A Letter to Round One
by Darya Danesh

I was terrified.
I was so afraid of what you were going to do to me.
I didn’t know what to expect.

E said you were the worst thing in the world. That you burned in his veins. That you turned him blue.

Mom was scared, but she didn’t dare tell me. I could see it in her eyes; I could feel it in the way she held me, trembling. I could tell she was holding back her tears, trying to be strong for me. In our days of silence, I could almost hear her asking God or whatever it is she believes in: Why is this happening?

What had we done to deserve the horror of this meeting?

Round One.

It was September 1st when they told us we’d be meeting you soon.

The nurses knew you well.
They knew what harm you might cause me. They knew that maybe you would sink into me and do nothing. That your presence could very well just be a Band-Aid on a terminal problem. They knew that the minute our chemistries mixed together — the moment you and I became one — that I would never be the same.

In the days leading up to our meeting, I fought hard not to be afraid. I kept on my biggest smiles and reassured everyone that I was fine. I belly laughed and hobbled around like it was just another normal day in a normal life.

It wasn’t a normal day or a normal life, was it?

It was 9 p.m. when a panic set in.
F asked if I was a spiritual person, if I believed in anything. He said this was the time his patients would normally reconnect with their devotion, their Gods. This was the time they would ask for guidance and for the strength to survive.

I’d never believed in God.
But in that moment believed in the power of you, and in the power of the Universe. I still do. I believed that — along with my unwavering positivity — you and the Universe would work together to get me through this.

I took my mom’s and F’s advice and took a small tablet to calm me down, help me sleep. Just a few more hours until our dreadful meeting, I thought.

The plan was for us to meet at 3 a.m., and to be together — without pause — for an uninterrupted seven days.
For seven days, you would hang atop the cold, metal pole and be pumped through me. You’d be on your homicidal mission, killing anything and everything in your way.
For seven days, we would be confined to those three silent halls, always smelling of alcohol.
For those seven days, we would hang out with family in that cold, uncomfortable room with the windows that looked out onto the university campus where I so longed to be.

The nurses woke me just minutes before the moment of induction. They asked for my name and date of birth; quietly so as not to wake E who was sound asleep in the opposite corner of the room.

It was 9 a.m. when your friend joined us for a few hours. Mom sat next to my bed but we refused talk about you. We acknowledged your presence, wondered how long your friend would stay, and carried on as if things were normal.

But things were still. not. normal.

Each day more awful than the last.

You made me sick.
You had me shivering and feeling brain-dead.

Some days, you had me throwing up more than I care to remember.
The first time I was sick, I rang for help. I held it in as long as I could but my body couldn’t fight the feeling.
When G finally walked in, I’d already made a mess of the floor.
I felt horrible.
Like a burden.

I won’t ever forget the feeling of knowing our week was up.

My hair was still long and H had finally arrived. We headed downstairs with the tiniest sense of relief in our hearts.
Finally together.

Day fourteen the alopecia kicked in.
It took a fever and the chunks of hair falling out of my dreaded locks for me to accept that you would do to me what you’d done to many before me. It finally started to kick in that I was not immune to your nightmarish side effects.

With my legs trembling and hope filling my heart, I left the hospital twenty one days after our first meeting.
Three days until we’d meet again.

You were the first, Cytarabine.

But you weren’t the worst.
No, definitely not.