Today I decided this student of learning would become the teacher. It is fortuitous that my third cycle of chemo falls during the school holidays. Many weeks ago, as my 17 year old son was feeling really down because only a couple of people had ‘liked’ his latest status on Facebook, I decided there and then that he was coming with me to be my chemo buddy for this round of treatment. I need him to see the world outside of that little iPhone or computer screen, and that there are actually worse things in life than not getting the response you want to on Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great kid, on the verge of adulthood; he’s smart, funny, compassionate and a deep thinker. He is also a unique individual who excels at the things he is passionate about, but frustratingly nonchalent about things for which he has no interest. I really wanted him to spend a brief moment of time in the world that many thousands of people physically live in every day, and hopefully put those Facebook statuses in perspective. Plus, he is good company and I thought it would be fun to hang out together for a few hours.
Today was chemotherapy day, and the nurses, staff and I all now have the familiarity that prior history brings with it. I created quite an impression at my first visit with the severe adverse reaction to taxol. Now, those nurses greet me each time with “are you behaving yourself today?”. The Day Chemotherapy unit really is a bright, welcoming, positive place to be. The staff understand that we’re nervous, fragile, feeling unwell, have a lot going on in our lives, but they get it. It is a bustling, busy place, where staff are under pressure to ensure no mistakes are made, and yet they still have time to make each patient feel like they are the only one undergoing chemotherapy today.
One of the first things that my son said as we moved through the unit to my treatment chair was “it’s a much happier place than I expected”. He took his role seriously and ensured that I was well-plied with drinks, cheese & crackers. He moved his chair as required amongst the crowded ward and spoke politely when people struck up conversations with him. I know he was touched by the patients in chairs around him – the young woman, heavily pregnant who held herself with grace and good humour; the older man, sitting amongst the predominantly female patients; the thin young girl, perhaps not much older than he, who had obviously been doing this for a while as judged by her appearance; the lady who was in pain because the drug was hurting as it went into her arm. These were all people who had stepped out of their everyday life today to spend a few hours behind the veil of mainstream society. Once that i.v. is taken out, and the bandaid securely covers the portal into their veins, we patients step back out into the world, usually wondering what variation of side-effects we’re in for over the coming days with this latest infusion.
In wanting to document this occasion for our traditional end-of-year family album, we asked one of the nurses to take a photo of us sitting there, with my oldest son being my chemo-buddy. She did a great job and it was a good photo. However, this just wouldn’t do for my son – it had to be a #selfie. According to the Urban Dictionary a “Selfie” is “A picture taken of yourself that is planned to be uploaded to Facebook, Myspace or any other sort of social networking website. You can usually see the person’s arm holding out the camera in which case you can clearly tell that this person does not have any friends to take pictures of them so they resort to Myspace to find internet friends and post pictures of themselves, taken by themselves.” Never mind that the angles are all skewed in selfies, and noses look enormous, a quick search of #selfies on Instagram show that there are more than 3.5 million pictures of #selfies posted! We recently spent time in beautiful Noosa and I lost track of the number of times I caught my boys taking selfies, where if they’d just turned the camera around, the stunning scenery surely would have been more interesting than themselves.
So, in true teenage style, my son insisted on taking selfies of us in Day Chemo, and of course these are the pictures he immediately loaded onto Facebook. There were bemused looks of patients and staff as we had to keep working on getting the selfie right such that it would meet the criteria warranted for posting….namely, that my son’s hair looked good and that he didn’t look fat. Never mind trying to make the cancer patient look presentable, such as being in focus, not half-hidden behind the person taking the selfie, and too “sickly”. The winning selfie (shown at the beginning of this post) was immediately posted on Facebook, and quickly gathered ‘likes’ as they flooded in from ‘friends’. Of course many of these friends are true friends and sent lovely messages of support, but what about the other ‘friends’?? At the time of writing this blog, 60 people have ‘liked’ our selfie photo on my son’s Facebook page. On the other hand, the photo that I posted on my Facebook account, using the nice photo that the nurse had taken of us, has garnered a grand total of 17 ‘likes’……clearly there really is something in this #selfie thing….either that or I just don’t have enough friends.
So, what did we learn today? My plan to take my son out of his Facebook world and give him some real-world experience, ended up with that real-world experience being rapidly captured as a #selfie and posted immediately to Facebook; and the ‘likes’ came flooding in. Maybe the lesson here is actually for me. Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and other social-media sites that our kids use is the real world of today, and perhaps should be afforded more respect for its ability to teach our teenagers what’s out there in the real world….although I still believe that nothing beats actually getting out from behind the screen and experiencing life. I wonder what my son learnt today……..
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