I spent my 20’s attending university. For a decade I studied and stressed all to try to give the best care to people fighting cancer. Undergraduate in pharmacy, masters, and finally, a doctorate from the University of Toronto. I specialized as an oncology pharmacy. I know a lot about drugs but even more about chemotherapy. But when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I got my chance to find out what chemotherapy was actually like – first-hand.
I knew textbook chemotherapy – which is both a good and a bad thing. I can list the side effects, I can calculate the dose, I can describe how each specific agent fights cancer. But I had a lot to learn about chemotherapy when I was diagnosed.
I received 4 intense cycles of chemotherapy. Each cycle was Monday to Friday, followed by a week of the most intense fatigue. Like nothing else. This fatigue is so intense that having a bath or moving from the bed to the couch is an enormous victory. I would then get one week where I was able to get back to some resemblance of my former life. Then I would start it all over again.
Life was being lived hour to hour and day to day. Trying to hold your head up to get to the next day.
Before cancer, I understood that my patients were tired during chemo. I understood they felt nauseated. I understood they had mouth sores and pain and anxiety but I didn’t “get it.” I do now. One day Oncology Pharmacist the next Cancer Patient.
Now that I’m cancer free, I can count on one hand the number of patients I’ve told that I am a cancer survivor. I don’t want to focus our interaction on me – I want to focus on them. Even though I don’t say anything about being a cancer survivor, I now speak from a place where I completely “get it”.