Dear Lady in the Steam Room with the Menthol,

When you asked, white towel wrapping your head and soggy torso, about to enter the steam room, “You don’t mind if I use menthol” (A statement disguised as a question) you were already prying open the moist door. You didn’t wait for my answer but I coughed up – “Just use a little.” You brayed, stopped short, door open, snapped “Well, I can’t only use a little. It’s a thing. I can only use the same amount.”

“OK, no, please”Unknown You entered before me, door still open, “You don’t mind if I use menthol” to the stunning Indian woman sprawled on the tile bench. Confused, she responds: “I didn’t use the menthol.” There was the faint smell of menthol lingering on the steam.

You pressed, “No, I have the menthol. You don’t mind if I use it.”


I sway in the doorway. “No menthol – p p please.” I don’t yet know that inhalants are not permitted. If I had known this crucial fact, I would have stumbled from the tile to the carpeted floor of the fancy gym lobby in my mini towel, screamed for the security who would no doubt have tackled the slimy bitch, and dragged her out by her well-metholated pores.

Excuse my outburst. I feel I should explain myself.

See, on Day 5 of Round 5 of chemo, with platinum pulsating through my veins and Temodar breaking the blood/ brain barrier to escort the poison to my brain… I am a little… queasy. I pried myself from bed to gym in an effort to move my frozen digestion on the elliptical. I can’t get the toxins out of me. The exercise is my desperate attempt to jump start my organs to move; the steam room – my attempt to sweat out the fog in my brain, the acid in my stomach, the toxins that throb my head. Words don’t come easy.

But nausea does.

At this point I have what my behavioral psychologist husband explains is a “pairing” reaction. If I see, hear, smell, taste, touch (you get it – sense) anything related to my chemo days I immediately convulse into fits of gagging (or worse). The medicine bottles holding my nighttime chemo have to be hidden. The bag I take with me on infusion days that is decorated with my niece Meg’s artwork must be stored out of sight. And not only the smell but even the mention of the word “alcohol” (as in rubbing alcohol that hangs in the air in the infusion room) sends me stumbling to the bathroom.

The same is true of mint lifesavers that smell and taste like menthol. I suck on these right before my port is injected with the saline solution and right before chemo drugs are added because the metallic taste created by the injection can cause taste aversion to whatever I last ate. I use different flavor lifesavers so the taste aversion is paired to that, rather than something I love to eat or drink. First round was green, second red, and now… mint. It’s not like real peppermint taste but rather like the artificial menthol of a car air freshener Christmas tree dangling from the rear view mirror. If you offer me a green or red or… mint lifesaver, I will promptly gag and possibly vomit on you.

Now, there is no way the lady in the steam room with the menthol could know this. Perhaps she was flustered by this barely verbal, seemingly drugged, rocking individual who could be mistaken for a heroine addict. Or perhaps she’s completely unaware of her actions. Or worse, what if she’s on chemo and the only thing that gets her through is steamy menthol? But at the time I can’t feel compassion. All I feel is toxins. And, I want to scream…

Dear lady in the steam room with the menthol. “YES, I DO MIND if you release your gag-inducing, car air-freshener artificial menthol ‘scent’ into my tender womb of a steam room!”
You bray again, because it allows you more annoyance than a simple sigh and throw your menthol pellet outside the door, then flop down on the tile above the Indian woman. I don’t want to sit next to you so I simply stand. And sway. And breathe. And sweat.

And when I’m done, I leave to wash off the fog and acid and throbbing that the steam pulled out of me.

The steam door cracks behind me before it had time to fully close from my departure and there you are – snatching that damn menthol pellet from the tile, and retreating back to the steam room to do your dirty work.



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