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Been There, Done That

by Kimberly Srock Fields

Inspiration image

(photo by Seneca Flowers)

The last time I went in for a round of post-transplant tests and reassurances that I am, indeed, still in remission, I visited the X-ray division once again. As I sat in the waiting area holding a red beeper and the key to locker #13, I was struck by a sense of recognition as I watched the young couple sitting near me.

I was getting only a chest X-ray, so I wore the paper gown over my bare chest and jeans. The woman across from me, though, sat in her gown with bare legs and socks; she was here for more than just a chest X-ray. On the table next to her sat multiple plastic bottles, all marked with black marker. Barium, I assumed. I remembered that drink. I had been there, done that, but I couldn’t remember what for. Side effects of the chemotherapy, I supposed. I wondered if she had cancer.

The young man sitting next to her flipped through a thick stack of appointment sheets. He had a notepad and a pencil, and he was taking careful notes. Checking the time. Making sure his partner finished her drink on schedule. Figuring out where they had to go next. My husband had been there, done that. They had the placid, shell-shocked expressions and stiff demeanor that distinguished them as being “newly diagnosed.”

In them, I saw my husband and myself just after my diagnosis two years prior. I was diagnosed with acute erythroleukemia when I was 27 years old and 28 weeks pregnant. After the phone call with the bone marrow biopsy results, Justin and I held each other in our brown armchair and cried. Sobbed is more like it. Then we dried our eyes, and we started on the path to action. We haven’t cried like that since.

As Justin and I sorted through appointment sheets, researched treatment information, and worked to hold together the pieces of our interrupted lives, we didn’t have the opportunity to get irate or irrational. We had a mission: survival. We were calm, careful, and we focused on the details. We solicited the help of family to care for me and our daughter, who was born less than two months after my first course of treatment, seven days of chemotherapy that brought me into remission. We lived one moment at a time, one appointment to the next, one round of treatment before another. We counted down the days to the transplant.

But somewhere in the days leading up to that moment in the waiting room, I had stopped keeping track. I stopped living appointment to appointment. That morning, I didn’t even know what time to go in for my chest X-ray until I dug up my appointment schedule at the last minute. To me, it was just a chore, something I had to do between breakfast with my family that morning and a visit with my hematologist in the afternoon.

As I waited, I was tempted to strike up a conversation with that couple in the waiting room, but what was there to say? What are you in for? It sounded like a pick-up line someone would use in a holding cell.

My beeper began to buzz before I was able to figure out what to say. I spent the rest of the day thinking about that couple and wishing I had found a way to tell them that I had been there. That I understood. I wanted to tell them that not every day will be like those first days, and that they would come to a place where they, too, would be able to recognize another couple as “newly diagnosed.” Then they, too, would want to say, “Been there, done that. You’ll get past this.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Kimberly Srock Fields has been in remission from acute erythroleukemia since February 2008. She received an allogeneic stem transplant in May 2008, with cells donated by her sister, Michelle. Kimberly now resides in Fort Collins, CO, with her husband and daughter.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2010.