MD Anderson Trip: A Stupid Long Essay

If you want to know what a normal person’s day going to one of the biggest (and best, in my opinion) cancer centers in the world is like–MD Anderson totally has a website.

If you want to know what my trips are like–read on…

11:20AM Dropped off at the airport by one of my husband’s co-workers. I found out he was from South Carolina and asked him at least 40 questions about Southern Charm Charleston. As a 20-something male he was highly entertained. I’m sure he also volunteered to pick me up.

12:50PM Read Mindy Kaling’s first book on the plane for the 40th time. Laughed so hard I cried and had to stop reading twice to compose myself. My seat mates were unimpressed. (There is a strong possibility I’m not a great travel companion.)

2:45PM Landed in Houston. Raced my seat mate to the baggage claim. She didn’t know we were racing, but after being snooty on the plane she “deserved to get served” (This is the name of the soft serve ice cream shop I will start if I ever get rich. It’s possible I’m not a great companion, period.)

3:00PM Drove to the same hotel where I always stay. They’re nice. It’s in Houston’s Medical Center area. Most of the people who stay there are sick or about to find out they’re sick.

When my son was only a few months old we showed up to stay for my surgery. I walked in holding a baby, with my five year old and my emotional-support-Dad, in tow. (Some people have a dog, I just have my dad.)

I asked if they had a room a little bit away from everyone else since the baby would fuss before bed and during the night. They put us in a suite in the corner. It was like Christmas, but if Jesus got a suite at a medical rate in a national chain hotel and I forgave all your sins. (Which, I totally wont. If The Grudge movies weren’t so popular in Japan, I’d make it the title of my memoir.)

5:05PM My best friend picked me up at the hotel and took me to a local seafood boil-in-a-bag place. It was super good. Two wonderful friends I’ve known my whole life, met us there and everyone made fun of me for not liking spicy food.

My best friend bought me dinner. I hate when she does that, but it always makes me feel special and taken care of. And that’s what she’s trying to do. She pretty much always does what she’s trying to do. She’s such a badass and I love every molecule that makes her up.

9:00PM Back to the hotel. I double checked my schedule to find out that my appointments had been changed earlier in the day. That never happens to me. I got on the phone and talked to some helpful people who switched it back. I had already booked the latest flight back to TN, just in case, and I felt proud of myself. It was a very “my dad” thing to do. Do something smart and feel proud of yourself.

I’d gotten a message earlier in the day from the largest parenting site in Australia wanting to republish a blog post of mine. I texted the opportunity to my dad. He texted back:

“That’s not a blog post—THIS is a blog post.”

I’m sure he was proud of himself then, too. Also, I may not ever be published in Australia again, depending on how they feel about Crocodile Dundee.

2:00AM Not sleeping well. Don’t really ever, when I’m nervous. The hotel has installed smoke detectors above the bed that blink a tiny green light at me when I try to close my eyes.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

I watch NCIS on my phone and read the dialogue in Closed Captions. After my second emergency gallbladder surgery, I watched every season of NCIS. (Is it still gallbladder surgery if the gallbladder is already out? I like to say I was being haunted by the ghost of gallbladders past.) It was supposed to be an easy surgery, but I had complications (I’m very complicated), and I ended up with a little tube coming out of my abdomen attached to a small plastic bladder that I carried around in a pouch worn around my waist.
I wore it for two weeks. I had to take it out 3 times a day to clean it and completely weird out my students.

Everyone thinks the Kardashians brought back the fanny pack trend. They’re wrong. Totally me and my bile filled kangaroo pouch.

5:00AM Wake up and can’t fall back asleep. Let’s see what Agent Gibbs is doing…

7:05AM Arrive at the hospital. Go to the wrong place first and they make me pee in a cup even though I KNOW I’m not pregnant. No bloodwork, though! Woohoo!

7:35AM Arrive for the Ultrasound. Haven’t done one of these in awhile. Same as a pregnancy one except they concentrate on the lymph nodes of the head and neck, so they put the gel all over your collarbone, neck and face. It feels like a massage, but the roller guy (I’m not saying probe. Gross.) is warm, so it’s also like being licked around the face by a camel.

