Monday, July 23, 2012

Chemotherapy and Other Indoor Sports

My first dose of chemotherapy began on July 12th.  And I have to say, the infusion itself wasn't all that bad.  I filled out paperwork and met with my oncologist prior to the infusion.  Then I was brought back to the infusion center and the nurses (who are stellar by the way) accessed my port and gave me Ativan (I told you they are great!).  The infusion center is open and spacious with several treatment chairs all with beautiful views of landscaped grounds and cloth dividers for privacy.  By design the patients remain in sight of nurses at all times. Chris and I had a private room close to the nurses station with a big screen television and a comfy recliner chair with a warmer button (I feel strongly that all chairs everywhere should have this option) and another button that said "massage" but felt more like "shaken baby syndrome" so I opted out of that one.

We were there for about six hours while the chemo meds were given one at a time, allowing for prescribed observation time after each infusion because this was my first time receiving the medications -  the most likely to have a reaction.

AND - nothing happened.

They served us lunch and I had unlimited access to tiny cans of Shasta Ginger Ale - which is a very good thing in my book.  And because I could play the "cancer card", I remained in control of the television remote the entire time.  So we watched Cake Boss and documentaries about genetics.  Fabulous.

Anyway, the day was fairly uneventful - just a little emotional due to the nature of what we were doing.  We went home and whether from relief that it was over or the massive amounts of steroids I was given during treatment, I proceeded to eat my weight in whatever wasn't tied down in the kitchen.  Then I went to bed feeling confident and very very full.

What followed was an onslaught of bizarre, transient, and yet appallingly unpleasant side effects which has led Chris and I to refer to chemo by a new name: The Hunger Games.

(*For those of you who haven't been sitting around the house catching up on popular culture, the Hunger Games is a series of books - now movies - about a political sporting game in which young people are thrust into an arena and forced to fight to the death.  To liven it up and improve television ratings, various traps - flesh eating fog, murderous wasps, acid rain storms etc - are placed by the gamemakers and activated when the players begin to feel in control of their situation. I read these while still taking a lot of narcotics - but even not drugged they are entertaining.)

"I KILL you Can-Suh!"
Post Chemo Day 1-2: The palms of my hands and soles of my feet felt as though they were sliced with a thousand tiny blades -as though I'd been making snowballs out of shards of glass.  My hands were mottled with red and white splotches while the nerve pain made its way through.  It lasted several hours at a time for the first couple days and hasn't reoccurred since.  Nausea was intermittent even with round the clock anti-emetics, though I never vomited.  I napped off and on throughout the days and my joints ached at night.

Post Chemo Day 3-4:  Overwhelming fatigue.  Day 4 I didn't get out of bed until 3:30 pm.  Unable to sit up without gagging due to nausea. 

Post Chemo Day 5-7:  It's a good thing I like our bathroom - because I didn't leave it often. But the fatigue was lessening and nausea more controlled.  Roots of my hair became sensitive then painful causing severe headaches to the extent that I decided to shave it rather than wait around until it fell out on its own.  After shaving my hair the discomfort resolved.

Post Chemo Day 8-Present:  Skin on my face and neck developed a red raised rash that turned into what appears to be a case of acne that would make a Clearasil rep jump for joy.  But because it's not "that type of acne" I can't treat it with special soaps - I just have to wait it out.  Energy level is greatly improved, GI symptoms resolved for the most part.  Occasional nausea at night but nothing severe.  Insomnia.

And today I'm in nadir.  Sounds peaceful doesn't it?  Like a tropical island with white sandy beaches - perhaps a cabana boy serving up ice cold mojitos.

It's not.  Remember - we're still in the Hunger Games. 

Nadir is the period of time after receiving chemotherapy when your immune system is at its weakest, usually about 10 days out.  Because I am young and healthy going into this battle, round 1 of chemo poses less of a threat during nadir - but I haven't escaped without side effects.  My mouth, throat and all the other mucus membranes in my body including my stomach and urethra are scattered with sores making it difficult to eat and terribly painful to pee.  And because even a cold or infection could pose a threat while my body's natural defenses are weakened, we've developed a "no shoe" policy in the house, have hand sanitizer dispensers on every counter and I'm taking antibiotics again to ensure I am not developing a bladder infection.  

 Basically, my body has been attempting to rid itself - by any means possible - of the poison that was pumped into it. It's doing its job to try to protect me - but the chemo is stronger. And, because the chemo IS the cure - we will keep it up until every last cancer cell is obliterated. (Boo Yah!)

Which means that I may have to invest in interesting bathroom art and load more books on the kindle because I have a sneaking suspicion it's not going to get much easier in the future. But it also means that I now know without a shadow of a doubt that even though this hasn't been (*Warning: Massive Understatement to Occur) the most enjoyable experience - I can do it.  I've learned that I'm strong enough to get through this.  And that is a very important lesson to learn.  One dose down - five to go.

If I were a better person this wouldn't make me laugh.
And on the up side, with all this forced bed rest, I've been able to catch up on reading - more books than I've found time for in ten years!  I've also discovered countless jewels on the internet such as useless trivia and pictures of cats that look like Hitler. 

According to my oncologist, once the nadir symptoms clear up I should be through the worst of the symptoms and start to feel better again.  And hopefully the gamemakers won't become bored and inflict some new form of torture before round 2 begins the first week of August.

But with the Hunger Games, you just never know.