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  • Writer's pictureLisa McIntire

Chemo Kindergarten

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

Because I’m working with two healthcare providers, insurance took even longer than usual to approve my chemo treatments, which means my start date was in limbo too.


But finally, after delaying the start date twice and a flurry of phone calls since early morning, insurance gives me the go-ahead 15 minutes before my appointment time. The moment has finally arrived.


I'm a nervous wreck, darting around the house frantically gathering my chemo supplies: the Lidocaine prescription my friend said to apply to the port site before they poke me, wireless earbuds to help me pass the time, a cardigan for the cold chemo room, and all the courage I could muster.


I’ve never been so eager to do something so scary.

I’m shaky but determined. The nurse outlines the process. Since I’m a newbie, I will occupy the seat of honor directly in front of the nurse’s station. They will administer the drugs more slowly so they can watch me closely for reactions, she explains. I nod, - numb.


She assures me that Steve can come back for my first treatment. But after that, due to COVID restrictions, no visitors are allowed except for quick lunch deliveries.


Knowing Steve will be by my side, like he has been for the past three decades, calms and comforts me. We’ve already been through so much. Surely, we can get through this together too.

I check in at the front desk and ask again – just to be sure – that he can come back with me. Yes, the receptionist assures me. He can sit with me the first time. After that, I’m on my own.


Twenty minutes later, the door swings open, and my name is called. We stand – together – and walk toward the door. But this nurse stops us and explains kindly but matter-of-factly that Steve can't come back since they can't accommodate physical distancing in today's packed chemo room.


Her words land with a thud in my aching heart. WHAT?! But he’s my support person. He’s my PERSON person. He’s my safe, my steady. I don’t want to walk through that door without his hand in mine.

Everything in me wants to stop cold in my tracks, cry, scream, argue, and remind them that they PROMISED he could come with me the first time.


Instead, I just lower my head and let his hand slip slowly out of mine, like a child leaving her mom on the first day of kindergarten, as hot, salty tears roll down my cheeks.


I feel like an alien visiting a different planet as I shuffle past the rows of sick, sleepy cancer patients. My heart aches with empathy for each of them while my brain reels in disbelief that this is now my reality.


It is a strange dichotomy unlike anything I have experienced before: I want to be there for them, but I don't want to be there for me.

Carrie, my nurse, guides me to my plastic recliner and drapes warm blankets around my shaking shoulders and legs. Then she starts the process of hanging bags of drugs that drip slowly into my IV. This is the moment of truth – awful and anticlimactic all at once.


Cancer can't be denied. My life has taken a cruel twist, and I have to make the same choice that every person whose life takes a cruel twist must make. I can resist and dissolve into self-pity and bitterness or I can accept this is what God and life are asking of me during this season. It’s that simple and that difficult.


The tears drip down my face as rhythmically as the toxic drugs drip into my veins. I feel so violated, like I've been kidnapped from my full, active, happy life and taken against my will to this strange and scary Cancer Land.

I feel so alone.


But the reality is I'm not alone. Steve wasn’t there, true. But Jesus was. He promises to always be there—not just present but close and compassionate, even—maybe especially—when we can’t feel Him.


And as difficult as it is to accept, I wasn’t kidnapped and taken to Cancer Land. I was led there – for reasons I don’t understand now and maybe never will.

But God promises that ALL things (even stints in Cancer Land) work together for good for those who love Him. Anyone can bring good from good. Only God can extract good from bad. I’ve watched Him do it many times.


That truth doesn’t negate these seasons of suffering that all humans experience. It just makes them full of possibility and purpose.

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