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.


Posted on August 3, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 52 Comments.

  1. This post is amazing. I think a lot of people will appreciate you lifting the veil off of chemo and cancer in general. I realize not all cancer patient’s experiences are the same – I can personally attest to that; however, the candour with which you speak is refreshing and helpful for people who have gone/are going through cancer or know of someone who is. (Holy long sentence.) You describe the ups and downs with your typical wit and sense of humour.

    The quote about treatment making you love the shit out of everything else is exactly how I felt post-treatment.

    Speaking of hospital aversions, I still can’t stand the smell of hospital soap, or anything that resembles it. When I go up to get blood work or an ultrasound, I avoid using it and use the Purel instead. Years later it still makes me queasy.

    Well check another one off the list! xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

  2. You’ll make it there, I know you will! :)

  3. Wow, kool aid formula for sure. It better make you feel like a kid again, right?

    Finish line will be here before you know it!

  4. I can’t believe I just had a smile on my face a few times in a post about chemo. You are such a talented writer, Susan!

  5. When you found out you had Hodgkin’s I immediately thought not that it was the “good kind” of cancer but rather that it was the “Ethan Zohn” cancer… :)

    Enjoy smelling like disinfectant for the next week! (the body shop has some good smelling ones actually ;)

    • Haha, everyone in Moncton for some reason thinks of Mario Lemieux who had Hodgkins. Probably because he went on to play hockey after. I also just found out that Michael C Hall from Dexter had it too!

  6. Thank you for being so open and honest about your experience thus far. It helps me to gain understanding on a subject that is never really spoken about – the actual reality of chemotherapy treatment. Thank you for helping us all understand a bit better what a cancer patient’s reality is. This will help me to be there for family and friends in a much better and more helpful way.

    I pray that you keep up your good spirit and positive outlook. And keep up the writing if you are able to. You are an inspiration to us all.

  7. I do not know you, but I bet your heart is growing bigger and stronger in all of this. Congrats on getting through #2 successfully! Good luck in the days to come afterwards….

  8. I can’t belive you wrote about chemo and still was able to have a cool text. Unbelievable! I wish you all the best! stay strong!

  9. Oh I love these excerpts…so great. And your humorous perspective on things mixed with honesty about how you are feeling and what exactly chemo IS all about, completely rivets me, and makes me feel as if I am sitting right next to you. Thank you for chronicling this, and seriously great picture of you!

  10. Thanks for the update. God Bless!

  11. Thank you for pulling back the curtain on all of this and letting us into your world. Hollywood tries and does not always to a horrible job, but it’s Hollywood. There is so much more to the real experience that people cannot know unless they’ve been there or traveled along as a passenger with someone who has been there. All my best to you!

  12. Crap, what the hell, Neupogen- do your thang man! It’s interesting how different docs recommend different things with low WBCs. Our doc in Florida wanted my dad to wear a face mask (like dentists wear) when he was in public- yah he didn’t do that- he was pretty vain and that was not gonna fly. And OMG the list of foods not to eat! Nothing raw, no sushi, no undercooked meat (that was tough!!). BUt in LA, the doc was like, ‘yeah, no sushi or raw foods and no baseball games :-P) but no mention of a mask.

    You look radiant and it’s not just the koolaid running through your veins. <3

    • The nurse mentioned face masks but I think she could tell by the look on my face that that wasn’t going to fly :P But yeah, no sushi, medium rare steak (boo!), berries, too many raw veggies, etc. I also have to watch my anti-oxidants because the chemo is messing with my red blood cells, and so does too many anti-oxidant rich foods!

  13. I love that you can still crack a joke and smile through this! It’s why I adore you.

  14. Thank you for sharing this story, you hear things from people but its never so open. Thank you for allowing us to see this side of cancer. It helps bring awareness and makes me want to do anything to help in any way.

    Stay strong!

  15. I can’t wait to hear the book recaps – these are great excerpts! Thanks for sharing! And I love your upbeat attitude! Keep your head up! : )

  16. Education is key! I’ve gone through things (not quite cancer) and found that reading everything I could get my hands on made me feel stronger, like I was in control. I’m glad to hear that not only are you doing the same, but you’re able to find humor in what you’re reading/doing. I’d expect nothing less from you! :) Keep up the positivity, be strong, and enjoy the Ativan!

  17. The good news is that you have an incredibly engaging writing style; the bad news is that you have engaged me so thoroughly that I can almost smell that hospital smell. (I’ve never been in your situation, so I suppose what I’m smelling is what I imagine it smells like, which an even stronger statement on your ability to capture a scene.) Yuck!!

