CHEMO WEEK 1, Treatment #1:
It was my very first day of chemo. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the waiting room was that no one else had the same amount of stuff as I did. I looked like I was moving into the chemo center. My huge bag was overflowing with “cancer snacks” (fruit gummies, hard candies, nuts, lemon drops, and protein bars), socks, books, Kindle, iPad, and a soft blanket inscribed with my name given to me by my friend Heather the night before at dinner.
Why did everyone else have such small bags?
And then there was my husband, with his very professional video camera with the huge fuzzy microphone on top, and the still camera with flash hanging over his shoulder. My daughter, my son, and his girlfriend were also in tow. We got a lot of stares when we walked into the waiting room.
I think people wondered if we were famous.
I looked around at the other people in the waiting room. The breast cancer women were always visible because they wore a lot of pink, especially pink caps. The men were harder to pick out. Their baldness is a common thing. Being a bald woman is a pretty strong indicator that you have cancer, but for men their only giveaway is a visible chest port. In general, though, everyone looked surprisingly healthy.
It was also an extremely well-dressed crowd. I assumed people would dress comfortably for chemo. I wore track pants, a stretchy t-shirt, a cotton hoodie, and sandals. Most of the other women were much dressier. I felt downright shabby. But then again, not everyone was there for chemo, as the waiting room accommodates patients coming in to see their doctors, just as I had a few short weeks earlier.
Before seeing Dr K for a pelvic exam, I was called back to Fast Track for blood work. They would be accessing my chest port for the very first time, and I was a little nervous about that. It had only been inserted three days prior and the area was still sore and bruised. The nurse sprayed the port with a blast of ice cold Lidocaine, put face masks on both of us to prevent any chance of germs entering the port leading to infection, and inserted the needle. I felt it, but barely, and I’ll take that any day over inserting an IV into my wrist.
Afterwards I saw Dr K for a very quick pelvic exam, and then we were sent back to the waiting room where we waited for about thirty minutes before being called back to our chemo room. By this time I was very nervous.
Finally, we were called back. The chemo rooms at my cancer center are all individual rooms. Each room has a TV, DVD, a recliner, and two chairs for visitors. I settled into the recliner for my very first chemo treatment ever.
Right off the bat there was trouble. The very nice nurse told Michael she didn’t think he could record in the hospital. He explained that he was recording me for personal purposes only. Then my daughter got called out into the hall and I heard whispering. In the meantime, the nurse explained about the drugs she was going to pump into me through the IV port and exactly how chemo worked. She told me getting an IV port was a great decision, and explained how hard chemo is on the veins. Dominique came back into the room and Michael was called out to the hallway.
Great. Michael and that damn camera of his getting us all in trouble.
Eventually, the very nice head of PR came down to tell Michael that videoing in the room was not a problem at all, but I needed to sign a release form. Also, because of HIPAA and confidentiality, he was not allowed to video any of the patients (which we already knew). If we wanted to use any of the video for commercial purposes, that would also not be a problem, but we would have to fill out some paperwork. The hospital staff laughed nervously, explaining how this was all a first for them. They laughed nervously again when Michael took out his iPhone and showed them how anyone could do exactly the same thing he was doing, only without the expensive video camera, and without being hassled about it.
This was my “easy” chemo day, the day I would receive the drug Taxol–which is the drug that will be responsible for making me lose my hair. It was considered an easy day because it would take only a few hours to administer.
Benadryl was given first to counter some of the possible allergic reactions to the drug. I have only taken Bendadryl a few times in the past, in tablet form when my allergies were bad, and each time I felt like a drugged and dopey mess. I generally avoided it at all costs. This time the dose was much higher and it would be going straight into my veins.
The effect of the Benadryl felt like a palpable wave of dopiness, like being dunked in a huge vat of vodka. Within minutes my speech was slurry and I couldn’t finish a sentence without forgetting what I wanted to say. I felt drunk. The nurse told me I might want to just take a nap, but it was impossible because I couldn’t stop moving my legs. I later found out this was “restless leg syndrome,” caused by the Benadryl. My sympathies to anyone who suffers from this affliction. It drove me crazy. All I wanted to do was get up and walk around and make it stop.
After getting some additional saline and steroids, the chemo drug, Taxol, was finally hooked up to the IV tree and administered. The nurse put on her special blue chemo outfit (to protect her from the drug, which could cause, ironically, a higher risk of future cancer for herself) and I was ready to go home an hour later.
All in all, I thought it was pretty tame. I bragged about how “it wasn’t so bad after all” and how much easier it was than I thought it would be. I had heard nothing but horror tales of the difficulties of chemo, and it didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me.
I went home and ate normally that night, and didn’t seem to feel too many effects the next morning when I went back in for my next chemo treatment. This time it would be Cisplatin, administered directly into my peritoneum (abdominal cavity) via my second port, just under my left breast.
And this, my friends, would be an entirely different experience altogether.