I made it through my first long day of chemotherapy yesterday. It actually started at home when I took my first two chemo pills after breakfast. Even though I knew there wouldn’t be any immediate side effects, my overactive imagination kept waiting for something awful to start happening!
Before I left home, I packed a bag to take with me to the Cancer Center. You’d think I was planning to stay for a long weekend: a zip-lock full of prescription bottles including anti-nausea and anti-vomiting pills; an arsenal of supplements for relaxation; a bottle of water; my pink bathrobe (to cover the drafty gown for radiation therapy); my address book (ok, I admit it, I have an old-fashioned address book with everyone’s phone numbers - I like it better than my cell phone contact list); a book; a magazine; my calender; socks…”I’m sure I’m forgetting something.”
I walked into the Cancer Center at 10:30 carrying my “suitcase” of stuff and signed in. As always, nothing happens until they take those vital signs (blood pressure: 113/78, heart rate: 80, temp: 98.4, weight: 130 – up 2 lbs!). Then I had a short consultation with Dr. Fekrazad. He was excited to tell me that he’d “presented my case” that morning to their weekly gathering of oncologists and surgeons at St. Vincent’s Hospital. They had reviewed my file in detail and everyone agreed on my treatment. The only question was whether, in hindsight, I should have been advised to have the transrectal ultrasound before the surgical biopsy (the ultrasound might have given them more information before surgery). But one doctor in the group pointed out exactly what I would have said if I had been there, which is that we didn’t know it was cancer when I had the first surgery. We were hoping it was just a benign tumor. So, yes the ultrasound might have been a nice idea, but it wasn’t necessarily an obvious choice then. In any event, the treatment is the same. And it was kind of nice to know a whole gang of doctors agreed on that.
I finally made it into the treatment room. A nurse removed the bandage covering the incision for the port. Then she numbed the port with a spray (which feels like frostbite) after which she “accessed the port” – their euphemism for sticking a needle in it. When she was happy that it was working properly, she attached a bag of anti-nausea medication and benadryl to the drip. A half-hour later, she replaced that with a bag of calcium. A half-hour later, a bag of magnesium. Finally, around 1:30, she hooked up the actual chemo to the drip.
That bag took two hours. Afterward, there was another bag of calcium (1/2 hour) and another bag of magnesium (1/2 hour). Before it’s all done, they flush the port with saline a few times and then give me a “heparin lock” to keep the port from getting clotted with blood. All together it’s about 4.5 hours of drip time plus another half hour of miscellaneous stuff.
Apparently this will be the routine every Wednesday (plus, from now on, I’ll come in an hour earlier for blood work each week). The treatment room has comfortable recliners and a TV/DVD at each station. A volunteer brings juice and snacks and blankets around. While I was there today, Dr. Fekrazad checked on me at least three times, Dr. Han (radiology oncologist) came in to see me, the center’s social worker Marla stopped by twice with information, and a woman from the hospital pharmacy who is helping me get the Xeloda pills for little or nothing through various foundations and “medicine banks” came in to introduce herself. Everyone asked how I was doing and wanted me to be sure to call them if I needed anything. I already felt like I was getting individual and caring treatment here, but today really reinforced that for me. The whole experience was about as comfortable as one could hope.
As for side effects, the only one I can report so far is that my mind is still running rampant waiting for some side effects! I’ve been told I might experience some tingling and numbness in my fingers and toes, so with every microscopic twinge I think: is that a side effect? And, of course I’m to expect some nausea, so after lunch and a snack when I felt a little full, I kept wondering: is that nausea? is that a side effect I’m feeling? After five hours of sitting in a recliner, I was naturally feeling drowsy. But instead: am I feeling fatigued? is that a side effect? This “worry-machine” called my mind was in high gear all day. But, so far, that’s the only side effect I’m aware of.
Postscript: A huge thank you to Mary Anne for sitting with me the entire day watching the various bags of medicine drip slowly into my port. Since visitors don’t get the cushy recliners like patients, she endured it all in a regular chair. So, despite the fact that I don’t like this photo one bit, she took it and I’m posting it as a “thank you.” (It better not end up elsewhere!)
No longer a "chemo virgin"
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