8:15AM Tech finishes and throws me a wash rag to clean up the camel spit while she goes to the radiologist. That’s not unnerving…

8:15AM Some of the camel spit is just going to have to be hair gel. The tech returns, and she’s smiley when she releases me, so maybe I’m cured, or clear, or she has prettier lymph nodes than me and is gloating. I’m not great at reading people.

9:00AM Way early for the CT scan, but they give me the orange juice drink anyway. Yum, Barium.

10:21AM Get a text with a prayer in it from a good friend. Immediately, tear up and bring it back together. No crying yet! My doctor here is phenomenal, but she thinks I’m the biggest sissy in the world. It’s not a super fair assumption as we only see each other when she’s delivering life changing news.

10:25AM Actual call time. The nurse takes me back for a weird IV placement. This one is on the back of my forearm, if that’s even a place, and trying to adjust it is sort of like trying to lick your elbow. I’m a terrible stick, but the people here are always nice about it. Especially, the ones my age. I think I scare them.

12:13AM Called back for the CT. Our new insurance didn’t approve a full CT. Only the abdomen. I wish I was shorter, so they’d get the whole lot of me anyway, just incidentally.

12:15AM Husband calls. He’s encouraging and sweet. He gets weird sometimes about all this. I bring my dad mostly. He’s a better listener about this stuff, and he has hearing aides he can turn off, when I really get going. Listening or not, he makes a better audience. My husband just says everything is going to be ok. Always. Even sometimes when I need to talk about what if it’s not. It took two years after my initial diagnosis for him to say he can’t think of it the other way.

When I was in labor with my son I wanted to do it without Pitocin (a drug designed to speed labor). That meant my body had to go through labor at normal speed. I labored through the night with an epidural, but I wasn’t progressing quickly. When the epidural began to wear off, my doctor warned me “re-upping” might slow down the progression, so I passed on it. Easily one of my worst life choices ever. I screamed my head off. At one point I could feel my husband’s giant hand on my forehead. I looked to him in between pushes and he had his face covered with a pillow.

I told the story for weeks after, making fun of him in a “men-are-the-real-wusses” kind of way, until he told me it was the most helpless and scared he’d ever felt in his life. He was terrified about the amount of pain I was in, and he thought he was going to lose me and the baby. I stopped telling the story after that. (Definitely, worst companion ever.)

12:25PM Tech pops in and asks if I need a warm blanket!

YEEEEEEESSSSSSSS! If there is one good thing about having cancer, it is the amount of people walking around offering you warm blankets. I collect them until I look like a Game of Thrones character preparing for winter.

12:41PM Another prayer text from my same friend. She’s rad. So thoughtful, and strong, and a dynamite mom. She’s way funnier than me, but the prayer texts make it hard to resent her for that. I reconsider stealing some of her funniest jokes for my memoir.

12:55PM CT’s are weird. You lay down and they slide you into a vertical X-ray donut. A robot tells you when to breathe and a tech (usually human) gives you contrast intravenously, that makes you feel like you wet your pants. I have to keep my arms over my head and I wish I’d have put on more deodorant. Stress sweating is my hobby and I always have plenty of time for it here.

12:—PM (in the machine no clock) Oh shoot! I looked into the laser! The fact that I have cancer, might be natural selection.

1:10PM All done! On to the next.

1:25PM Check in for appointment with my doctor. She’s running about two hours late. This is what happens when you’re the best in the world—and she is.

1:45PM Walking to the MRI appointment to see if they can get me in early.

1:50PM They cannot.

1:52PM In a very friendly way, I lament missing my flight and the weird, late appointment change from yesterday. Guy receptionist feels sorry for me and goes to double check. They double cannot.

I thank the kind receptionist for trying and he asks me where I went to school. I totally spaz and ask “college?” Like this tiny young lad was even alive when I graduated high school.

“Yes”, he says, smiling more and only then do I realize he’s flirting with me.

I’m not wearing my jewelry because of the scans and my lament must have been too friendly. Or maybe my outfit was more becoming than I’d noticed. It’s possible he thought I work in the non-technology Silicon Valley—the one where they make the adult content. Sorry bud. This is just what happens when you have broad shoulders and a large scrub top. It’s an optical illusion.

But “Hey!” not bad for a smelly girl covered in camel spit.

