31. Chemo Infusion #1 - "Roid Rage" and waiting...
Monday, I sat down, literally, for my first round of Chemo.
Much like Cancer, Chemo is one of those words that immediately triggers a whole lot of feelings. You think “HOLY SHIT CHEMO”! while a parade of images in your head commences with bald heads, surgical masks, emaciated bodies, vomiting and, let’s face it, death.
While I have been anticipating this for the last four weeks, and have read countless accounts from other women’s experiences with my particular “chemo cocktail”, the one thing I have learned along this journey is that everybody is different.
Let me repeat, every BODY is different, so while there will be similarities in experience, it all comes down to what YOUR BODY does.
Now the thing that doesn’t come up when you usually hear the word “CHEMO” is all the associate drugs in addition to the actual cocktail, that help you manage the side effects.
Yup! You get more drugs to minimize the side effects from the other drugs.
In my case, I have two main pills I take at home that are for before and after my infusion. The first, is a steroid called Dexamethasone. It helps stimulate the creation of red blood cells. I take that one the day before. (It also coincidentally is one of the drugs my mother took in the treatment for her Amyloidosis, so more fun memories. In particular, it’s the drug she didn’t tolerate very well which has stressed me out a bit knowing I share her genetics.) The second drug is Zofran which is simply an anti-nausea medication. I take that one after.
So Monday, bright and early, Collin and I rolled into the “Infusion Center” at UCLA Oncology. The space looks like a bunch of Delta One first class cubicles, replete with adjustable lighting and heated blankets. Once we chose our seats, one of the oncology nurses gave me my fully prepared “Chemo-binder”, a personal “Trapper Keeper” if you will, that has a breakdown of my drugs, potential side effects, a space for my labs, as well as information on the UCLA Simms/ Mann Center of Integrative Oncology that offers alternative therapies in support of cancer treatment.
Then we start:
First, my nurse inserts the IV. Thankfully I have really good veins so I do not need to have an implanted port, Then she takes a blood sample. (Before they fill you with poison, they gotta make sure you’re are healthy enough to handle it.)
While I wait for the results of that blood test, I start “pregaming” aka, I get Dexamethasone and Zofran via the IV as well as a couple of Benadryl to ward off any possible allergic reactions. About 15 minutes later, she comes back to tell me that my blood test was “fine” and we are ready for TAXOTERE take off as she attaches the Medicine bag to my IV line. ( Interestingly enough, the line mixes saline with the medicine to dilute it, because it’s easier on the system.)
And because, as I said, every BODY is different, this is what it was like for me:
I can feel the medicine coursing through my veins. There is a brief moment where I feel my chest and throat tighten up, and I wonder if I am going into anaphylactic shock, but it subsides and as it relaxes, my throat and breathe normalize.
Then I simply sit, working on my computer until an hour later the bag has emptied and it is time to put on the second bag of medication. The nurse changes out the empty TAXOTERE bag for a bag of CYTOXAN and I sit for another hour while that goes into my system. With this I feel no specific reaction, and it seems my system has settled into knowing what it needs to do to uptake these drugs.
I sit for another uneventful hour, taking a moment to look around at the other patients. We’re all doing the same thing; reading, internet-ing, sleeping. There’s young and old in here, all races and sexes. Cancer is very evenhanded when you get down to it.
When it’s finally finished, I am given one last parting gift, Neulasta OnPRO , a little injection pod that sticks to my arm like an oversized Apple Watch. This gizmo is self timed to administer medicine approximately 27 hours after my infusion to up my white blood cell count and protect against infection.
Then we are done.
I feel fine.
Actually at the moment, I feel more the fine. I am super energetic because I have steroids raging through me. My husband says I’m talking really loudly, but I also fold the laundry in almost no time.
But I know this won’t last either.
I am told after Chemo you feel GREAT, GREAT, GREAT and then like shit.
So let’s see what the next few days will hold…