2008 Chemotherapy Cocktail
While sitting in my chair waiting for my first chemotherapy cocktail I wondered what others in the room were thinking. This was my first day of chemotherapy and I would have two chemicals, Cisplatin and Navelbine, alternating twice a week for the next four months. Did they feel like me, excited and petrified at the same time? Excited that I was finally able to get the “full monty,” petrified that it wouldn’t work or that I would lose my hair or be sick as a dog or die.
There was a ritual to receiving chemotherapy, a tried and true process that most clinics use. Before any chemotherapy is given you have to have blood work done to see if you are healthy enough. Chemotherapy cocktails not only kill cancer cells but also healthy cells. If your blood counts drop too low then the chemicals could put you in great danger. When the blood counts are in and you are cleared to have a treatment there’s a whole set-up process that just mesmerized me.
The infusion nurse had to make sure that she got my IV bags that were full of my drugs. She then hung them up on my IV pole and laid out all her essentials, cleansing swabs, the port needle and then bandages and syringes. It was hypnotizing and as I looked around I saw the same look on other patient’s faces. I was like an alligator having it’s tummy rubbed forgetting everything else, I was in an anesthetized haze. I had wanted to stay like that all day. Unfortunately as soon as the needle went into my chest to access the port I awoke from this trance.
There was no sensation of anything entering my blood stream once the drugs were started. It’s like a shot but without the sting. You don’t actually feel the medicine go in, just the pinch of the needle. The first drugs that are introduced help prepare the body for the actual chemotherapy cocktail. They can be more anti-nausea meds, cortisone immune boosters, blood cell boosters, whatever is needed.
I thought about this when I closed my eyes trying very hard to envision my cancer cells, if there were still any, gasping to reproduce to fight these drugs. Dave was with me and held my hand as I entered the world of chemotherapy.
After my first day I felt tired but not as bad as I had expected to. I popped my anti-nausea pill as soon as I got home, ate a small dinner and was comatose until I needed the bathroom.The amount of liquid that had traveled through my veins that day was astonishing. I must have urinated every half hour for twelve hours straight, so I was in the bathroom throughout the night, carefully holding on to things as I was also pretty stoned from the anti-nausea medication. Every time that I got up to pee I thought to myself, I’m a chemo patient now – a stoned one, but nevertheless a chemo patient.
My infusion room where I received my Chemotherapy cocktail looked similar to this. In my room each chair had it’s own IV pole and curtain that could go around a patient for privacy. There was a also a window and a large TV, and there was also an extra chair for each person’s companion.
The design of the area made it very easy to meet others and have conversations.
I knew so little, if anything about ports. I really didn’t want anyone else cutting into me and I really didn’t want something implanted in me either. After some debate and a consult with my surgeon I decided to go ahead and do it. It would eliminate the many needle sticks that I had already had. My surgeon recommended a surgeon at Rhode Island Hospital and I lucked out with a cancelled appointment before my next chemo day. The procedure was easy. I only had something to relax me and a local. The actual procedure didn’t take very long and I was out of the very small OR room in less than two hours.
I had no idea that it would take a week or so of punctures in my chest to toughen up the skin covering the port. To say the least it was very tender.
As days and weeks progressed I lost weight and my hair thinned a bit. Because of the chemotherapy cocktail I had to call the oncologist several times for help. It was hard to keep my body working or to stop it from over reacting. I ate omeprazole like candy, just to keep my GERD in control. Things were either leaving me too quickly or not at all. I didn’t have headaches or dizziness but I tasted metal all the time. Most of my side effects were digestive in nature. But I never vomited.
I became more and more fatigued as my blood counts plummeted. I now knew the fatigue that people had talked and written about. It is not being sleepy or tired. The feeling is beyond the stars and universe of fatigue. It can be at times very paralyzing, not so much a cause and effect that you might see after exercising or from lack of sleep.
My fatigue felt like a lifetime of no energy. I could feel all my spark seeping out to wander around the planets, looking down at me and laughing, “HA, bet you can’t move.” It was mind numbing, lethargic and exhausting. It’s timeless weariness of the soul allowing movements only as slow as an old turtle. No rest or sleep is refreshing, no food or drink brings full consciousness or energy.
It is complete listlessness and poisonous languor, apathy and ennui. It is just amazing. Mind travels took me to other numb places, places that were both intimate and foreign that collapsed time and distance. I met my old self, my old DNA from centuries ago while bumping into sluggish clouds and lackadaisical ghosts. I couldn’t stop the slow motion. It was me and I was it, this fatigue; this new state of mind this total lack of vitality and presence.
I had company in my listlessness. I met a wonderful gal, Carla who sat beside me almost the entire four months. We were each other’s “to-go-girls,” and we took good care of each other.
What we had was a bond of wondering if we would make it. Would the awful side effects be worth it? Would we be able to justify to family and friends that we had to do this; to fight even if overwhelming fear came to our doorsteps too many times. I think that both of us would say yes, it was all worth it.