Having cancer sucks.
Having cancer with kids sucks.
Having cancer with tiny little dependent children sucks the worst.
Last week I had an encounter at the oncology office that had me leaving in complete tears. And as a die hard city girl, I will stand my ground and put you in your place if I need to. But not on this day. What transpired in a hallway in the oncology building left me hoping I could make it to the parking lot before losing control, but I failed miserably.
I loaded the kids and the stroller in the truck before finally finding the semi-privacy I needed to let lose over what I consider to be one of the most traumatic experiences I've had since being diagnosed. Semi-private only because I had a 5-year-old in the third row who I could not hide from. As hard as I've tried to not let him see me cry over the last 18 months, all bets were off this time. I had to cry now, and explain later.
Up until this point, I thought that bringing my kids to the oncology building was like bring along therapy dogs. While waiting for my brief lab appointments, we could see people's faces light up,
or brief interactions lighten moods. On this particular day I was
sitting with Merrick reading through the only National Geographic he hadn't read in the waiting room. With her pick of empty seats, a patient
chose to sit next to us, and I could tell she enjoyed listening to Merrick's
inquisitive questions about green mamba venom and topographical maps. For
those few moments, my little therapy kid distracted her from her reality
in that god-awful place.
It's never intentional to bring my kids to that place. I'd love for them to avoid it if at all possible, as clearly it's not Disneyland. But given schedules, time restraints, and geography, all too often it's just easier to bring them for my weekly 20 minute lab work.
The encounter I was about to have was compounded by the fact that we had been there for 2 hours waiting for lab results that usually take no more than 20 minutes. On this day, a medical emergency outside the control of anyone in that building took all the players out of the game for a period of time. The place had to shut down, which in turned pushed appointments, and continued to crowd an already crowded waiting room.
Like a diligent mother, I drug my generally well-behaved children along to these brief lab appointments with all Apple products fully charged, plenty of diapers and snacks, and everything else we might need to survive the wait. It's no different than going out to dinner or getting on an airplane. It is a confined space where you'd rather not have to take your kids, but you prepare for them to be entertained none the less. Given these tools, my children were nothing less than quiet, calm, and contained as always.
While the medical staff attended to the emergency, I was left with two little kids and standing room only. My kids had both passed their hour limit of being entertained by technology, and Lachlan wanted out of his stroller. The natives were getting understandably restless. Still standing, I contained my brood in a corner, and continued to leave the few open chairs for those that actually needed them.
As the train got back on the tracks, the halls eventually started to clear, and I finally gave in to Merrick's continued request to calmly walk up and down it. My obedient son simply walked from one end of the hall to the other. After two hours of waiting, I was sorry that it was the greatest luxury of movement I could offer him.
It was then that I got called to the Principal's office so to speak. As I stood against the wall watching my boy calmly walk, I was accosted.
"Why are you here?"
"Why are your kids here?"
"We can't have your kids running around."
"Children aren't allowed in the infusion room."
"Nurse Jane is very busy and it's asking a lot of her to squeeze you in."
"You can't bring your children with you on your infusion day."
"Your son could trip an elderly patient if he's running around."
I was already emotionally fried from my long wait and pressure I put on myself to make sure my kids where calm, quiet, and contained. This left me speechless. I couldn't believe an administrator at a cancer center was addressing, if not attacking me, with such insensitivity. I was patronized and made to feel like I had done something wrong. My stern public parenting was called into question, and I was being talked down to by someone who was clearly clueless that she worked in a building full of people dying from cancer. The moment made me forget that I was the patient - that I was the client.
The snarky and fiesty little me wanted to tell her that I can read, so on my first visit of the oncology building, I did read a sign that said "No Children in Infusion Room." 15 treatments later and my kids haven't been in the infusion room, or to one of my infusions. So why am I being treated like they were running around jumping on recliners? Why am I being treated like my kids have been using the oncology waiting room as their own personal playground? Why am I being treated like an entitled parent?
As the hostile conversation continued, all I could think to say was "THIS IS MY REALITY!" I wanted to scream it.
I HAVE LITTLE KIDS AND I HAVE CANCER AND IT IS HARD!
Find me that mother of very small children who loves dragging them into an oncology building every week for a quick check of her blood counts.
You can't, because she doesn't exist.
I stand out in that waiting room. I'm sure there are a few others that would gladly join me and scream that this whole process might just be a little harder for us than it is for everyone else. I've said in the past that there are no pissing contest with cancer. No one is out to compete is this strange little community. But I'm not trying to compete. I'm not trying to get special treatment. I'm not trying to bring attention to myself every time I walk through those doors pushing a stroller and hoping my baby doesn't drop his pacifier on the overly used carpet. I'm just asking those treating us to give us a little more grace, a little more understanding, and know that we're not just there as a cancer patient, we're also there as a mom fighting so hard to shield our children from what they should never have to see, and fighting so hard to have even one more day with them.