Lessons from the Chemo Room

Lessons from the Chemo Room

4 Things I Learned during My Chemotherapy Treatment

by Cliff McCain, EdD

When I began my chemotherapy treatments in May 2012, I was clueless and afraid. No one told me what to expect, and I was in no state to know what to ask. That six-month span, encompassing countless hours spent in the chemo room, left an impact on me beyond what the cancer and chemotherapy did to my body. Here are four things I learned during my chemotherapy treatment.

The chemo room is a world unto itself, one where outside issues do not matter.

1. Cancer is the great equalizer.

One fact you quickly realize in the chemo room is that issues like race, politics, and wealth do not matter. Cancer does not pick on one group. It treats everyone with equal disdain. There is no pecking order here. The chemo room is a world unto itself, one where outside issues do not matter. These are your people for however long you are in treatment. Your political leanings and bank account balance do not matter. Being respectful and kind to others does.

2. Chemo is scary, but it gets better.

No one is immune to being afraid, but there are a couple of things that can help you adjust. First, in my experience, most chemo nurses are remarkable. They help you both physically and mentally. They’re experts at putting cancer survivors and families at ease. Chemo nurses will always hold a special place in my heart. Next, is just knowledge. Fear of the unknown is so powerful. However, I found that once I kind of knew how everything worked, I could deal with the anxiety. Obviously, I never looked forward to chemo, but once the unknown was taken away, I was able to handle the task that lay before me.

3. It’s important to be mindful of others.

During chemo sessions, it’s essential that you are mindful of how raw the emotions are in that room. Sure, there are light or funny moments, but you must remember that not everyone is having a good day. Even as I was nearing a positive end to my journey, I tried to be mindful of the fact that not everyone has a successful conclusion. Not only that, but I remembered how fragile I was at the beginning of my chemo journey. It can be difficult for people who are in a low place to see others laughing and joking around. That’s not to say you can’t be lighthearted in the chemo room, but you should always be mindful of those around you.

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4. You will have a love–hate relationship with this room for the rest of your life.

Every time I drive by the clinic where I received chemotherapy, I get a feeling. I don’t even know what the feeling is. It’s definitely not happiness, but it’s not complete sadness either. While the days spent in that chemo room were during a dark period in my life, that room gave me life. The people there – staff, fellow survivors – got me through the most difficult struggle I’ve ever faced. There is no way for me to not think a few good thoughts as I remember that room. Because of it, I am still here.

The chemo room is a part of me now – the good and the bad of it.

Dr Cliff McCain

Dr. Cliff McCain is a learning specialist in the athletic department at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, MS, and a history instructor at both Holmes Community College in Goodman, MS, and Southwest Community College in Memphis, TN. Dr. McCain is also a survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2021.

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