    By the way, a friend of mine did have your experience and there is some kind of powdered substance that is basically a tasteless protein. You can add it to foods you can stand and eat without pain (e.g., applesauce) and get the protein you need to heal. Sorry I don’t know what it’s called, but it might be a way to help keep your weight up and get more bang for the buck with every bite you put in your mouth.

    Hope the drugs help you sleep through the worse of the discomfort!

  18. Wow Susan…you are doing so great and you are such a beautiful writer! You should turn your “cancer experience” blog into a book when this is all over. It would have been so helpful for me to read your accurate and witty descriptions of chemo as I was going through it. I’m keeping you in my prayers. Two down already, sleep it off, you’ll be done before you know it.

  19. I keep saying it, but I’ll say it again… you are such an inspiration! You always remind me to take life with a positive attitude and even a sense of humor no matter how negative the circumstances. Keep smiling and showing chemo who’s boss!

  20. Gosh every time I read this I have flashbacks. I remember so vividly the recliners, the pre-meds that included Benadryl that would knock me out for a good couple hrs then the Ativan and Steroid that would hype me up and leave me starving as soon as I woke up, the pushes of poison and the drips of drugs, and also being the youngest one in the whole treatment area. It would make me feel very isolated and alone but I have a major social bug in my husband (seriously he can and will talk to anyone) and he would always draw us into conversations with everybody else in our pod:-) Thank God for him everyday. I can tell you that this will all be familiar to you before you know it, and before you know it, it will all be over. And you will join me on the other side of this cancer…as survivors. We are dealt a crappy hand for sure but we will be better and stronger for it also! Hang in there, sister:-)

    Oh and have you read Crazy Sexy Cancer?? It’s awesome, and one of my faves!!

    • I just bought Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips!! Going to start it today :) I also saw the documentary years ago, and have it downloaded on my computer to watch any day now.

  21. keep your eyes on that finishing line, Susan. You’re doing great and I can’t imagine how many people you’re helping with your stories. Loved reading the quotes at the bottom, especially the one about loving everything else in life :) Take care, girl <3

  22. I worked on a study where we treated people with nitrogen mustard, and whenever people first heard it, they would say “hah, that sounds like a poison!” and we’d say “actually it was developed from mustard gas used in chemical warfare, so yes, it is a poison. and you have cancer, so we’re going to poison it!” (we were treating cutaneous t-cell lymphoma, CTCL)

    I have a book recommendation that’s just an interesting look at cancer, how treatments were developed, and the woman behind it all – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. It was a NYTimes best seller, quick read, amazingly written. :)

  23. Holy crap, you have cancer. I can’t really grasp it still. Thanks for sharing so much about the process! I am glad you are in good hands–even though there aren’t hugs or kisses, there are lots of good vibes in your favor. Can’t wait to see you! Someday soon, I am sure of it.

  24. The book sounds good…the sandwich looks bad. Hang in there.

  25. I’ve heard about the Henrietta Lacks book as previously mentioned. Would love to see your book list when you put it together!

  26. You are one tough cookie, Suz. I mean, I’ve always known that, but man. Thank you for sharing this.

  27. Rebecca Bloomwood Jr.

    haha sounds like it will be a great read! Looking forward to hearing your reviews. But I hope you’re feeling better soon.

  28. Ah yes, the chair! I had a chair of my own when my mom took me to her chemo treatments. To make her feel better, I sat in a big chair beside her while we looked at gardening magazines. I know, such grandmas we were reading shit like that!

    Ensure really DID save my dad from becoming emaciated! They come in cool flavors now and taste almost like milkshake. Everyone reacts differently, but I know both my mom and dad really relied on zofran for nausea. And you know about “magic brownies” right?

    • I’m taking zofran too! I haven’t gone without it yet, but my nausea has been pretty bearable, so I believe it’s the miracle drug everyone says it is :)

  29. 12 years ago, Zofran was about $25 a pill… what’s it cost these days? And yeah, folks… that’s another “out of pocket” cost because it’s not “essential” to your treatment!! Blahhh…

  30. You are an absolute rockstar Susan, and that is all that needs to be said.

  31. Susan this is amazing! I (and probably most people) never knew what chemo actually consists of, and it’s incredible to read about and see some of what it really is. I really appreciate the fact that you’re so honest about it but even through all the scary stuff your positivity shines through. Hang in there! I agree with Deb, you really do look radiant :)

  32. You have such a good attitude and are a strong woman. I can not believe the crap food they serve to people in hospitals it is such a big buisness.
    Seeing the crap food on the childrens ward makes me so sad. The whole system needs to be overhauled.

