!”). We tried about 2 more, each more ridiculous than the last. And these are wigs that are stored in their plastic wrappers, flattened out, unstyled, and packed together in a bin on a closet shelf. Like craft supplies. So when they get plunked onto my head, they are flat, and hair goes in every which direction and there is absolutely no way to know what, exactly, or even remotely, the style is supposed to be. And clearly Wig-teen also doesn’t’ know so she just randomly moves the wire brush around lightly on top of the wig, hoping something will eventually makes sense. Because Golden Girls was off the air before she was born, so really, what’s she got to go on?
Chris says “I can’t believe you don’t have any long ones.” And she says “Everyone always likes the shorter ones. They look more natural.” He guffawed. There really wasn’t any other response. But he did tell her he disagreed–and pointed to the thick perfectly straight crease with hair sprouting upward across my forehead. She said “no, everyone thinks so.” (But what are they comparing it to? If you are only being offered short haired wigs, then what do they look more natural than? The Styrofoam head?) So he asked the logical question–”Well, what’s the age range of your customers?” Which was exactly what I was thinking. Even when we pulled into the parking lot, with one look at the building I said “why do I feel like I’m going into a nursing home?” Anyway, Wig-teen gave up on us and we gave up on her and the wigs. Free or not, I’d rather be bald than wear one of those. Wig-teen removes the knee-high from my head and now I’ve got my real hair all smashed down and messed up and in my eyes…and there’s no brush or anything available to help with that. Luckily, my 10-gallon purse has the needed supplies. Cosmetologist, my ass. And all I have to say is Raquel Welch hates cancer people. That or, she donates only the wigs from her company that haven’t sold in the last 10 years.
Then they took us next door to the boutique so I could maybe see about “turbans.” Sounds promising doesn’t it? Yeah, no. They had 3. 1, 2, 3. Not three models. Three of the same kind–one in pink, one in red, and one in white. Three that were in Medium/ Large. If only I were a child looking for a turban, I would have had a vast selection to choose from (vast being 6). We spent about 8 1/2 seconds in the “store”-long enough to get the explanation that they were low on inventory and I should come back in about a week. Right. That’s on my calendar. We barely got out before Chris burst out laughing–because the store had two “Shoplifters will be prosecuted” signs. He still wants to ask exactly how many times the store had been hit by renegade shoplifters desperate for pink turbans before they had to install the signs (which, of course, would scare the hair off any shoplifter).
Okay, so no wig and it’s only 2:15 (yeah, it took me longer to type that than the whole experience lasted in real time; Chris and I are like that with interior monologues). Next stop was the lab to get my bloodwork done pre-chemo. Once again we found ourselves in a medical office that made me want to say “I do have insurance” when I checked in. I was taken into the back and after a short wait a nice older woman who was about 4 feet tall came and took me into the blood-letting room. Next door was a hysterically screaming little girl, so I tried to at least be slightly braver than that, although I do admit I thought “Okay, so here’s the beginning of the needles and poking and veins and ugh.” No big deal on the blood draw though. She put the little thing of gauze and the bandage on and sent me on my merry way. Chris and I didn’t get 10 steps down the hall when I felt a little squirt and then liquid running down my arm. I looked down at my sleeve and sure enough, blood was gushing down my arm. Back in we went. Only now both nurses were occupied with the screaming child and neither could see or hear me over the squirming, terrorized child and her two parents. So I put pressure on my blood soaked bandage, held my arm up and waited…in the middle of the back waiting area. Just, you know, hoping I wouldn’t pass out or lose another jacket. A third nurse finally came by and took me into another room, cleaned me up, stopped the bleeding and bandaged me. She also told me to be sure to tell future nurses that I bleed a lot. They need to bandage me more tightly. Good to know.
Next stop–Chemo Training at Wilshire Oncology. They were obviously behind schedule, although we didn’t see that many patients there. We finally were taken to a room where I sat on a hospital bed and Chris sat on a stool. Eventually a young, somewhat dazed nurse joined us for the training. It was just us (I imagined it was like a class) and she obviously had no idea what my case was about or even what kind of chemo I would be getting. So she just opened the big file she had with her and started to read things to me. Slowly. Very slowly. And quietly. And she kept getting lost. But that was fine, because Chris and I both had already read these things and we could redirect her. We’re here to help after all. Then one of us would ask a question here and there and she’d get more confused and give some really vague answer. Like this:
Me: “Okay, so I’m supposed to drink a lot of fluids. And my dad gave me these anti-oxidants and immune bosters–Mega greens and mega reds– that are powder form and you mix in water or fruit juice. Is there any reason I shouldn’t be taking that?”
Nurse: [blank stare; highly reminiscent of wig-teen]
Me: “It’s got vitamins and things also. Like a holistic health, natural thing.”
Nurse: “You mean like Crystal Light?”
Me: “No, not at all like Crystal Light.”
Chris: “Are there vitamins, herbs, anything like that that she shouldn’t be taking?”
Nurse: “It depends on what it is.”
Me: (trying not to scream). “Well do you have a list of the things I should avoid?”
Nurse: “We’d have to see the ingredient list. You’d have to bring it in.”
So I begin to flip through the materials she’s handed me–including two booklets from the American Cancer Society. And I come across a page that says the foods to avoid. To wit:
greasy, fatty or fried foods
raw vegetables and unpeeled fruits
very hot or very cold foods
foods and drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee
beer, wine and alcohol
be careful with dairy products
Okay, quick…what the hell can I eat?? I read this, and say this, out loud to the nurse (and I think I added “just shoot me now”). Because gee, if I’m supposed to give up even one of the 4 to 5 cups of coffee a day I drink, it would have been nice to know that ahead of time to ease on out of the withdrawal symptoms. And what happened to the doctors telling me that if I felt like having a glass of wine, I could? The nurse slowly backtracked away from most of what was in the booklet (and later tonight at home I noticed the book was written in 1997–and they’ve learned a lot about chemotherapy treatment since then; so hey, thanks for the antique reference guide, I look forward to the page on leeches). Eventually we gave up asking questions because, as we discussed later, it just became obvious that we could have said “what about grass? Am I allowed to go near grass?” and she would have smiled slowly and said “What? I’ll have to check. It’s different with everyone.” She left to go get the billing person to discuss the “financial arrangements” with me. And that’s when I noticed the song playing over the speakers was Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You.” I pointed to the speaker, looked at Chris and we both started laughing and then he told me he had already noticed they had also played “You had a Bad Day” and James Ingram’s “Just Once.” All we needed was “Seasons in the Sun” and we had ourselves a Chemo mix-tape for all time. Chris even went into the chemo room to find out if we could expect this sort of serenade when I was hooked up in the chair. Thankfully, the sound system does not play in that room.
Where the chemo no-training nurse was quiet and soft and confused, the financial person was loud (really, really loud) and quite detailed (down to the penny) and full of information (down to the penny). So I know that I’m $2,200 something into my $3,000 deductible and I need to bring a check for $800 something toward my deductible and the $20 office visit on Thursday. Then $96 the next time, and then $20 each time after. This part they are very, very clear on. Whether or not I can drink coffee, add mega greens and antioxidants to my fruit juice, or which of the possible side effects I should phone in about, and what we should bring with us to the chemo session (food? water? blankets?) they are less sure of. Because, you know, it’s a doctor’s office.
It’s a good thing I had a therapy session scheduled after all of this. Therapy, pick up Seamus, home for a meatball pizza (bless you Round Table) and a big green glass of anti-oxidants and immune boosters, and all is right with the world. Well, no, but I’m home anyway.