Welcome To Chemo Land

A lot of dear friends and family have been asking me “how is everything going?” And it’s a very innocent question but sometimes it gets tiring for someone going through cancer. It’s not because I don’t want to answer, but mostly because I don’t always have the energy to.

So I have decided to shed some light on what it feels like to go through Chemo Land.

After what feels like a swift diagnoses from your doctor, you are requested to take your ticket to the cancer train and get on it. Yes, you could miss your train but it would be beneficial if you got on.

You ask your doctor if relatives and friends are allowed to enter Chemo Land.

“Yes, but this is mostly for you to see. We promise it will help, even when it doesn’t feel like it.”

With fear in my bones, I arrive at my cancer train, Gate Stage 2. I look around in hopes that I can maybe find a new friend right away. After a quick look around the gate, I’ve realized that most of the passengers are nothing like me. Yes, most of us are bald and carry our scars but there’s really no one that I see myself in. It’s probably because I don’t want to admit that we are similar but trying to stay unique through this process.

Everyone waiting at their gates have their emotions running from 1-10 and good-evil. It’s a tough crowd but no one says a word.

The Chemo Land Train pulls up to our station. I stall a bit to get in but remember all of the love I have supporting me so I take a deep breath and step on.

If you’ve ever been to Chemo Land, than you know that no one is there to help you with your baggage on the train. Most of the passengers arrive on the train with a bunch of baggage. The amount you think “shouldn’t have they left that behind?” But on the train to Chemo Land, not many people judge each other.

The train arrives at the destination faster than you’d think. But it makes me glad that the cancer train is faster than I thought it would be.

Patients or “guests” as they are called in Chemo Land, arrive to their labeled care packages. It took me some time before I found “Mark Alderson” because I had to stand in a line of “Mark’s.” And if you’ve ever met someone else with your name that you don’t like and you spark a conversation with them, it could ruin your day.

I felt loved when I saw the fantastic cards and care packages that family and friends sent me. The stack of mail was so big, that I was given 2 free “Chemo Land” reusable bags. This little win got me happy to enter.

Chemo Land is not what you’d expect it to look like. While there are roller coasters that go up and down, sweet tasting food, coffee shops, and multiple books stores, you can’t forget that doctors and the health system run Chemo Land, which can be relaxing and scary at the same time.

Before I can go far and explore for a bit, I have to check in with my doctor and get routine blood work; this is a must in Chemo Land. I learn quickly that I am going to get tired of getting poked with needles before I can go anywhere but I try to see the advantages of this place.

After my routine blood work I noticed a “Hall of Fame” exhibit being reconstructed. As I take a closer peak I spot a lot of Lance Armstrong stuff coming out and Steve Jobs stuff going in. There wasn’t much else to see because the rest of the exhibit was closed until 2016. I move along because I hope to not see the final exhibit in 2016.

With the sun still shining, I decided to go to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Library and silently open up my care package mail.

I enjoyed and even tried at a lot of the care mail that I received because a lot of them were full of good treats. With each delivery I opened I felt so much love and inspiration that it fueled my body and prepared me for the rest of my time here.

All care mail is good care mail when you’re in Chemo Land. But I make a note to respond quicker to the ones that had chocolate and gift cards in them. I appreciate people praying for me, and I believe in prayer, but chocolate can taste better than a prayer on a bad day in Chemo Land. I take a bite of a Mr. Goodbar and hope that no one will have to understand what I mean by that.

After a nice sit down, I realize that I should go explore what Chemo Land has to offer. And when you’re in Chemo Land, you should always get up and do what your body allows you to do because there are restrictions when it comes to your energy level.

I head straight for the The Realizer, a roller coaster simulated to take you through a journey of cancer. It’s a tough coaster to ride but some say that if you can keep your eyes open, it’s the best ride in Chemo Land.

I was happy to find out that the wait time for the ride wasn’t very long. I realized quickly that it’s because they shuffle you in to your cars like the ones at “The Haunted Mansion” in Disneyland. It’s very efficient and just as spooky in Chemo Land.

