Archive for July 22nd, 2009

It finally hits me

It took a full week, but the meltdown finally came. 

On Tuesday afternoon, I had my first meeting at the Cancer Center (official name: Christus-St. Vincent Regional Cancer Center) with Dr. Han, the Radiation Oncologist who will be in charge of the radiation portion of my treatment. My dear friend Natasya (known to some of you as Tasya) accompanied me so I would have both moral support and another set of ears. We met Nurse Jan first, a very sweet lady who asked many questions about my health history and listened with the utmost compassion to my fears. When Dr. Han came in, he immediately put me at ease with his warmth.

He described the radiation treatment in detail, all the while giving me hope that with the combination of chemotherapy and radiation it might be possible to shrink the cancerous growth down to nothing, and potentially avoid another surgery. He reassured me that this combination of treatments is very effective and has a long history of use, and I would be very likely to have a good outcome. I asked about side effects of the radiation, concerned mostly that after a few treatments my poor little butt would be so irritated and on fire that using the bathroom would be a real horror. He explained that the more likely side effect would be diarrhea and possibly a burning sensation when I urinate, but he felt it would be “very manageable.”

Both Tasya and I left that meeting feeling quite hopeful and positive.

I was asked to come back on Wednesday to meet the Medical Oncologist, Dr. Fekrazad, who would be in charge of my chemotherapy treatments. Once again, Tasya agreed to join me at the Cancer Center so she could sit in on this meeting, too. That morning I awoke feeling the best I’d felt since last week’s surgery. I was walking fully upright (not hunched over as I had been for days) and feeling almost like “myself” again. I was still a little tender, but I started the day out hardly noticing any discomfort.

When Dr. Fekrazad came in, I noticed my tummy tightened a bit. He began by asking detailed questions about every symptom. He seemed surprised to learn I wasn’t already scheduled for a PET Scan (Dr. Han had indicated such a scan isn’t usually done right after you’ve had surgery because of the possibility of a false reading). Dr. Fekrazad said he thought I should have one despite the surgery. He explained that they wouldn’t be concerned about a false reading in the area of the surgery (the ultrasound would give them accurate information about that area), but the scan would be used more to look for cancer in other organs.

We moved on to a lengthy discussion of “staging” the cancer, complete with drawings and diagrams. I was hanging in there pretty well, taking in a lot of complicated information, but there was a point at which I felt myself “glaze over” a little. What I got from the “stage” discussion was that I really want this to turn out to be “stage 1” cancer. (Say a few prayers if you will that that’s where I am.)

Then we got into the details of the chemotherapy treatment. It will be a combination of at least two kinds (three if the stage is farther along). One type is a daily pill and the other is a weekly injection. When Dr. Fekrazad said something about installing a “port” near my collar bone to make the injection easier, I began to get dizzy. I asked if that meant another surgical procedure. He said it did.

Then, the conversation finally made its way around to “the side effects.” I should not expect to lose my hair with this type of chemo (some thinning perhaps, but not outright hair loss). It might make me somewhat nauseous, but supposedly that is managed quite well with other medicines now. He did not think I would become violently ill. But I could expect to have numbness develop in my fingers and toes, and some muscle cramping was likely. I’m sure there was more, but I was starting to have a hard time concentrating.

He said he wanted to examine me and left the room while I undressed. Once I was on the table with the flimsy paper wrapped around my waist, something in me just gave out. I looked at Tasya and burst out crying. The shear volume of information was totally overwhelming, not to mention the need for two additional procedures that I hadn’t been aware I needed the day before. Tasya held me as I wept and offered soothing words. Then Dr. Fekrazad came in again just as I was dabbing my eyes dry with a tissue and he grimaced. “What is going on here? Did you sneeze?” When I replied, “No, I’ve been crying,” his face softened and he came over with arms outstretched to offer me a hug. And a minute later he was putting his rubber-gloved finger in my ass.

I was ready to get the hell out of there and go home. But, no, they needed to draw blood. Carl showed up with a fist full of vials and started looking at veins. Now, I’d had two IV’s in the hospital last week and blood drawn at least four times during my stay. But, somehow, on this day when I was finally getting hit with the reality of my condition and barely holding it together, Carl couldn’t get blood out of me. He tried sticking me in each arm. I drank several cups of water when it was suggested that I might be dehydrated. The third poke was the worst. He tried a vein in my forearm. No blood. I finally got a bit snippy and said I didn’t think I could do anymore today. When I started trembling, he agreed maybe tomorrow would be better.

Tasya brought me home after a quick stop at Vitamin Cottage to pick up Rescue Remedy, Calms, some Nighty Nite tea and a handful of other items intended to relieve some of my anxiety and help me rest. My forearm was burning and throbbing like crazy, so I was holding it against me like I was protecting a broken wing. As soon as Tasya was satisfied that Tim was home and would take over the job of looking after me, we hugged and said good-bye. A moment later I was curled up in a fetal position wailing. I howled to Tim, “I don’t want this to be true.” He held me and we cried together. I finally fell asleep and awoke after dark noticing I had all my clothes on and my arm was still hurting.

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