It’s about time I tell you about Ellen. She wasn’t always my friend. First, she was my angel. My Chemo Angel.
Before starting chemo in July 2010, I joined an online support group on www.breastcancer.org with other women who started chemo that same month. One of the women had signed up with Chemo Angels where volunteer “angels” are matched with chemo patients. Without giving it too much thought, it sounded like a nice idea, so I filled out a patient application. I’m not exactly sure how Ellen was assigned to me, but I think it may have been random as opposed to her wading through profiles and choosing. I’m sure she’ll comment and clue us in. (Hello…Ellen? You there?) Either way, we were a perfect match.
Once Angels are assigned to a patient, they send regular cards and occasional small gifts to cheer the person who’s undergoing chemotherapy. Chemo Angels is clear in their rules that Angels are not allowed to ask questions or ask the patient to write back. This is because often, it takes too much out of the ill person to respond. The point is
that the patient is supported and loved without condition so he/she can concentrate on healing. Angels are allowed to share their email or mail address in case the patient would like to correspond. I definitely wanted to make contact. For me, that was the best part.
I learned that Ellen, too, had breast cancer many years ago, as did her sister,
niece, and I believe there are others in her family as well. Ellen was diagnosed at Stage 1, after which she had a lumpectomy and radiation. Many years later (roughly 20? Ellen — help!), she remains disease free. Unfortunately, radiation did a number on her hair. That’s actually a picture of Ellen in the card. No really, it is. Okay, so it isn’t, but honestly? It’s a good thing she later emailed a picture of herself because I began to associate this look with her.
Anyhow, her story encouraged me. Mostly, I needed to communicate with someone who understood what it felt like to hear the feared words, “You have breast cancer.” So I emailed her, which began a friendship that continues to this day, long after I finished treatment. We knew quickly that the bond that came so easily would remain.
Ellen would get so concerned before each treatment because she knew I sometimes had a rough time. She’s also a bit of a worrier (no offense, Ellen — I know it’s because you care), especially when she cares about someone (yes, I just said that, but that was to her; now I told you), so I’d indulge her and let her know I was fine. Here’s an excerpt from an email exchange just before my sixth infusion.
You are almost there, baby. This chemo is wearing me out so I cannot wait for us to be finished. I think you know by now that I will be with you and sometime over the weekend, if you can, just check in – a one liner will do.
I love you to pieces.
By this time, chemo had become fairly predictable to a large degree. I responded with my upcoming chemo itinerary:
As for the the one-liner chemo update, I can already tell you what will happen.
Day 1: I sleep. So does my computer.
Day 2: I feel all right. Computer on. I tell you I’m fine.
Day 3: I feel like shit. I’m in a semi-conscious state and have aches and pains. Don’t have the wherewithal to turn on my computer, let alone do anything with it.
Day 4: Conscious, but continue to feel aches and pains. I turn on computer and give you a line that pretty much says I’m feeling shitty but I’ll be okay.
Day 5: More of Day 4. Unfortunately, I have to go to work, but bring pain meds with me and just get through it.
Day 6: Ditto, but no work. I get to stay home.
Day 7: I’m feeling a lot better with pain subsiding quite a bit. At work and handling it.
Days 8-14 until the next infusion. The fatigue persists through it all, but hey, we’re not doing so bad!
I’d place bets on the above scenario; that’s how predictable this is becoming.
Ellen often liked to cheer me by sending gifts, but one in particular is my favorite because it gave me strength. This photo is of the Angel of Courage she sent. This wooden beauty made me feel like I could get through anything. I still keep it on my dresser.
Ellen has gone on to angel others. Each experience is its own, but one thing remains the same, and that is Ellen. She continues to give from her generous heart. She continues to care about strangers who are afflicted with cancer, and she still extends a hand to those caught in the undertow of disease. If there were more Ellens in this world, it would be a better place. And funnier too. (Ellen, you have one wicked sense of humor!)
What a happy surprise when Ellen wrapped her angel wings around me. Beautiful inside and out, just like an angel.
If anyone is currently in or about to undergo chemotherapy, or you’ve been there and would like to be an Angel to someone else, click here to find Chemo Angels site. And you don’t need to have had cancer to be an Angel; you just need to care and commit for the length of your patient’s treatment.