Drew Hayden Taylor

Drew Hayden Taylor
Meet the Playwright

Thursday, November 22, 2007

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF DENIAL

Creative non-fiction by Peggy Lauzon

Linda and I sit in the grey room on the grey plastic chairs. Styrofoam heads stare out from one shelf-lined wall, some sporting hair pieces, some not. I could borrow a wig once treatment begins, so I try to imagine wearing one of these. I arch an eyebrow at Linda. She shakes her head no.

A heavy black binder labelled “Chemotherapy Handbook” waits on the coffee table, too close to my left knee. Ursula comes in and places herself across from us. She has a kind face and white-streaked hair tied back in a bun. She is very direct.Ursula describes different breast cancer treatment options. In addition to intravenous chemotherapy drugs, one branch of a clinical trial involves receiving a needle, sometimes two, each day for the support drugs that are used to minimize chemo side effects. She shows me the schedule, but six months is a long time to count.

“How many needles is that altogether?”

Ursula gives me an odd look. “Nobody’s ever asked me that before. I’ll have to figure it out for you. Anyway, there will be other needles. You’ll need routine blood work. Maybe IV antibiotics.”

“I don’t want to have to come to the hospital every day. I want my life to be as normal as possible.”

“You could learn to give yourself some of the needles.” Ursula presses on through the silence. “You might not be feeling well. You might want to be near the hospital.”

The chemo drug names sound foreign to me: Epirubicin, Cyclophosphimide, Taxol. Epirubicin is bright red. The IV needle for this has to be very long, so that the drug can’t back up and touch my skin.

“Epirubicin will burn your skin. No, worse than burn. It will necrotize your flesh and you’ll need a skin graft if a drop touches it. Isn’t it funny how a drug that can hurt you on the outside won’t hurt you on the inside?”

Ursula goes through the drill.

Cyclophosphimide makes you very sun sensitive. Stay covered up. Nausea, another side effect, is more controllable these days. Take your meds. Monitor weight loss. The main thing is that your body’s cells are being destroyed. Take your temperature daily and watch for signs of infection. Almost everything poses a danger: bug bites, manicures, kids coming home from school with the sniffles. Even facial scrubs can do damage that your body won’t be able to heal.

Facial scrubs?

I scan the shelves, looking at the mostly grey wigs. People my age aren’t supposed to get cancer. . . .

While Ursula keeps talking, Linda squeezes my hand, and I shake my head to feel my bouncy red curls, thinking that it would be nice to still have something swingy and dangly around my face. Earrings, perhaps?

The room has become quiet and I see that Ursula is waiting for me to say something.

“Would it be a good idea if I got my ears pierced?” I ask.

“No,” Ursula pauses. “No, Peggy, that would be a really, really bad idea.”

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