Fellow Travelers

IMG_0859Journal: April 2002

During my first nine treatments at the clinic, the mood of the treatment room seemed somber.  My caretaker of the day, Jan Young, a longtime cancer nurse from my hospital observed that no one was having fun – staff or patients. As I began to tolerate the CamPath and become more alert during my treatments, I resolved to change the mood of the clinic.  Along with our candy and camera, we brought joking and a sense of humor.  The mood was at times livelier, more congenial.  There was an older black lady who always wore a knit cap and seldom spoke with others.  We talked with her, chided her, and gave out candy.  When she discovered during my last weeks that I liked wintergreen mints, she would always come over to lay a handful of them in my lap.  She had seen me in my shakier times and told me later “Boy, was you out of it!”  She and her husband especially seemed to cherish the photograph that we took of her in her treatment chair.

I have become attached to the rituals surrounding my treatment days.  Unless I have an appointment to see Ray, I am always accompanied to the clinic by a friend – Jan, Lisa, Deb, Leon, Susan, Sally or Marie.  Tish always accompanies me when we are consulting with Ray.  Regardless of who I am with part of the new (and improved) ritual is to go out now for lunch, most often at Mexican restaurants.  This surely beats being carted home, shivering in a drugged stupor.  My son, Aaron, drove me one day and sat with me through my treatment – perhaps a courageous endeavor for a sixteen-year old.  And one day I drove myself after my scheduled caretaker called the evening before to say that she had developed a cough.  I did not want to call anyone else at the last minute.  The day proved to be a good one for me.  There was a problem with a machine in the lab and my blood had to be sent out to another lab.  Since my infusion could not be started and an IV pole did not inhibit me, I spent more time with my co-patients.

I have come to know quite a few fellow travelers.  We talk about our diseases, our chemotherapy, our counts and surgeries. We talk about our lives outside, our lives before.  Sometimes I “consult” on other clinic patients, helping to locate a viable vein for an IV, reinforcing chemo teaching, advising on the advantages of having a central IV line.  Later my fellow patients will sometimes ask me for my opinion on something medical. Underlying all of our conversations is a profound sense of empathy.

We never seem to put aside our cancer nursing instincts.  Whether it is me, Marie, Deb or Hope, we have all jumped up to assist another patient up from a treatment chair or to fetch a glass of water or can of soda from the machine down the hall.   I have helped to hold up an elderly man who became dizzy while the clinic nurse went to fetch his wheelchair. Each day now when we arrive, I pass out candy and greetings to the other patients.  Sometimes I am chatting so much that the clinic nurse has to drag me back to my chair so that she can start my IV.  I take the same chair each time, though twice another young woman claimed it as her own.  She has been in treatment since October so I acquiesced.

Photographs get taken of our favorite patients, two copies, one for my album, one for the patients.  Everyone seems grateful for these.  No one else thinks to capture these important though forgettable times – the times when we were the most sick, the most scared, the most vulnerable.  But it is part of our history, something to look back upon.


About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.

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