  33. You are amazing my dear!!! Sending love + hugs.

  34. And we will all be there to celebrate with you when you do! x x

  35. chemo make your immunity system not to work. cancer is a part of your body cell. so if ppl got chemo, we loose immune system at a while, our body cell would be surprised, so as the cancer cells, so the cancer goes a little bit small. but the side affect of chemo has more harmful affections.
    Cancer is curable., even though the stage is really bad and your doctor just gave up on you and told you the days you have left, even though, your body has a power to cure yourself. Do not eat any chemical contained food, such as bread, pasta, pre cooked food. drink and use for cooking only natural water. do not use shampoo and conditioner, tooth paste, any type of facial/body cream. your body has a power to oil you up. the chemical material you take a very small amount every day is stocked on your fat, which makes your body cell go crazy. 100 yeas ago, we didn’t have cancer, heart disease, diabetics like lately. the chemicals you taking everydays a bit by bit makes your body go crazy. even the fresh veggies and fruits are covered with some preservatives. did you wash well the strawberry you bought? baby spinach you bought? if not, it’s really time for you to know what you take everyday without you knowing.
    Please get well, and please do not eat those chemicals. please eat organic food if is especially brown rice or something like with cell, which is absorbed those chemical stuff.
    I am Japanese, who eas natual food only, am pretty healthy. when I walk down the bread ails in a supermarket in America, i notice the smell of the chemicals from breads. those food make you sick definitely. I fix my body problem with just watching what I eat.

    Your body has a power to fix your body problem no matter what.

    Do not chemicals or radio actives let interrupt your body fixing procedure. What you eat is who you are. Eat natural food. Check if the food has a preservatives or not first before you buy. you will realized that there’re not so many stuff you can buy. but that’s the reall fact. Not so many ppl know that.

    Get well soon. Thanks for reading this comment.

  36. Hey there, I just wanted to leave you a tip, since I am sure you are counting your pesos right now. Shopper’s dispensing fee is $12 (I think it’s the highest in Canada).
    Costco’s is only $4.11. : ) Totally worth it when you’re filling them 4 at a time.

  37. Hi Susan! Your blog is terrific. I just discovered it today while working on a post on writing tips for bloggers. Your post on that topic is great! Not the same ideas that you see repeated on so many other blogs. I’ll be quoting you and linking to you when I do a guest post at Tribal Blogs next week. I started looking around your blog and loved it. Then saw your post about your health issues. I’m so sorry that you are dealing with this. I can tell you are a lovely, positive person and that strength will get you through all of this. Then I saw that the blog-writing post is near and dear to your heart–so I had to tell you how much I like it!
    If you want a happy, hilarious book to read while you’re stuck in the chair, try “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” by Bill Bryson. A funny memoir of the author’s childhood in the 1950s, but it’s a treat no matter your age. Take care!

    • I’ve seen that book before! I’ll definitely have to pick it up and add it to my reading list :) Writing has always been my #1 hobby and love. I see so many bloggers that have great ideas, and could be even better bloggers if just executed a little more precisely.

      Thanks for stopping by and for the well wishes!

  38. Hey…I got linked to your blog through Brie’s blog Brie-fit. All I can say is you are quite the amazing person. I am a former oncology nurse and a thyroid cancer survivor of 1 year (radiation treatment and surgery, no chemo). Quick tip…Ativan also works well for nausea. We used it off-label all the time for chemo-induced nausea so if the Zofran ever quits working, you might be able to try that. Thanks for sharing your story and your journey…I log in every few days to see how you are doing and you are in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Oooh, thank you for the tip!! So far the zofran is still working its wonders, I also take it was maxeran, but that stuff doesn’t seem to be as effective. I already notice an increase in nausea after the second chemo, so I’m sure I have a lot more fun in store over the coming months…

      Love hearing from other “survivors!”

  39. I asked my step mother about that egg salad sandwich. She serves food in the Moncton hospital and I was disgusted to find out they were from a huge bag of powdered eggs. It makes no sense that a farm rich country like Canada would need to serve hospital patients powdered freakin eggs! I love how you’re exposing all of this.

    • I don’t get it either! I know powdering eggs lets them keep longer, but it also adds a gazillion steps to a process that could be easy as – boil, peel, mush, spread on bread ;)

  40. This sort of brings back bad memories for me as I brought my mom to these sessions BUT I am just so amazed by you. Here I sit & bitch about my swollen face from teeth work & you are going thru this.. thank you for being you!


  41. Susan, I’m sure you’re getting all sorts of advice and suggestions, so I’ll throw one in too :) If it hasn’t been suggested or tried already to help the bone pain with Neupogen I recommend an antihistamine (hydroxyzine has the most evidence but Benadryl or Loratadine may work as well). Start taking the pill the day before the shots and continue until one day after the last shot – this has reduced the incidence of bone pain in some of my patients. Hope it helps & Good luck :)

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