Daily Archives: August 3, 2011

Welcome to the Chemo Chair

Where the drugs and food are free, there’s a lazy-boy for napping, and I get my old dance partner called “The IV Pole” back.

Yesterday was my second chemo treatment, and my first time receiving it as an outpatient. Last time I was able to go through it all lying in my own hospital bed. But as an outpatient I have to go in early to get my blood tested, meet with my oncologist, and then go through the long process of getting “pre-medicated” then medicated.

I had a bit of a bummer right off the bat yesterday. Apparently my “WBC,” aka my white blood cell count, was low. That’s the cells responsible for my immune system. Made in the bones, it’s what I also take those crazy expensive Neupogen shots for that cause the bone pain.

A normal person’s WBC is 4,500 to 10,000, which is shortened down to 4.5 or 10. My WBC yesterday was at 1.2, and I was ordered not to get chemo unless it’s 1.5 or over.

So there were a few moments of worry and frustration that my chemo schedule will be set behind. But my oncologist said I was still okay to go. He just warned me to stay out of crowded and public places like malls and restaurants (boo!). No visiting with people who have an inkling of an illness. No hugs or kisses :( I am not yet to the point of becoming a Bubble Girl, but I wouldn’t rule out a bath in Purrel just yet.

Behold! The chemo chair:

No pictures of the room to protect the innocent. The room is a little crowded, but my treatments are only 2-3 hours long, so it’ll do. Plus, I went with my social butterfly of a mother who is always good at striking up entertaining conversation with those around us.

Once I’m hooked up to an IV, the nurse pushes syringes of poisons in me. No, really, it’s poison. I’m reading a history of cancer right now, and chemotherapy originated with mustard gas.

My first drug is the kool-aid poison.

It turns my pee orange the day of, and today my cheeks are red from it. I’ve heard that it can turn contact lenses pink!

After another push, the nurse hangs an IV bag covered in brown plastic to protect it from the light. Chemo requires the big IV pumps.

I hang out with this for an hour, chugging water and taking many trips to the restroom. This also gives me an opportunity to scope out the rest of the people in the room. Not surprisingly, I’m the youngest one there.

A pleasant surprise from the day is that I get free food while receiving treatment! A nurse comes around with trays of juice, digestive cookies, and rolls. I reject everything but a cheese roll, the only thing that looks remotely appetizing. I see the girl next to me violently shake her head in disgust to an egg sandwich. We share a glance, understanding the chemo aversions that take shape.

I also got a full hot lunch which I couldn’t eat. After four weeks in hospital, the mere smell of even the tupperware they serve the food on is enough to make my insides jerk. Instead, I packed an egg and cheese bagel from home. Much better :)

Time passes quicker than expected in the chair. Suffice it to say, I am adequately doped up after the fact thanks to not just the toxins, but the 5x dose of steroids, the heavy dose of anti-nausea meds, and the real kicker – ativan. I request the ativan as an anti-anxiety med to calm me down. But it makes me feel all floaty, and like taking a nap in the clouds.

The drugs are really only just beginning. In the days following chemo, I have to take six different kinds of medications, at five different times of day. Two of which are self injected liquids. One of which is a pain pill my doc finally gave me thanks to the neupogen digging screwdrivers into my bones.

I have nothing to report in terms of side effects yet after my second go at chemo. Just some mild nausea, and overall feelings of what I like to call “wooziness.” I can feel the fatigue already sinking in and predict I will sink even deeper into the couch later today.

As mentioned above, I’ve been reading a lot of books on cancer lately. Mostly so I feel comfortably educated on my disease (Hodgkins lymphoma), its treatment, and how I should be feeling.

One great book I just finished is called Planet Cancer. I’m going to do a wrap-up of all the books I’m reading soon, but I just have to share this one. It is definitely for the new cancer patient, geared towards young adults. But it continually has me nodding my head and chuckling along. Even if you don’t have cancer, I know you can be entertained by this…

From The Top 10 Worst Ways for an Onocologist to Break the Bad News:
“9. Great news: You’ve got the good kind of cancer! (For all the Hodgkin’s patients)”
“3. I’m sooooooooo sorry.”

On treatment:
“Man, I hated treatment. The upside: It made me love the shit out of everything else. I’m good at living now. I can’t say that about myself pretreatment. –HL1994”

“It hurts like fucking hell most of the time. But I think that hurt is just our hearts growing bigger and stronger, much like a muscle grows when it is worked out. –Denny”

From Top 10 Ways to Get a Taste of the Chemo Experience
“5. For that fun Ativan feeling, wander into a room and ponder all possible meanings of the word ‘amazing.’ Walk out of room, repeat.”
“2. Attempt to drink Ensure while you are nauseated. To become nauseated, drink an Ensure.”

From Ethan Zohn, winner of Survivor Africa
“I was actually training for a marathon when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. The way chemotherapy affected me wasn’t unlike running a marathon. In a marathon, as time goes on and the miles build up, the harder it is on the body and the worse you feel. But then the runner’s high sets in and a huge sense of accomplishment pulses through your veins. Same with chemo.”

So I’ve got Chemo #2 down and am still in the beginning of my training. But don’t be fooled, I’m still completely focused on that finish line, and how I’m going to get there injury-free.