It’s inspection week at the hyperbaric oxygen treatment center, and after a month of regular attendance I felt determined to do my part to help them pass accreditation by loudly talking about how much I love hyperbaric treatment. The nurses there now feel like pals in the way I used to feel about people I saw every day in the office; this is the first time in three years I’ve left my house to attend anything with this level of regularity. I forgot that I am or was an Office Person, that in most jobs I’ve had I’ve been friends with everyone, even the people who are enemies with each other, that I used to love being complimented for bringing levity to the workspace or critiqued for the volume of my laugh.
Is it a sign that I’m feeling better that I have a little sentimental pang knowing that my last session is approaching and I’ll have to bid farewell to my new friends? Or is it a sign that I’ve been institutionalized? One thing about cancer treatment is that it does give a shape to your life, a narrow focus, and now I’m almost through with what’s required, I wonder what I will do and how I will feel. It’s over, but I don’t think I’m through.
The inspectors are experts in Undersea Medicine, which I find so pleasing. How does one become an undersea medical expert? Who finds out that Undersea Medicine is a thing? And from there, what is the path that you take that leads you from there to be a woman standing in a hyperbaric oxygen treatment room, overseeing nurses as they go through a fastidious checklist to ensure that no patient is bringing nail polish or a pager into the tube?
My somewhat successful career in tech is to a large extent the result of me not being super successful in my original career. My day job is something of a default, a thing I ended up doing because the opportunity was there, rather than a thing that I dreamed of. I wish someone had told me about Undersea Medicine. For some people, cancer treatment offers an opportunity to reconsider their lives, to find clarity and a new or refreshed sense of purpose. I think if I was at a different stage in life, if I was younger, maybe I would see this as experience as a sign that I should become an Undersea Medicine inspector.
I chatted to the inspector about how impressed I am with the impact of the treatment. It’s true. Before I started there was a possibility that I would have to have another devastating and degrading surgery, but that’s no longer the case. When I started I didn’t quite believe it could work, but it did.
As a bonus, my complexion has never looked so good, because one of the purposes of the therapy is collagen production, everywhere. The inspector listened to my breast cancer story and then she said, ‘wow, you’re so young to have it — early 20s?’ and OH HOW I LAUGHED because nothing has made me feel older, more mortal, more decrepit than the knowledge that I’ll never again be someone who hasn’t had cancer. I miss that.
PS Thank you to everyone who reached out after my last letter. I am still working on responding! But your words and kindness meant a lot <3