“Nothing is stronger than custom. (Fac tibi consuescat: nil adsuetudine maius)” ~Ovid
There is a little story behind the pink floral headband I wore with my turban yesterday as I underwent my final chemo infusion. I made it with the Italian laurea custom in mind.
The laurea is an ancient custom where graduates of university wear a laurel wreath on their heads during and after graduation to celebrate the successful completion of their studies. On graduation day, the laureati (which literally means crowned with laurel) wear the wreath during the graduation ceremony and during parties held in their honor. I have often watched the proud laurel-crowned graduates parade through Bologna after they receive their diplomas.
Most cancer centers have adopted the custom of having chemotherapy patients ring a bell when they complete chemotherapy treatment. Believed to have begun at MD Anderson in 1996, the tradition signifies "the job is done." My understanding is that a retired Naval officer was the one who donated the bell to Anderson after his last treatment. Many chemo patients look forward to ringing the bell and draw strength from knowing that step is done.
The clinic where I go doesn't have a bell. When I finished my infusion the other day, the nurse patted my hand and said, "You're done. You can go home now." While I knew it was coming and really didn't want a big celebration, I would have appreciated a "Congratulations" thrown in there. But, as I said, I knew how it was going to end, and I had prepared myself.
I decided I was going to wear my own laurea and made the headband and flower to celebrate. Originally, I thought about making a wreath of silk flowers, but I decided I didn't want to have to move them or throw them out. I decided to make a headband I can wear with both of my caps and bought a little jersey to make it. I deliberately chose the pink floral design because I wanted flowers and I wanted them pink. Why pink, you ask? Let me explain.
Ribbons and their colors have come to symbolize awareness of certain projects, diseases, programs, etc in the US. It started in the late 70s when families of the Iranian hostages put yellow ribbons out to show they were waiting for their loved ones to return. The AIDS epidemic in the 80s brought out red ribbons for awareness, and in the 90s, the Susan G. Komen Foundation used pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness. Since then, ribbons of all colors and shades have become popular ways to raise public awareness. and celebrate. You can see how many there are by clicking here.
My pink floral headband, therefore, was my way of graduating from this challenge. I know I still have a bit of a road ahead—radiation and medication—but I will survive and maybe wear a real flower wreath on my head at that point.
Speaking of radiation, that treatment still looms in front of me. I have appointments with the radiation oncologist (Monday) and the oncologist (Friday), and I hope to gather answers to the questions that no one else at CCCN seems to want to answer: When will this start? How long can I wait between chemo and radiation? How many radiation treatments will I have? What medication(s) will I have to take? For how many years? Since I have not seen either one since May, which I find atrocious, I am eager to get their answers.
On the most positive side, I have a virtual appointment with my doctor at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa (Tuesday). Since Moffitt now has my records, the oncologist there can give me her answers and suggestions. This is the best news I have received in a few weeks.
Many of my friends ask me why I am so set on going to Moffitt for treatment. I have two reasons, one more personal and one more practical. On the personal level, I want to be near my son and daughter-in-law and get settled. On the practical level, Moffitt ranks in the top ten cancer centers in the country—number eight for all cancers and number 5 for breast cancer. I want the best care I can get, and considering how they treat me before I'm even a real patient there, I already feel so comfortable and confident in their care.
However, experiencing both the pandemic and these health challenges has made the decision difficult. Florida's COVID numbers continue to rise (although not so much in Pinellas County where we are moving), but so do Nevada's (although not at such an alarming rate). And, while I just want this over....decisions made....everything done, my mental state has improved tremendously since this was the last chemo treatment. I'm yearning for my life to get back to normal and for me not to feel sick all the time. Thankfully, I know that is coming sooner now than later.....
Seeing Florida and Italy on the horizon helps a lot, too.