Yesterday I had to go to Sloan to pick up one of the shots I need for the study I am on. I decided to visit “the 12th floor” where I lived during the month and preceding weeks of the chemotherapy treatments. It was not the first time I visited since my treatments have ended. I visited the nurses and nurse practitioners that work “up there” once before about a month or so after my treatments ended. However, there was something a little different about this visit. Maybe it was because the holidays just ended and I could not fathom being inpatient during that time. Maybe it was because internally I felt I no longer belonged on that floor. More than that, however, I think it had to do with the passage of time. Taking the elevator to twelve for me used to bring a sense of dread. There was a chance that the next time I went to twelve, I would not be leaving. Twelve meant I was sick. Twelve meant chemo and nausea and sadness and sickness. Twelve meant hell. Yet, in four short months without any visit to Sloan’s leukemia and lymphoma ward I’ve grown distant from feelings associated with twelve. Don’t get me wrong, it still sucked getting on the overly cramped elevator filled with doctors, nurses, and visitors alike but this time I knew I could leave. Walking off of the elevator was even stranger for me. It felt like going home. I hated it. I hated that the world of the twelfth floor was so familiar and comforting in its sterility. The smell of chemo, sickness, hand sanitizer, and rubber gloves made me queasy but felt so normal. But I could not focus on that. I wanted to see the people that helped save my life. In a weird way, the oncology nurses became friends. They knew me at the lowest point of my life and I needed them to see that, because of them, I was no longer there. Their care, work, and patience helped bring me to see this beautifully warped new year. Many of the nurses spent endless hours listening to me bitch and moan about my treatment options, medication list, blood transfusions, and hospital protocol. They only knew me sick. I wanted to show them that there is a not sick version of Christina too.
Once on the floor, I was greeted to many surprised faces. Apparently ex-cancer patients do not go and visit the people that helped save their life. It was hard for many of the people that once spent every day with me for about eight weeks of last year to recognize me. It was not surprising. I actually have hair now, albeit short, and I was dressed pretty nicely. My sick uniform of sweatpants and tube tops no longer necessary as I do not walk with my chemo pole any longer. It was nice to see their shocked faces and hear them exclaim how good I look. It is a sign that I no longer look like I have cancer—whatever that means. We caught up on life in the hallway amidst a slew of hospital beds, wheelchairs, and new masked faces doing their laps (the only acceptable exercise for cancer patients) around and around the nurses’ station. Come to think of it, the whole experience is quite dizzying. I found out I am miss cancer February. My picture holds the place of the February time slot in Sloan’s calendar sold at their gift shop. It was hard to look at. I don’t like seeing the actualization of my sickness snapped and frozen for all to see. I told my nurses about school and how my life is moving forward. The visit was short, no longer than fifteen minutes, but long enough for me. The nurses had other patients to attend to. More chemo to administer. More beds to watch over. More people to comfort. The best part of going up there was hearing the nurses say to me, “It was nice to see you Christina, but get the hell out of here. We don’t want you up here that long.” I was also thanked by them. They said that the visits after cancer are the most rewarding part of their job. They actually get to see their work pay off. If that is all I can give back to them after all they have done for me, the anxiety ridden visits are well worth it.