my trip to the chemo room

there will be no pain

there will be no pain

chris made this mixed media piece about two years before he was diagnosed with colon cancer. chris is a hard-nosed, stubborn, foul-mouthed, cynical, crude SOB. he gets away with it because he’s also irritatingly smart, talented, cuttingly funny and compassionate.

three years ago i got a call from him as he was waiting for the results of his biopsy to come in. it was the first time i heard fear in my friend’s voice.

a few years on and watching him work with this new reality has been an education in living. i have never seem someone fight a war right in front of me and still think about what t-shirt quality they’ll use for the new batch of prints they’ve designed. i’ve never watched someone negotiate and renegotiate their terms of living while finding the art in the most overlooked flowers.

a few months ago he asked me to go to chemo with him to take some pics to show ya’ll out there that it’s not this scary torture chamber we non-chemo types have in our mind’s eye.

We arrive

chris gets his muti from vincent pallotti in cape town. the passages leading up the oncology department are pretty drab but that door opens up onto this really warm, friendly reception area. didn’t take pics cos there were other people there and it seemed kinda rude.

we got there early, so the room where peeps get their chemo was empty. it was a rainy day, so it was grey and miserable, but i was surprised at the community of it. i always pictured you’d lie in a white room on a lonely hospital bed, staring out of the window. Later this room would fill up with chatting, eating, reading, sleeping people.

chris chose his seat and we headed to the prep room (just behind the chair in the pic).

The prep

because chris goes for chemo so often he got a port which goes direct to the vein. it means there’s less pain and less trauma (trying to find an arm vein over and over for chemo drugs is no fun). once they pop the needle in, the little pipe is secured and is ready to be attached to the bags of saline and toxic medicine next to his chair.

The session

That little standing machine is where the bags of poison hang off. literal poison. ‘cytotoxic’ means toxic to cells, they either die, stop multiplying or activate what is like a controlled cell death. it kills the cancer, but it also kinda starts killing you.

there are different kinds of chemo drugs and some are less hectic than others, but as chris’ cancer has metasticised (spread everywhere basically) he’s on the hardcore shit.

chris makes it look easy. he eats (coffee, flavoured water, two bags of skittles, cream danish, custard pie), pokes fun at the nurses and chats to whoever will listen. but chemo, no matter how unscary i found it looks on the outside, is really fucking hectic.

while we were there a young boy came in for his first chemo session. for every initial chemo session there is an emergency resuscitation kit next to the person’s chair — your body goes into such a state of shock you can die. heart attack i think.

what doesn’t kill you, right…

Needles

sitting opposite us was this really amazing woman. she’d had breast cancer on and off for a few years and knew the drill well. hers, she said, was actually a fortunate kind of cancer because it responded to estrogen. in other words, it basically ‘fed’ off it and if she simply stopped the production of the hormone, the cancer would starve. the chemo she was coming in for was ‘chemo-lite’ to clean up the rest.

she wasn’t looking forward to the weight gain and her hair had already fallen out. she worried about her 14-year-old daughter and the fact that she’d have to go through a period of people looking at her funny — ‘past her and the face of sickness’ — and men not responding to her sexually anymore.

now you see that microwave? well its used for heating up the little blue bags they warm your arm up with. this is to open the veins so that it’s not as blindingly painful when the chemicals go in. the process of chemo is pretty drawn out. first you sit through a drip cycle of saline bag, then some steriods, then another bag of something or another and only then the actual chemo and then another bag of saline. it can take anything from 3 to 6 hours for the cocktail of drugs to run through your body.

and then there’s the few days of recovery after.

cancer and chemo is not for the weak.

'a break in the rain'

‘a break in the rain’

i’m not sure i walked away being any less unimpressed with chemo. but i did walk away with a better appreciation for the sheer force of will and personal strength cancer survivors make it through the battle with.

chris and i have had our ups and downs. i’m too much of hippie, he’s too much of a cunt skeptic. but he is my friend. and i am fantastically proud of him.

check out his art and photos here [clickety click]