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Camari Model of Courage Camari Olson

Being told I would be going through chemotherapy treatments for the second time in my life was not exactly a joyful feeling. Though I’d had a fairly easy time of it in 1997 and was able to stay active through most of it, this time it was a little different. I had a very rare form of an aggressive breast cancer called Metaplastic. This type has aspects that behave like breast cancer but it also resembles a sarcoma. So it was decided that I would do two different kinds of chemo simultaneously.

For the first treatment my close friend Nicole, also a female firefighter, went with me. That treatment was a bit difficult as I did not yet have a port, and as the drugs were being infused into my veins, it was excruciatingly painful. Nicole was very comforting.

It was after that treatment that Nicole brought the rest of the girls in – she wanted to make the treatments social events where I would be surrounded by my gal pals. We called ourselves the Fire Chicks as most of us were or had been firefighters. With each treatment, we became more festive and creative as how we’d celebrate.

One time we took a bunch of stuffed animals to liven up the room. I brought a stuffed kitty I had found when I was riding my bike during my first time through chemo. It was in the middle of the road, had been run over and only had one eye. I guess I sympathized with its plight!

Between that session and the next, my hair started falling out. I wanted to donate it, which meant I would have to cut it off before it fell out. The girls organized a hair cutting party. We’d read up on how to cut it to properly donate hair which meant taking each section of layered hair, putting it in a separate ponytail then cutting it as close to the scalp as possible. After they did my hair up that way, they each did the same with theirs and then proceeded to cut.

I love Halloween and had a variety of crazy wigs. For the next chemo treatment we took those with us and had a blast taking turns putting them on. We would venture out through the chemo ward, adopting whatever accent or mannerism appropriate to the wig we had on and making everyone else laugh.

The highlight was Mexican Fiesta day. The girls showed up early and decorated the room with strings of chili peppers. They had brought a great pink unicorn piñata, sombreros and beads for everyone, and had nachos and virgin margaritas. We filled the room with laughter even as the drugs were dripping into my veins.

My final treatment was a little bittersweet. Though I looked forward to it being over, it was scary when the day arrived. I almost felt like “What now, do I just wait for it to come back.” We still made it a fun day, though. There is a closet full of wigs donated by patients when they no longer need them. We had fun trying on all kinds of different looks and taking pictures. I also brought candy and sparkling cider. We went around through the rest of the ward, toasting my last treatment and others who were going through it.

I was NEVER alone at any of my chemo treatments. The memories the girls helped me make during what could have just been a very dark time are priceless to me.