At first it’s a slow ride to get going, you see colors that represent certain energies that you’ll realize through cancer and how to avoid the darker colors on bad days. But it’s not totally lame because Chemo Land uses great special effects to keep everybody engaged. Every character even knew my name throughout the epilogue!

Then came the coaster part of The Realizer.

 You are strapped in fast. It’s almost painful but you forget about all of that when you see the big drop coming.

You climb and climb up to what is an inescapable fall. You wonder how you got yourself into this mess and hope that this ride will give you answers.

You fall. A type of fall that is hard to describe. Not one of the ones where the pit of your gut is rising but you get euphoria and forget all about it. No, this fall was headed straight down and left you numb. This was the first time that I realized that Chemo Land won’t always be fun. There will be a lot of ups and downs and I was headed straight down, along with 19 other strangers that signed up for this ride.

The Realizer takes you through twists and turns and a tunnel that repeats positive mantras until you see the light at the end of the tunnel until you come to a complete stop.

I step off the The Realizer a little more prepared for what Chemo Land was going to bring me. Pain, Loss, Love, and Recovery was what I felt I was in for but some guests came off The Realizer with different feelings, especially the younger ones.

I looked at my watch and realized I could spend some more time in Chemo Land before I get too exhausted and have to head off to Recovery Road. That’s when I spotted a sign up for a cancer 5k. I’ve been known to run in my past so I figured I would check it out for a good cause.

“Each spot is $35 and we ask that you fundraise for the event.” The man in the orange “We Support Cancer” hat informs me.

“Sorry, seems like a good cause but I don’t have any money. I spent all my savings just to go to Chemo Land. Maybe next year.” I lie to the volunteer.

I hate lying, but I also hate paying to exercise plus there was a line forming behind me full of enthusiastic Chemo Land guests that wanted to take the 5k challenge.

I take the free orange hat that was offered to me and put it on my head. Not because I like free stuff per say, but I needed to stay out of direct sunlight while chemotherapy was coursing through my veins. Doctors orders, you know?

I notice a well shaded over hang that has television screens and bright colors. I am a millennial so this catches my eye immediately and I go and see what it’s all about.

I quickly learn that it’s a station where you can video chat with any of your loved ones and friends for free. A service sponsored by Evian Water.

I grab a free bottle of water and called my family. Luckily they were all together in Arizona for a family reunion which is good because the Evian worker said to make all phone calls to a “10 minute minimum.” Or else I had to sign up for a year of Evian delivery.

I say my goodbyes to my family just in time and tell them all that I love them. Some of them cry but I would be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear or two either. It was hardest saying good-bye to my fiancee, Jade. But I know she’s always with me, because I can find her in my past, present, and future any time I want. Just not during my time in Chemo Land and that got my sad.

I purchased a quick bite to eat, which consisted of a loaded turkey sandwich and French Fries. I always get French Fries, even if those chopped and salted potatoes cost extra, I am always on board. Luckily I used my cancer card and get a free side item with my purchase.

All off a sudden I hear a siren go off in Chemo Land. Immediately I think something is wrong, but a frequent visitor assured me that it was just time for more blood work.

“They don’t let the ones with low counts stay out too late, doctors orders, you know?”

I nod and tell him that it isn’t my first time in Chemo Land, but the sound never gets less harsh to hear and the needles never get easier to take. Plus I dropped by food and that kind of bummed me out.

We all see our respected doctors and most of us get the go ahead to finish out our cycle in Chemo Land if we choose, but we have to get on the last train back to Recovery Road because that’s just as an important stop during cancer as Chemo Land.

My blood work turned out OK (given my situation) so I was cleared to stay in Chemo Land until my cycle was up. I tried to make the best of it but my brain was making it harder and harder to focus on anything the later I stayed.

All the rides made me nauseous and the on site pharmacy wouldn’t renew my anti-nausea pills on account of me wanting to over exert myself during my time in Chemo Land. They recommended that I rest, but my brain didn’t want to turn off to relax just yet. So I wandered around to see what I could do without feeling sick.

