Friday, July 29, 2011
1st Chemotherapy Treatment--The Experience
I awoke to a beautiful, sunny Thursday morning and sort of followed my normal morning routine: make coffee, watch the news, the weather forecast and quickly returned a few emails and Facebook messages. I put away some laundry I had done a couple days prior and straightened up a bit. I wrote in my journal about my upcoming chemo treatment, then shut everything off and meditated for a few minutes. I packed my bag with various medications including the chemo medicine Bleomycin and the all important anti-nausea medication Zofran. I also packed my laptop, some light snacks, and magazines.
I must say, I really didn't have any anxiety about starting treatment. In fact, I wanted to get it started because once I did, I would be that much closer to healing. "Baby" and I left together and talked a bit about the process on the way to the docs office. We have such a great relationship, and relate on so many levels and as best friends which makes all the difference in the world.
Once we arrived at the doctor's office, I was greeted by the nurse and front desk staff and shortly thereafter, called to the small lab to have my blood drawn. Monitoring my blood counts (especially my white blood count) while getting chemo is of the utmost importance. If my white count drops too low, it can leave me susceptible to infections which will only complicate things. The lab technician complimented me on my "new look", and I told her, I prefer it this way. I really have grown to like having a shaved head. It's funny because I remember the process of coming to a decision to shave my beloved locs off and how painstaking that was. Now that I had crossed that hurdle, that seemed like small beans in comparison to the next step--beginning chemotherapy.
After the bloodbwork, I was ushered into the doctor's office for an examination. All seemed well on the surface and he told me that though I was a little anemic, my white blood count was holding up ok. Next thing I knew, the nurse was bringing me into the infusion room and I sort of panicked a little. Suddenly, things were moving a little too quickly. Added to that there was another older woman woman already in the room getting infused with chemotherapy. I got dizzy for a moment, and the nurse gave me some water and assured me that everything would be ok. The Nurse introduced me to the woman being infused as Joanne (not her real name here) and began accessing my port and infusing me with IV Zofran, an anti-nausea medication. She stepped away and left Joanne and I to ourselves and IV machines pumping medications into our ports.
Joanne was a nice looking and friendly caucasian woman in her late 50's. She could tell this was all new me. She sat in her chair like a veteran to this disease but she seemed bathed in a protective light, and comfortable with the process. We exchanged diagnosis stories, symptoms, treatments, etc. Johanne shared with me that she had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2009. She was in remission for all of 2010 but in january of this year her lymphoma came back and she had to start chemotherapy all over again. I felt sad for her, but also a sense of pride for how she was taking everything in stride. She really seemed calm and was looking forward for her treatment to be over to go home and see her husband and grandkids.
About half hour later, the nurse came into the room and gave me more IV anti-nausea medication. This time it was Ativan. Halfway through this treatment I began to feel high and joked with the nurse that "this isn't such a bad feeling. Can I have more?" We all laughed and suddenly I had a feeling that everything would be ok. After the Ativan was done she hung a large bag of normal saline and began pushing the first chemo medication (Adriamycin) through the IV at a slow rate. Then the second, the Bleomycin that I had photographed and brought in with me. The medications are given in intervals so they can pinpoint which ones are making me have reactions.
At that point, the nurse announced that my dad was here. It's so good to have a father so present and so loving in my life. I felt blessed to have so much love and care around me. My dad had a suitcase with him (no joke) loaded with Haitian patties (pate), fresh fruits, water, juices and various other snacks. The nurse had me change rooms to a larger infusion room to accommodate my dad and baby. I bid farewell to Joanne. We wished each other luck and I wondered if I would see her again, or even if seeing her again would be a good thing given the circumstances.
In a larger infusion room, everything seemed to go well. Baby brought the Phantom of the Opera movie DVD (I love the broadway show and movie) that I watched on the laptop while my dad did crossword puzzles. The nurse came in at regular intervals to infuse me with more chemotherapy and saline solutions. Everything was going well. I was thinking to myself, "wow, I can really handle this." The last IV solution I got was Zofran, the anti-nausea medication. Halfway through this bag of medication I started to convulse and shake uncontrollably with severe chills. We called for the nurse who ran in and applied three heavy blankets on me. My teeth were chattering so bad I thought they would break. My leg muscles became so sore from tightening because of the chills and I was short of breath. In my mind, I knew what was going on, but I was caught off guard by this reaction which lasted for about fifteen to twenty minutes. Baby and my dad rubbed my legs in an effort to keep me warm by friction in addition to the three blankets that were put on me. The nurse gave me Tylenol and explained to my concerned loved ones that this was a common reaction, most likely from the Bleomycin, the chemo medication that I had photographed, and that it should subside in some time. That was all well and good to her, but it wasn't a good experience for me!
As the chills began to subside, my partner and I were able to create the scenario for what was going during the time the chills were going on: My body is the battlefield and the chemo drugs were armed soldiers going in and searching for and attacking the cancer cells. They were in a fierce fight in my body. The cancer cells were caught off guard by these troops entering the battlefield for the first time. The first stage of war was happening and my body shaking and convulsing was as a result of all the bombs exploding at the cancer cells. Made perfect sense to me!
Finally my treatment was over, the chills were gone. I was left with extreme fatigue, so much so I couldn't talk or move much. I did experience unpleasant GI side-effects, nausea and fever in the evening, but was able to have a light dinner and went to bed early. Today, after a good night sleep I feel MUCH better, though still tired, but I believe I can do this. I will continue to fight and do what I have to do to get though this. I am on the road to healing. My next chemo treatment is in two weeks. Thanks again for all of you joining me me on this journey and for your support and good wishes along the way. It definitely helps!