I never wanted to be in the hospital. Nothing about leaving my home for a week, skipping school or missing Friday night football games to have poison drip into my body was enjoyable. I spent so much time in the hospital that my floor became a home. Although I did not want to be in the hospital, each time those elevator doors opened it was as if I was walking back into an old friend’s house. The doctors and nurses and PCAs all greeted my mom and me with giant smiles and hugs as we wheeled our giant cart of blankets, DVD’s, pillows, clothes and a backpack filled with pre-calc homework down the pediatric oncology unit hallway.
I never could have guessed this place would become a second home and the care providers a second family, but they did.
We split a pizza together on Thanksgiving, pulled pranks on each other to pass the time, shared about upcoming family vacations and watched football on Sundays. The people who spent their days with me while I was sick became intimately part of my life. They became family. These people were nurses, doctors, residents, personal care attendants, other families in the hospital, chaplains and the kind woman who watered the plants on the floor every day. They were the breath of relief during the most stressful, uncertain and terrifying moments of my 17 years on this earth. They held my hand during blood draws, gently woke me up for the endless vitals checks and gave me the safe space to be a terrified teenage girl with cancer. I grew to love and depend on their presence.
Round after round came and went and then the last day of my final dose of chemotherapy arrived. I was thrilled to never have another port access, but I was unexpectedly devastated to say goodbye to my new family. The doctors made their rounds in the morning and gave their final update and the nurses disconnected my IV’s for the last time. And then Mike came to say goodbye.
Mike was a personal care attendant for my floor and quickly became my person in the hospital. He kept me honest about being sick and never once let me throw a pity party. He poked fun at my mom and made both of us laugh until we cried. On that last day of chemo when he stepped into my room, tears welled in my eyes and his. A moment filled with joy and gratitude was also marked by the heavy weight of a goodbye. We all were thrilled that chemo was over yet devastated to leave each other.
There is no way to prepare for chemo as a kid. There is no right way to encounter the confusion and uncertainty of pediatric cancer. The entire experience is unique to each one of us and I vividly remember the difficult tension of gratitude for leaving the hospital for the last time and sadness for leaving my new family. I beg you to believe whatever you are feeling – during the last round of chemo, when the port gets removed, as your kid rings the “cancer free” bell or during the 1-year checkup – is okay. Whatever you’re feeling is okay.
Written by Katrina Siebels
Katrina was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma when she was 17 years old. Now nearly 10 years past her cancer diagnosis date, she works as a Gift Officer at Children’s Cancer Research Fund. To read more from Katrina, read her pieces Photos During Chemo – A Survivor’s Perspective, Do You Want a Warm Blanket and Nine Years Later.