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Toxic Friends Are Sometimes Needed

After her diagnosis and treatment of triple negative breast cancer, Erin started writing and volunteering in the AYA cancer for young people, and People of Color who are disproportionately affected by negative outcomes in breast cancer. She is on the Board of Directors for Young Breast Cancer Project, and is writing a book that can serve as a guide, or “a friend in book form” for people diagnosed with breast cancer under age 45. You can find her telling stories and jokes about real things on Instagram @erinleeperkins and on her own blog

The first time I met with my chemo educator, she asked me a curious question that really stood out to my notice-all-the-little-things brain. She asked, “So, do you want to get a port inserted in your chest for administering chemotherapy, or not.”

“Well,” I said, “not?...I don’t…do you maybe have more information?” She proceeded to tell me the alternative to the port would be having my veins accessed by a nurse for each of my 16 chemotherapy sessions. Well, let me tell you this: I gave birth twice, and in doing so, I elected to not attend a hospital. The reason I elected not to attend the hospital for these births was my extreme fear of needles.

So, I thought I was getting off scot free with these home births, but the truth is, I was not, because, spoiler alert, I got cancer two years after the second birth.

Of course, I elected for the port when I realized it would likely be a less painful way to have chemotherapy administered, and I head to my first Red Devil appointment the next day. Well, some of you know, that day, port access was the most painful it could possibly be. For a second there, I wasn’t sure if I had made the best choice, fear of pain-wise. Thankfully, that was the worst of it. And after a funny exchange with all the port accessing, and vein lacing nurses in oncology, I realized once they accessed the port, they could do my blood draws from there as well, and I would not also need to have my blood taken from my arm. That was some real nice and welcomed information, however late I was at understanding it.

As I entered “the big room” at the UNC cancer care oncology room to receive this Red Devil, and as I sat in the chair, I did do some crying, before quickly moving to my usual coping mechanism of talking too much, and loudly. I accept all the “freebies,” as I am here without my young kids after all; better milk it, I figure, and I notice my nurse walking over to me once pre-meds are in. I see her stop at the nurse station. I wonder out loud what she is doing.

Then I see her putting on a, “wait,” I say out loud, “Is that a hazmat suit?”

“Yes,” she responds with a small laugh. Coping-with-a-hard-thing Erin comes out again,

and I say, “Oh cool, so you have to put that suit on in to protect your skin from the toxic chemotherapy you are about to pulse through my veins?” “Yes,” she says again alongside the same small laugh.

“Well,” I say, “let’s kill this cancer then!” And she sits next to me, slowly pushing the red chemo, Adriamycin into my port for the first time. The Red Devil and I have the same goals, to shrink the tumor, to kill the cancer, and I’m so glad to have this toxic friend in my circle, however sick she made me.

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