We get up early so we can be out the door by 6 a.m. Marissa eats a quick breakfast and we both have coffee. We pack snacks and books and laptops. She brings a pillow and a blanket so she can sleep on the way home.
We thought we would listen to lots of audio books and sermons, but on the way we usually just talk. The trip goes faster than I thought it would–she fills me in on what’s happening at work and in her life. We watch the sunrise and we talk about mostly mundane things. Sometimes we are quiet and just watch the miles go by.
We hit Charlotte during morning rush hour. Sometimes traffic has slowed down to a crawl, but it is always busy. Just after Charlotte, there is a construction zone for several miles. Once we are past that, the road opens up and the driving is easier.
We are on the road for about three and a half hours before we exit the highway. We try to grab a bite to eat before we get to the cancer center since we will be there all day. The Chick-Fil-A near the hospital conveniently has a free breakfast item every Wednesday, so it’s fun to see what will be free each week.
We pull into the parking garage and begin the search for a parking place. We take an elevator to the second floor, walk down the long hallway to another set of elevators, and then go to the basement for lab work. Marissa checks in, gets a pager, and waits for it to buzz. We usually wait 15 or 20 minutes before she is called back. She heads into the lab and they access her port for blood work. It doesn’t take long unless they can’t get blood return, and then they have to tip her chair back or have her flap her arms to get the blood flowing.
When she comes out we head to the fourth floor for chemotherapy. She checks in and gets another pager. We wait in a large waiting room where they have tables with puzzles and lots of seating. We are usually here for an hour or more. Marissa’s chemo is considered a long session so they need a room for five hours. We don’t usually see the same people each week, and we rarely see anyone near her age. Some older patients are in wheelchairs, and some are weak and worn, but most patients look pretty healthy.
When they call her back, they ask if she wants a chair or a bed, and the nurses are always surprised when she asks for a bed. Evidently, people do not like the beds at all. Maybe it makes them feel sick or maybe it reminds them of being in the hospital. Marissa loves the bed because it means she can take a nap if she gets sleepy, and the nurses are always grateful.
When she gets to the room, they take her blood pressure and temperature. Then they give her steroids and anti-nausea medication in pill form. They start her IV fluids and give about half before they start her first chemo. The medication gives her a headache and she starts to get puffy from the combination of steroids and fluids. The first chemo is Gemzar which runs for about 30 minutes. Then more fluids before they start the Cisplatin which runs for an hour. Then they finish the fluids and she is done.
If she has a bed, she usually naps. Sometimes I join her on the bed and rest, too. When she is awake, she is usually checking her phone or her laptop. Her head is fuzzy so she doesn’t usually read. We don’t talk too much–she is fighting the physical discomfort as well as the mental challenge of facing the next few days. It’s hard to watch the meds that you know will make you sick drip into your body. The mental battle is the hardest–staying focused, pushing back discouragement, enduring and hanging on to faith.
I read and I pray and I hang on with her.
There are volunteers at Duke in almost every area. We have met several, and they are mostly people who have been helped in the past and now want to serve. They come by once or twice to offer drinks and snacks. Some of them are really friendly and want to know Marissa and her story, and she’s always glad to talk with them.
The last IV usually beeps between 4:30 and 6:00. We head back down to the parking garage and get started on our way home. We drive about an hour before we stop for a bite to eat and drink. (They encourage her to drink lots to flush the chemo drugs out.) Marissa is not hungry and usually has a hard time deciding what to eat, but she knows it will help to eat something. She never wants to stay because she is anxious to get home, so we grab something and get back on the road.
She tries to sleep and doesn’t talk much. Her head is hurting so we usually don’t listen to anything (although there was that Patch the Pirate sing-along!) We are both “sky” people, so we enjoy the changing skies. We have had at least a few minutes of rain on every trip, and we have watched the sunset each time. Even on a busy road, heading home from a challenging day, the skies and sunsets remind us of God’s faithful, powerful love.
We move through the traffic in Charlotte, past the peach water tower in Gaffney, on toward Spartanburg and home. When we see our exit, there is a feeling of relief. One more trip down, one more chemo finished, one step closer to done.
We pull in the driveway and breathe. We are safely home.