203 Chemotherapy: Two to Five AM

I loved my red haired, crazy minded, stage performance perfect, middle school science teacher, Mr. Thompson, at Explorer Middle School in the late ’70’s. He will be that, I hear it in his voice, see the sparkle in his eyes.

When people picture chemotherapy, I think they picture graying skin, lethargy, the inability to eat and move and think.  Is that what you see?  What do you picture?

I look at a lot of people in the infusion room.  This can be the vision, the tired soul, exiting slowly… but it is rare.  One in eight maybe.  There are the young, and the very old.  The range is great.  I see children.  That is not what I want to see.  Last time I saw a graduate of the chemo program, barely old enough to be graduating high school.  Her port had been removed.  She was in a space of “cure”, of full remission.  She was visiting the doctor for the last time in the series, her parents were both there, and she had a gift in hand.  I don’t know these people, but I am so appreciative for her life, for their hope, for the beauty of that moment.

I see a lot of people over 70, the most common infusion crowd.  And variation.  A 60 year old man rolled in, wheel chair drop off.  It was the treatment, or maybe the cancer, that brought his healthy frame to the center in that way.  He walked to the bathroom and back, and his whole body reeled from the effort.  He gasped for air.  The nurse asked about comfort and oxygen.  He said he just needed a bit of time.

A young man sat twelve feet to my left (we are always distant, not just because of Covid, but because space is needed for apparatus and movement).  His infusion was for a health condition unrelated to cancer.  He shared his enthusiasm toward a new occupation, a redirection in his education.  He is becoming a middle school science teacher. 

The nurse and I groaned.  Middle school.  The hormonal crisis to meet all crises.  But the family teaches that age, the brother and his mother.  He knows this path well, and is so excited.  I loved my red haired, crazy minded, stage performance perfect, middle school science teacher, Mr. Thompson, at Explorer Middle School in the late ’70’s.  He will be that, I hear it in his voice, see the sparkle in his eyes.

Chemotherapy is not what is assumed.  The pictures, the people, the stories.  I am not sleeping.  Although the tired and lethargic moments appear sometimes (like at 10pm when the kids were still visiting), I am up at 2am, being productive.  I sleep a few hours each of the first few nights.  It doesn’t feel wrong.  I don’t fight it.  It is a chance for writing, meditating, evolving.

These are the gifts.  This is the receiving.  I am aware.  I have direct empathy and experience that opens my heart in a way that I cannot explain.  I want to scream it from the mountain tops, sing it in my spirit song, write it so clearly that it cannot be misunderstood.  I am living the most blessed of lives.

Author: Michele Plumb Stowell

Michele Stowell was a teacher, a hand holder, and encouraging voice. Born an early Gen Xer, she has lived in Western Washington for the duration. Her children, two spectacular genetic daughters and an uncountable number of marvelous scout and school sons and daughters, shine as her biggest impact and her greatest blessing. Just before her 54th birthday, Michele was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Her writing and art work are expressions of the drama and the joy of living earth bound. On October 24, 2021, Michele was released from her physical body, transported to continue her work on other realms.

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