Oncologist’s Office-Perspective on Motherhood

Our family had an experience a few months ago that changed us.

Enough time has passed that I can share.

In November, at a doctor’s appointment I had my blood taken. The quick results came back with a problem. Anemia. Anemia is a lack of iron. Iron helps your body take in oxygen. You need oxygen to function. So the doctor sent me to an Oncologist. Oncologists are scary.

After complete blood work, the diagnosis was not good. Not only was I anemic, but my iron levels were so low that they barely registered in my cells. On top of that, my blood cells had shrunk considerably. This was really bad. The doctor looked at me and asked how I even had the strength to walk in the office. The Oncologist immediately started me on a six week treatment plan. Iron infusions every week for 6 weeks.

I received my first infusion on that very day. They took me into a large room with reclining chairs every 5 feet or so and ran a needle carefully into my arm. At the other end, dark brown liquid. I sat as a nurse forced the liquid into my veins. You have to be really careful with iron, one wrong move on the nurses part and the iron would die my arm indefinitely. The needle had to placed just right and the iron administered very slowly, or else my vein would break and my arm would go black. The nurse told me that administering iron was her least favorite thing to do. That was nice of her to say.

I can handle needles just fine. I left thinking, “Okay, I can do this 5 more times”.

The doctor had told me that there could be side effects, but that very few people experienced them. They could range from headaches to cardiac arrest. Big range.

About 8 hours later I felt very different.
Throughout the day my body had very slowly become paralyzed. It started in my neck and then my back, next through my legs and arms. I didn’t think much of it until I realized it was taking over completely. I don’t mean like the flu makes you achy and miserable. I mean I had no use of my body for the next 24 hours. Completely unable to walk, turn over, struggled to breath, paralyzed. On top of that, every joint and muscle in my body ached with pain that can’t even be described. I couldn’t take care of myself, my family or even wrap my arms around our kids to say goodnight. I couldn’t even move my toes.
My husband called the doctor who told us it was rare, but totally normal. After the phone call he carried me to bed and sat up all night making sure I was okay. The breathing worried him the most. I laid in bed that night and the only thing that worked were my eyes, filled with tears.
24 hours later I could walk, but my arms and legs were still very weak. After 72 hours the iron had worked into my system and things were back to normal.
Just when I started feeling good, I had to go in for my next infusion.
We repeated this same process every week through the beginning of February. We had to schedule our lives around the treatment. We knew how long I had before complete paralysis set in, and how long I would be out of commission. The doctor let me take a break the week of Christmas and New Years. That was really nice of him.
The experience itself was very humbling. Hence the reason it has taken so long to write about it. Anemia was nothing compared to what the rest of the people in that office were going through. Nothing.
Each week I would check in and sit in the waiting room. My appointments were always at the same time so I was always surrounded by the same people. I would sit waiting for them to call my name. I could see in to the room with the reclining chairs. I took a picture one week. I wanted to post it here. The view was too sacred, it would not be appropriate. Men and women with and without hair sat in the same chairs watching the same shows. They were of all ages. Cancer doesn’t discriminate.
One week I was having a very difficult time. The iron had been administered too fast and I had fainted. A kind older lady, receiving chemo, gave me a small smile, and asked if this was my “first time”. She thought I was battling cancer. There was compassion in her eyes. 

One woman came every week with a family member. She would set up a table in the waiting room with a puzzle. Patients and family members gathered around the table to help place the puzzle pieces. They talked about their illness a little. They talked about other things, a lot. Mostly they talked about their families.

The nurses and doctors knew every one of us. They remembered our names and our families. Being a nurse in an oncology unit requires a very special person. They anticipate needs before they arrive and do all they can to make you comfortable. They are instant friends. They are wonderful women and men. 

I cried every week. Out of gratitude and humility, and pain. I cried as a waited for my turn and then I cried as I laid in bed every night unable to move any part of my body. I thought about my family and the families of the people I saw each week. I knew that what I was experiencing was nothing compared to their physical pain and mental anguish. These were strong people with strong families. 

What a petty challenge I was dealing with, in comparison to what they were going through.

I recognize this experience was nothing compared to the suffering that many families and individuals were dealing with in that office, and are dealing with, all over the world. I am not comparing in any way.
I am grateful for the experience. It brought a new perspective. It helped me refocus on what was most important. My family. Everyday. The little moments, the little things.
There has been a different feeling in our house since then. More patience, more love, more time together, less complaining. 

It has been easier, on the days that are long and hard, to keep my perspective. Being a mother is not easy.  No one said it would be easy. But I know that the greatest happiness I have and will ever experience comes through doing my best to be a good wife and mother. I know that.
I am grateful for each minute the Lord gives me to work at fulfilling this sacred role.

Comments

  1. 1

    I am glad you are okay now and that you have taken away a positive lesson from your experience. Your words and your perspective resonated with me.

    I took my late daughter to the oncologist’s office at the children’s hospital so frequently for years. And now….now I just miss her and wish I could take her there again.

  2. 2

    Thank you for sharing. I can’t imagine the fear and sadness. What a lesson God spoke to your heart. My mom has cancer and her nurses are so great to hear. She always has such nice things to say about them.

  3. 3

    Oh Heather, I am so sorry you had to go through this but am thankful it’s over and it wasn’t cancer. What a way to get a little perspective on life. Did they ever figure out what caused the severe anemia and iron deficiency? My mother also had that and had to get iron infusions as well a few years ago. I think she had to have two 6 week sessions of it a couple of years apart but hasn’t needed it since.

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