It takes a village

Josie Leavitt

This February I was diagnosed with early stage, highly treatable breast cancer. I will be fine after the treatment, which began in earnest two weeks ago. In my case, cancer comes with an incredible village of friends who want to help me through this. Which is good because I’m not adept at asking for help. It also comes with a menu of side effects and symptoms-that-might-be-side-effects that left me on an emotional roller coaster. 

My stomach feels a lot like granite. I coughed. I’ve just washed dishes, why are my hands so red? Bowels can take a lot of strategizing. Cuts do take longer to heal, and I keep cutting myself. I sneezed. Everything was thought about and either discarded or written down for future reference. 

My doctor told me that days three to five were the worst. I found myself a side-effect overachiever by starting the downward slide the night of day two. I had horrible bone and joint pain that felt like a bad flu. I got a little panicky. 

I took my temperature and some Tylenol and told myself that, no, I was not getting a fever, which I had been told was bad for folks on chemo. I listened to far too many beeps on my digital thermometer but finally calmed down and went to sleep when my temperature rose no higher than 98.7 degrees.

Day six, that weird feeling I’d been having in my mouth and on my tongue had turned into something that felt wrong, not just irritating. This discovery, of course, took place on the Saturday in April when it was icing up all weekend. I resignedly called the doctor.

Within ten minutes I was told I had a fungal infection that’s very common with chemo. Oh, joy, fungus! An hour later the prescription was at the pharmacy. I got in my car in a rainstorm of pure ice and navigated my road very well. I turned left onto Mt. Philo, and it was packed sleet like nothing I’d ever seen in my 22 years of living in Charlotte. I gave up and turned around. 

I paced the house thinking who could help, and I remembered that my good friend who lives on Greenbush has a son with a pick-up that could climb Everest. I called. He wouldn’t be home till Sunday, and she asked if I could wait that long. Absolutely, I assured her. Sunday morning the weather was actually worse. I was having tea and toast when I heard the roar of a truck. 

I looked out the window—there was a gleaming, enormous black truck, backing up on the drive to get as close to the house as possible. My friend ran out of the truck, and I could hear the sleet bouncing off her coat, and she handed me the prescription and carefully stepped back into the truck. 

In an instant they were gone, and I was reminded that sometimes the cavalry does show up.