Why every cancer patient needs a chemo buddy.
Every friend has a backstory. It’s the way you introduce them to other friends.
‘This is Kate – I know her from high school.’
‘This is Jono – he was born from the same womb.’
‘This is Greg - he’s the loud breather that sits next to me at work.’
My friend Steph and I have a backstory I’m fiercely proud of. Together, we kicked cancer in the nuts.
EMILY: Within 5 minutes of our first conversation this little voice on the phone had told me more about chemo than all the oncologists, nurses, pamphlets and Dr Google had taught me since my diagnosis. (Steph lived in Brisbane so for the first few months our friendship existed over the phone.) I remember sitting in my tiny little room in Richmond and feeling relieved and for the first time comforted. She got it. She talked to me in my language – no textbook tongue. Steph had already done a couple of chemo cycles so was now, in my eyes, a cancer pro. She was younger than me but had all the wisdom in the world.
She briefed me on how my body would flex and freak out with each chemo cocktail. She warned me how I’d get slower, sleepier and slightly stupider (chemo brain) every week. We chatted about being bald and somehow managed to make it comedic. We laughed about all the startled reactions we got when sharing our news. With her I could talk about constipation, ulcers and haemorrhoids as if we were talking about the weather. I would ring her when I was in full scan-phobia panic mode and she would calm me. She made this new world of cancer, not so empty and cold as it had once been.
After 12 rounds of chemo were done and dusted, we threw ourselves an After Chemo Party. (Doesn’t everyone?) It was epic. Our friends came in outrageous wigs and celebrated remission. We both couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces. We’d made it. That night, we felt invincible.
I was sitting in the same tiny room, on the same bed when I had to tell Steph I’d relapsed. I’d told everyone else but I’d put of telling Steph as I knew she’d be the hardest one to tell. Partly because she would understand the gravitas of the situation and what I had to go back and do. And partly because telling Steph felt like I was accepting my body had failed. We got through the first round together and frolicked into the happy land of healthy remission, but now the health bouncers were turfing just me back out. I didn’t want to do it. And I especially didn’t want to do chemo school alone, without Steph.
I don’t know how to sum up the relationship I have with Steph. When I think of her and I, it brings up so many emotions that sit in the pit of my stomach and stretch to the top of my throat. I want to smile and cry at the same time. As the song says, ‘we fell in love in a hopeless place.’ And I don’t think ‘love’ is too grander word for our friendship. She will be a friend I have forever and ever, with a tie that no one else will ever understand. For this, I am eternally grateful for having cancer, as without that, I wouldn’t’ have Steph.
Love and dances.
STEPH: I'm not going to lie, cancer sucks. And I wish with all my heart that no one would ever had to go through the negatives of being sick with the C word. But you know what? I'm glad I did.. as it brought me to Em.
In April 2012 I relocated to Brisbane from Darwin to start a new chapter in the life of Steph Doukas. I moved to run outdoor education trips for the youth of today – a job I still adore to this day. Not long after the move I was in a car accident and during the routine check at the hospital they found the dreaded disease sprawled throughout my body. I was diagnosed Hodgkin lymphoma.
To a normal person this sounds horrible. But for me? It was a challenge and I was ready. With no family (I’m originally from Melbourne) and just a few fairly new but incredible friends, I commenced chemotherapy in Brisbane.
After my second treatment of chemo, my older brother, Theo, called and told me about a friend who had just been diagnosed with the same disease and was wondering if I'd call her with some advice.
Emily and I would speak at least twice a week- exchanging thoughts and feelings about our adventure on the C train. Without a doubt we would cry together, laugh together and most likely cry some more. Words cannot emphasise the relationship between two humans being pumped with chemo. I'd never even met this beautiful creature of a woman and yet I felt she was one of my closest friends.
We would send hair progress photos to each other, talk chemo side effects, have D&M’s about how no one understands, exchange stories of chemo brain and complain about how hard it is to draw symmetrical eyebrows on AND keep them on during a sweaty summer.
When the time finally came that we both came out the other end, we had a joint chemo party in Melbourne. Oh I will never forget that day. I have never been so happy.
So the moral of this story is - yes, cancer is shit. But like all situations, there’s always a positive. Whether it be for you or someone else – there’s always a positive. For me, it is my new found ability to appreciate every little aspect in life now. But most importantly the friendship that I’ve made throughout my adventure with Emily. I will always have so much respect and love for that woman and even though we still only see each other once in a blue moon, I know she's always there for me and I'll always be there for her. We are a team.
The chemo dream team.
The ever beautiful Steph now.