I notice an arcade and I figured that it would be fun a place to end my cycle. A lot of the games were named after various Chemo Land themes like “Cancer Blaster” that resembled “Asteroids” and “5k Runner” which was a rip off of “Temple Run” but with more ads for cancer supported companies.

I decided to play “Chemo Combat 7”. It was a gory fighting game where you battle different personifications of cancer, like Tyrannosaurus Tumor. It was cathartic, totally freeing, and full of cancer carnage.

I realized that it was my first time getting a lot of my aggression out after hearing my cancer diagnosis, I guess we all vent in different ways. Plus all the games were free and free stuff makes anyone happy, even if it’s orange hats.

I was almost finished with my one player campaign mode in the arcade when I felt a gurgle in my stomach. It was time to poop. Or not poop? Chemo Land makes it hard to do both so it’s hard to read your body most of the time.

As I rush to the bathroom I see signs for advertisements near the restrooms:

“Gotta Go? Use Colace!”

“Need A Push from your Tush? Use Sena!”

“Need to Stop Going? Try Fage’ Yogurt!”

I sit in the stall and realize that they keep this place pretty clean. It’s always nice to do your businesses in a clean environment.

After some false alarms I realize it’s just gas and maybe I should check in to see when my train leaves to Recovery Road. I was getting tired and didn’t want to be exhausted for my next visit to Chemo Land.

I run through the gift shop and bought some organic peppermint tea, the volunteer said that it would help sooth my “tummy.” Her face was nurturing as she said it and who am I to say no to anyone that says “tummy” over “stomach?” Hearing the word “stomach” always makes me feel heavy.

I grab all of my care mail and get ready for the train to Recovery Road. Another alarm goes off. This time it made me nervous because I thought I was done with my blood work and IV treatment for the day. Another guest headed toward the train notices my face of concern and helps me out.

“It’s the last call for the in-patient visitors. Aren’t we lucky we get to leave Chemo Land and come back? Some of us have to stay here until all of their cycles are up.” He bows his head and says a quick prayer that I couldn’t quite hear, that was probably the idea though.

I look back and see handfuls of in-patient visitors shuffle back into a large, not so pleasant building inside of Chemo Land. I bow my head and say a prayer because I was one bad test away from meeting new friends in there and seeing a different side of Chemo Land.

Before my train to Recovery Road arrives, protestors litter the gates and pass out flyers from unnamed blogs that cover just about everything- from proper diet routines, yoga studios, and magical healing pills. I stopped collecting them when I realized that most of the flyers slandered Chemo Land as a government con to make money off of hard-working citizens. It seemed like all of these protestors believed in this info with very little proof.

I’ve given up on feeling anger towards these unhelpful people. Attacking someone with your opinion who is in such a vulnerable state could be one of the lowest things you can do. I would never wish cancer on anyone, but I hope they reflect on their actions if they ever find themselves visiting Chemo Land.

I find my designated chair and put all of my baggage next to me so I can safely carry it with me to Recovery Road. I look around and notice that most of the train is lighter than when we first arrived. I tried not to think too hard as to why but before I could stop the conductor punched my ticket and said:

“Some of us don’t make out it of Chemo Land. Congrats on making your way to Recovery Road.”

I didn’t know how to exactly digest that sentiment but I also didn’t have too much time to think about it because I was ready to sleep before the train began its trek to Recovery Road. I was already picturing it in my mind, but still aware enough to know that I have one more visit to Chemo Land after my current Recovery Road visit before I can be deemed “cancer free.”

As rough as this whole cycle has been, I still consider myself one of the lucky ones.

I try to relax and focus on what this all means; I know I won’t find an answer now so I say a quick prayer before I fall asleep. I guess this is the part of Chemo Land where prayer beats chocolate.

Next stop: Recovery Road.




4 thoughts on “Welcome To Chemo Land

  1. Mark,
    Thank you for sharing this terrifying journey with us. While it is painful for me to read it, knowing what you are going through, it does help me to understand what you are dealing with. You are always in my thoughts and prayers and I send you many, many hugs. Stay strong Mark, stay positive, you will win this battle…again! Love from the Driscoll Family!


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