2:05PM Back to wait at original appointment. I remember the banana in my backpack. Hooray! I haven’t eaten yet, but when I peel it the smell of bananas fills the room. Sorry chemo friends :(.

2:35PM The acronymed person (MD, NP, PA…the letters all sort of run together) dilated my eyes. I brought my own sunglasses this time, so I don’t have to wear the weird roll-up, black film, sheet glasses, reminiscent of a slap bracelet. A slap bracelet for your eyes—Worst invention ever. 

2:41PM beidbdgcneigns eyes are dilated can’t see.

4:00PM Back in a room. I get eyelids turned inside out and bright lights shined into my eyes. If I were ever interrogated by a foreign government, I will absolutely tell all our secrets.

4:39PM Still waiting. Missed the MRI call time, so will have to go and beg to be let in again. Stress sweating, again, because I usually like to be at the airport a full two days before my flight. Really debating about using the disinfecting wipes as deodorant wipes. Might read the ingredients.

4:45PM My doctor is with a new patient. New patients take the longest.

I can hear through the walls. The new patient starts to cry.

It’s a baby.

Guys. A baby.

Like the same age as my baby. I just can’t be mad at the wait.

In the lobby, a lady yelled at my favorite nurse because she’d been waiting 4 hours. I get it, but, again, BEST IN THE WORLD. Let’s let her save this baby.

5:02PM Still waiting. Watching videos of my kids and crying like a lunatic. This is why my doctor thinks I’m such a weirdo. This time I started crying before she even came in.

5:11PM Really might use the disinfectant wipes. Probably not on my face. But no guarantees made. Next cancer diagnosis will be face and armpit cancer.

5:19PM Just found out from my favorite NP (I know I say favorite a lot but I’ve been coming for 5 years. I am basically a resident.) that my appts went crazy because she had to do a peer-to-peer on every appointment! Bless her. She also wrote very weird, specific instructions to get me as complete a set of scans as she could. I love her.

5:33PM See my doctor! Love her! Love the nurse! Love the NP! They stayed late to make sure they’d see every patient. I was the last one of the day.

5:40PM Done with doctor appointment! Ultrasound of lymph nodes is clear!!! CT shows I have a kidney stone so that will be fun later but no signs of metastasis! I also have an ovarian cyst. Statistically people have all kinds of stuff going on that you don’t even know about unless someone is pumping you full of isotopes and shooting lasers at you. Mostly it’s nothing to worry about.

5:45PM Arrive at MRI after sprinting across the hospital skywalk. New male receptionist. (Lots of dudes at the front desks here.) Says they can work me in after I give my sob story.

5:49PM Called back.

5:50PM Do weight and get scrub bottoms and socks. I love hospital socks. I collect them. When your clumsy you need all the grippers you can get.

6:00PM Wait.

6:30PM Wait.

6:55PM Still waiting and the supervisor comes in to tell me I’m next.

7:00PM MRIs are like being in a coffin, except at your funeral your family hired the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to play instead of the regular organist. And their their instruments have replaced with alien laser guns and outer space lawnmowers. Imagine being a Barbie doll and being inserted into the tailpipe of a motorcycle.

It’s stupid loud.

7:45PM Done! Tech takes out the IV, and I dash away in my grippy hospital socks to change.

8:05PM Start drive to airport. No texting and driving. I already have cancer.

8:39PM Arrive at airport!

9:40PM Cancer Hack: (Hacks are still popular, right?) Don’t take off your medical wristband or your iv wrap.

People assume you’re contagious and give you a whole row to yourself on the plane.

9:45PM Read Live from New York to stay awake, so you can psychically hold the plane in the air. And don’t lean on the window because of what happened to that lady.

Fun Liza fact: If anything happened to someone else, ever, in the history of the world, I probably won’t do it. This is why I’m so fun at parties.

Just joking.

No one invites me to parties.

11:38PM Land in Nashville. Husband picks me up. It super late, and I’m exhausted, and he made fun of me for taking a picture, and I’m so happy to see him.

I’ve said it before, but sometimes home isn’t a place—it’s a person. 

Home, sweet home.

Liza Dora is an author, illustrator, and Texan living in Tennessee with her husband and two children. Liza graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in chemistry and is the proudest member of the class of 2007.

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