Alysa Cummings: Greetings from CancerLand

Alysa Cummings, the facilitator for Living Beyond Breast Cancer‘s Writing Series: Writing the Journey, is featured in our second helping of this month’s LBBC‘s Writer’s Corner. This piece, “Me and my Vampire,” is excerpted from the her book, Greetings from CancerLand, now available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Me and My Vampire

I grip the envelope tightly in my hand. The words Pre-admission Testing are block printed in black ink across the front. Inside there’s a form already filled out with my name, birthday and date of surgery, along with a long list of mysterious acronyms and medical abbreviations.

Time for a little pep talk. I can’t help but think about what’s ahead for me – another major surgery with weeks of recovery. But this morning, what’s happening today will be a piece of cake by comparison. Easy as can be. No big deal. After all, I should be a total pro by now after years of practice, right? Anybody like me who has spent so much time in CancerLand knows the pre-op drill by heart and it goes like this: get your pre-admission testing done, or else no surgery…

I walk into the waiting room. There’s a machine on the wall that spits out slips of paper, (now serving number 86) just like in a bakery. I reach out ready to press down the red lever, when I read a nearby sign that proclaims, Pre-admission Testing Patients Do Not Need to Take a Number!!!

The three exclamation marks on the sign do their work well. No number for me. I slouch down in a molded plastic chair and silently think to myself, how is it possible after ten years in CancerLand that I still feel like such a stranger in a strange land?

I hear my name badly mispronounced over the loudspeaker. No one else responds, so I get up and walk into an examination room and stretch out on the table. After some sticker placement and untangling of wires, the technician finishes the EKG. In seconds it seems. Certainly in less time than it took me to walk back and forth to the Information Desk.

Getting tubes of blood out of me will be more of a challenge. But, then again, it always is. Sorry, I know that I’m a tough stick, I say to the technician. One butterfly, one painful stick, one swollen arm, and the tech graciously admits defeat.

Come with me, she says with a smile. I’m taking you to see The Vampire.

I follow the technician into a back room where a dark-haired man dressed in blue scrubs is standing up, peering at a computer screen on the counter.

I’ve got a tough stick for you, says the technician to The Vampire.

I sit in the chair and offer up my bare left arm to The Vampire. He looks down and studies my arm intently. While he concentrates on my veins, I check him out: (Good news; no fangs) luminous brown eyes with dark super long eyelashes, an ornamental red mark on his forehead between his eyebrows. I look at his exotically handsome face and decide that he could be the lead actor in a Bollywood feature if he wasn’t already the star of the pre-admissions testing department.

Why do they call you The Vampire? I ask.

Because I like tough sticks, he says slowly in a heavy foreign accent.

What’s your secret to hitting the tough sticks? I ask.

No secret really. I’m just the best. Trust me, it is a very spiritual thing, he says stroking the skin near the crook of my arm.

I make a fist out of habit. There’s no need, says The Vampire. Open your hand. Relax. Close your eyes and breathe and I will get the three tubes of blood we need, one-two-three-no problem. Trust me. Trust me…

His soft voice lulls me and sends me to a calmer place.

He glances down at my paperwork, Oh, I see that your birthday is coming up later this month.

He begins to sing softly and even with my eyes closed, I join him: Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday, Alysa Cummings, Happy Birthday to you.

I am done, he says, holding up the three vials of blood, and this is your birthday present.

I open my eyes and can’t help but smile. Birthday present? I’ll say it is! A gift of no pain. No bruises. My pre-admission testing completed. Thank you doesn’t begin to cover it.

Minutes later, I am halfway across the hospital parking lot on my way to the car before I realize that I forgot to ask The Vampire an essential question.

I couldn’t help but wonder –were his eyes closed too?

Living Beyond Breast Cancer will host another Writing the Journey Series in the Fall. Check back to the LBBC Blog for more insights from Alysa Cummings and future Writing the Journey creations.

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