Enduring frequent blood draws as a young cancer patient
Enduring frequent blood draws as a young cancer patient: My experience, resilience, and a Garfield band-aid
This is how every appointment begins. I wait in the waiting room, tapping my foot and flipping through magazines intended for patients twice my age ("10 Easy Steps to Lower Your Blood Pressure!"). The Nurse calls me in, making small talk as she leads me into the lab to do my blood work. I know what's coming. I used to dread it, but now I'm used to it. I get my blood drawn so often each year that I lose count. Apparently, it's become my favorite pastime.
Usually, she has no idea that I know exactly what to expect, so she makes small talk, distracting me from the fact that she's about to stick a giant needle straight into my arm. She pokes around, looking for a good vein. What she doesn't know is that my veins are bad. They are sneaky, never easy to find. I've been told this by many nurses before, as if I should apologize for my spindly little veins. But I never do because, secretly, I know my veins are just trying to protect me from the menace that is that damn needle. She asks me to make a fist, so I do; I bend my arms this way and that. Finally, she finds a vein and asks me to keep my arm still.
She asks me if needles make me nervous. I say no, that I'm used to it by now. Still, I look away when she sticks the needle in. No matter how many times I do this, it still makes me squeamish. It stings a little bit, and I don't like the idea of something sharp and vicious under my skin, so I don't think about it.
I look around the room, reading the office and hospital announcements. The Nurse makes more small talk, asking me questions about myself as I wait for her to remove that cursed needle. Sometimes it comes out that I have cancer; other times, I get to be any other 20-year-old getting my blood drawn. Sometimes I get looks of sympathy; other times, she treats me as if I might actually be, you know, normal. Even though I know I'm not normal, it would be nice to enjoy the luxury of normalcy for once. Just once.
I wait for her to take the needle out, watching out of my peripheral vision and wondering if she is genuinely trying to drain my body of all of its blood. She changes the vials around, getting enough blood for multiple tests, and I wonder if there will be anything left in me when she's done.
She snaps the needle out, and I let my breath out. Finally, I got a band-aid, which I know I don't need. But it makes me feel better all the same. She pats my arm and tells me I'm brave. I leave the room, hoping that the tests come back normal.
Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. But I know it'll all be okay in the end because this time, Nurse gave me a Garfield Band-Aid.
Read more: How Cancer Can Shape Your Life
Camille Inman, the author of "Enduring Frequent Blood Draws as a Young Cancer Patient," is a writer and creative based in North Carolina. She's a cancer survivor navigating the foreign land of survivorship and writes on Tumblr @camwritesthings.