25. Everest

30th of September 2020
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Today is an important day for me. WhatsApp messages are queued up waiting for a reply. Many people are thinking of me. 

On the 5th of May the oncologist told me about the long road ahead of me: six months of chemotherapy, then surgery, then nine months of antibodies and to finish five years of hormone therapy. But the worst part, I have always been told, is the chemotherapy. Maybe that’s why, at the exit of the oncology department there is a bell that patients ring when they finish the chemo treatment.

Today it is my time to ring the bell. Today I finish chemo, six months of which you have now  been a witness.

When I arrive at the doctor’s office, I am surprised, because my usual doctor is not there. I would have liked to see her today at the end of this cycle. The new doctor explains to me what will happen next. On October 8th I will have a MRI to see how the treatment has progressed. Then I will be seen by the gynecologists and surgeons who will operate on me, about six weeks from today. Once operated and with the results of the surgery, possibly my treatment plan may undergo some change. Radiation therapy is a possibility.

As I approach the last cycle of chemo, one thought has been haunting me: what if they decide I need additional chemotherapy, or in other words, chemotherapy after the surgery? One of the lessons I have learned in these months is that one cannot stay with doubts because doubts lead to worries and torment, so I decide to ask.

– Doctor, is it possible that I will require chemotherapy after the surgery?

The doctor explains to me that it is indeed a possibility. The good news is that it is a chemotherapy that is better tolerated and is not like any of the treatments I have so far received. She also tells me that until after the surgery and a committee has then looked at my case, we will not know what will happen.

What will be, will be. I can’t be worrying about something of which I don’t even know if it will actually happen.

The appointment ends quickly after having gone over the side effects during my seventh cycle of chemotherapy. In addition to the ones you already know, my eyes won’t stop watering, I have skin reactions on my face and hands, and an elevated resting heart rate. But it is nothing out of the ordinary apparently.

In the corridor I meet my battle buddies, Pilar and Begoña. Also in the queue, waiting for treatment, is a very young girl, much younger than I, and her mother whom I have seen on previous occasions. Today I find out that the girl’s name is Claudia. It is strange, but those of us who go through this and only see each other every twenty-one days in the hallways, feel connected and we share our stories. We rejoice in the fate of others, selflessly, but also because we are filled with hope by their small victories.

Pilar and Begoña cycles were not too bad this time. They both mention that I have good color in my face and they remember that today I am finishing this phase of the treatment. They are happy for me. In fact, it was Pilar who told me that today is my turn to ring the bell. My aunt and I were surprised, because we thought that the bell was rung when you are cured. But no, Pilar tells me that it is today.

After catching up with my battle buddies and stopping by the pharmacy to get some medication, my aunt, Samirah and I go up to the cafeteria on the fifth floor. From there you can see the Mediterranean Sea and we soak up some sun while we wait for my treatment to be ready and the nurses plugging me in. This has been our little routine for the last six months, on chemo day.

After about half an hour or maybe forty minutes I am called down to the third floor to get my medications. I kiss Samirah and hug my aunt goodbye. This is the last time we do this, if it is God’s plans.

The treatment is going well. Normally I read emails from work, books, El Pais and whatever I can get my hands on. Today is different, I have a lot of messages to answer and I want to talk to my battle buddies. I want to ask them for their phone numbers to make sure we don’t lose contact. And this way, time is passing. Pilar tells me that she lost her father to stomach cancer, that she has a 10 year old girl, that the person who always accompanies her is her aunt and many other things. I also meet a lady, Cristina, who has been battling pancreatic cancer for 3 years. I stand up and move closer to the my buddies’ armchairs to be able to hear them better. Fatima listens quietly to our stories and when I go to sit down again in my chair, she starts to tell me a little bit of her story: breast cancer, first surgery and now chemo. We all have our stories.

At four o’clock in the afternoon Pilar finishes her Docetaxel and can leave, but she tells me that she will wait for me. She is looking forward to seeing me ring the bell. I am also looking forward to her waiting for me. In my mind, I imagine that I am going to ask Samirah and my aunt to ring the bell together because we have climbed this Everest together.

Around 4:30 in the afternoon I finish the treatment. Samirah is waiting for me at the exit of the treatment room on third floor. We have to go up to the fourth floor for the bell. Once there, when I approach the entrance to the oncology department, my eyes begin to tear up, but this time because I feel emotional and because of a more than compelling reason. Not only Pilar is waiting for me, but also my cousin and my parents in law, nurses, assistants and relatives of other patients. I approach the bell. I hold tightly to a green rope hanging from it and ring the golden instrument with all of my strength. For myself, for those who are going through this situation, for my family, for my friends, for all those who have been by our side these six months. Perhaps because of the force with which I hit the bell, the rope comes loose. We all laugh, but a terrifying thought crosses my mind: is this a bad sign? I can’t leave things like this, so I re-hook the rope and hold on to a wire that is also hanging from the bell and start ringing it hard again. Again I am left with rope and wire in my hand. But nothing bad happens, because the only thing that is real is that we have climbed this Everest, we are at the top and now we can start the descent. Today begins my road to recovery.

Tocando la campana
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