Bringing People Together in the Chemo Room
The chemotherapy room, or chemo room, is a place where many cancer patients go to find medical treatment for their cancer. The chemo room is also a place where these patients find friendships, encouragement, inspiration, helpful tips, comfort and even a good laugh.
In fact, patients at Oncology Associates, as well as staff members, often mention that the chemo room is like a “home away from home”, where everyone becomes an extended family member, helping one another out.
Some of these patients and staff share have shared their experiences of going through chemotherapy treatment in the Oncology Associates chemo room, from the anxiousness of their first visit, to making strong connections to missing the camaraderie of the room upon completing their treatments.
The First Visit
Leanne Johnson, the assistant head nurse at Oncology Associates, has firsthand experience with patients telling her that they were dreading their first visit to the chemo room. “Only to find that they actually had a lot of fun with the other patients and staff in the room,” she says. In fact, she says that she often hears patients ask her what they’re supposed to do when they complete their cancer treatment or have a break between their chemotherapy cycles. “When people are done with chemo, some say, “Oh, I won’t see you guys for two weeks, what will I do?”, and we go, it’ll be okay.”
Leanne remembers how one lung cancer patient, who had completed his chemotherapy and was now cancer free, wanted to know if he could take more chemotherapy. “His disease was gone, and he said to Dr. Lemon, well, if you want, I could take more chemo,” Leanne laughs, adding “And Doctor Lemon said, what do you girls do that makes these people want more chemo?” “He enjoyed it. We had a good time and he said I never realized how much I miss it.”
Many patients do mention that their initial fears quickly vanished once they met other chemotherapy patients and witnessed for themselves the camaraderie they found in this room. Colon cancer patient Kay Gilfert recalls her first visit to the chemo room. “It was very scary when I first started chemo because I didn’t know what to expect, “says Kay. “And then, as I met with the other chemo patients, they would tell me their first name. And they wanted to know my name. Just seemed like they were part of a family. And since I’d been here all these months, just have become concerned about them all. And, we just all are one big family.”
Many patients mention making strong friendships, finding strength and inspiration, even discovering helpful tips and information in this room. “It’s an amazing experience, actually,” says Brea Nelson, a breast cancer patient who talks about the uplifting environment she experienced in the chemo room. “When I first started this, I always thought that there would be a room full of doom and gloom, and it would be a sad environment. And, everybody was gonna be depressed. And it’s the exact opposite.”
Brea mentions that it doesn’t take long to meet other patients and make strong connections. “We all know each other’s stories. We all know who’s having tests,” she says. “And, the next time you see them it’s how are you? How’d your test go? How are your kids? Births, wedding, you name it. We’re all involved in everything. It’s a great experience. I’ve made a lot of friends.”
Breast cancer patient Barb Rican recalls some of the fun moments she’s had in the chemo room “When you’re sitting in the chemo room, which can be a barrel of fun, by golly,” she laughs. “Because you can have so much fun in the chemo room, especially when it’s all girls,” she adds.
On any given day, you might find people in the chemo room celebrating an anniversary, birthdays or other festivities. Dan Nelson, a colon cancer patient, recalls the pleasant surprise he and his wife were given during one of his chemotherapy treatments. He and his wife Sharon were waiting in the lobby, when one of the nurses came in and took them into the chemo room. “The room is full of people and they start singing Happy Anniversary. And so they sang that to us. Then they presented a card to us, what they’d all signed, everyone in the room. And pulled out a great, big cake.”
For Mardi Gras, Leanne helped kick off the celebrations. “I brought in beads and we had, king cakes and had a good time,” she says. “People need to enjoy those things in life,” she adds.
Many of the patients are very appreciative of how the staff goes the extra step to make patients feel comfortable and at home. ”They always got their snackies out,” says cancer patient Gary Foehlinger. “They won’t bring me my slippers and my pipe, but…I keep asking.”
The chemo room has even inspired patients’ creative interests. Some patients got together to help put together a music video called “Chemo Shop” to celebrate the lighter side of the chemo room. Breast cancer patient Tamara Tsvid painted a picture specifically for the chemo room so that everyone could enjoy it whenever they were there. Whether it’s through celebrations, or feeling inspired to make something for everyone in the chemo room to enjoy, patients find a way to enjoy their time together.
“They make you feel at home when you come in for chemotherapy,” adds Bob Etzell a pancreatic cancer patient. “It’s just like a happy family. You come in and you know the people there. That you’ve been where with them for several weeks and you get to know them. You get to talk. You know their families and, you know, what’s going on. That makes it a lot easier.”
Learning from Each Other
While the chemotherapy treatments help to fight their cancers, many of the patients find it extremely helpful and informational just talking to other patients about their treatments, side effects and tests. “It’s nice when you get to come in and talk to other people that are going through the same thing that you’re going through,” says Jennifer Johnson a breast cancer patient. “Everybody just kind of sits around here and talks about the good, talks about the bad. So it’s not bad. It’s…pretty fun when you come in here.”
“We always try to help each other out with tips as what drugs you should take or try, or don’t try,” adds Christine Kathman, a breast cancer patient. “It’s interesting and you just learn so much, if you’re willing to open up in that chemo room,” Christine adds.
The Power of Numbers
Perhaps it’s the people in the chemotherapy room who help the patients just as much as the chemo drugs. “This is terrible to say, but when I got done with my chemo and I knew I wasn’t coming back every three weeks, I missed everybody,” says Yvonne Sumner an ovarian cancer patient. “So I would drive up here just to see the patients, to see all the friends that I made.”
“And these people come back, you know, eight years, ten years later and just hug you. And you realize that it was a very difficult time in someone’s life. And, they enjoyed it,” says
“I’m just so thankful for this wonderful facility they have and for getting to be with all the people,” says ovarian cancer patient Peggy Cole. “It’s just a bunch of wonderful people that we have. We have a good time while we’re here. That sounds strange, but we do.”
There is something to be said about finding strength in numbers. And the people in chemo room prove it every day.
Watch personal stories from cancer survivors and patients.