My First Chemo Treatment

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.

chemo port

My port is all ready for it’s first dose of chemo.

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.

blanket

Showing off Heather’s snuggly monogrammed blanket.

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.

chemo

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.

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72 comments

  1. Lyle Krahn

    It’s good this day wasn’t so bad but I don’t like the sound of that last sentence. By the way, your husband makes an excellent point about the iPhone recording capability. The world moves too fast for institutions.

    • Mind Margins

      Yeah, stay tuned for day two. Very true what you say about institutions. He sometimes gets a lot of unnecessary flack from people when he takes photos or videos in public because of his expensive, very noticeable equipment. Meanwhile, everyone else is using their iPhones to video all kinds of things under the radar, it’s just no one sees them!

  2. Michelle

    I want to know everything, but these are hard to read. Not necessarily what you’re saying, really, but I just want to cry when I even see the post pop up in my email. I hate that my friend has/had to deal with this. I’m glad you’re feeling well enough at this point to be writing about it again, though. I’m glad you had so much family there that first time. And I’m like you, I would have packed the kitchen sink. Be prepared!

    On a side note, I get that restless leg thing sometimes, especially when I’m tired. It’s like my “time to go to bed” cue. It’s worse when I’m sitting and eases when I lie down, even if I don’t sleep. The worst ever was when I was traveling and wanted to sleep, but the legs would not let me! It’s almost painful, or like electrical shocks or something.

    • Mind Margins

      Oh, Michelle, chemo is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. I don’t want to bum anyone out, I just want to tell what the experience is like. Just remember that no matter how tough it is to read, it’s tough for a reason–and it’s doing its job. Hopefully, once this is all over, it will NEVER come back. That’s the plan, at least! Thank you so much for hanging in there with me. You’re such a good friend!

      • Michelle

        I’m just sad you had to do it. I think about you all the time and really I’m so glad to hear from you. But I’m glad you’re telling it too. I think for people like us that’s therapeutic. And it’s certainly educational – I’ve often thought since this happened how I need to pay attention to my body and treat it well. And do whatever screenings are available, though I know there isn’t one for this. I hope yours never comes back!! You’re right, it’s tough medicine for a reason.

  3. Richard

    Hello Angela, this was a good read on your 1st chemo treatment. You and your family are innovating the scenes of oncology treatment centers for patients and staff, continue documenting . Also I am sure you are the envy the other patients of having so many family members with you.

    • Mind Margins

      Thank you, Richard. We do tend to take our pack with us wherever we travel! My family–and friends–have been amazing. This all would be MUCH more difficult without everyone’s support and good thoughts and prayers.

  4. seetinarun

    I am glad to read that round 1 went well. I am dreading the report for round 2, but as you point out above, you are still here. Still, so sorry that you must go through this. God Bless.

    • Mind Margins

      The next report is actually for the second part of round 1. There were three parts to the first round (and second round as well), which made it triply tough. Round three was much better–but we’ll get to that later! Thanks for checking in on me!

  5. monica

    I was so happy to see you pop up on my blog sidebar today! I had been worried about you since we hadn’t heard from you in a while. I hoped you were just in chemo recovery and relieved to see you were/are. although the posts are hard to read (just because it’s so real), I am so thankful for 1. – you being well enough to write about your experience, and 2. – this incredible insight into what cancer/chemo can be like for a fellow human being. it has opened (and continues to open) my eyes. prayers to you, my blogosphere friend – may your journey toward a healthy body continue.

    • Mind Margins

      Thanks, Monica! I am woefully behind on reading your (and others’) blog posts. Chemo brain is a real thing, and it’s been cutting into my reading and writing something terrible. I hope by writing about what I’m going through it helps someone else out there who may be going through something similar, now or in the future.

  6. runningtoherdreams

    I am so happy to see an update! I have been thinking and praying for you and wondered how things were going. I am glad the first time when okay, I would look like I am “moving in” too, there is something about having the comforts of home close that makes things a little more bearable. Beautiful blanket by the way, it looks so nice and cozy! I will continue to send positive thoughts and you and yours are in my prayers. 🙂

    • Mind Margins

      Thanks for the thoughts and prayers. They are always appreciated! I actually had to thin out the cancer bag on a subsequent trip when it was so heavy one of the straps broke. I really didn’t use half the stuff in there anyway!

  7. Our Life In 3D

    I’ve been wondering about you a lot lately, since your last post and zipping over to see if there is anything new. My big day is approaching and while I have largely ignored it all summer it does get me anxious and feeling like a wimp; especially when I read what your process has been like. Comparatively speaking my procedure is closer to getting wisdom teeth out than a cancer treatment. I continue to wish you the best recovery, better than expected results in your treatments, and hope that being a runner counts for something in this game. Thanks for sharing

    • Mind Margins

      Any procedure that’s done is worthy of anxiety and “feeling like a wimp.” Yours is no different, I’m sure. Health issues can be scary. I can honestly say, however, for me, that surgery was a walk in the park compared to chemo. Being a runner definitely helps, but I’m so out of shape now it’s going to be tough coming back from this. I’ll be starting back at zero once I jump back into running, but that’s okay. There’s no hurry.

  8. riverlaketrail

    I just went to your blog the other day, wondering if you were okay. I was afraid that chemo was so bad that…well, I guess it was. Great to hear from you!

    • Mind Margins

      Ha! It’s worse than I ever imagined! I’m still standing (most days, at least) and am looking forward to being done with all this. Thanks for checking on me.

    • Mind Margins

      Thanks so much for checking in. Seeing how my children especially have rallied together and stepped up to help so much during surgery and chemo has been great to see. I am very lucky indeed.

  9. iRuniBreathe

    Ah, so good to hear from you! I think people talk about how horrible and hard chemo is — because it is! I think no one talks about the ‘easy’ chemo days because you also have to get through the hard ones. It sounds like you are supported and being well cared for. I’m glad for this. You are on my mind, and I take you with me when I go running. Big hugs.

    • Mind Margins

      Chemo is just as bad, if not worse, than you always hear it is. It’s certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. And saying you take me with you when you go running is probably the best thing anyone’s said to me since this ordeal began! I love that sentiment. On my really good days, like today, when I feel almost like my “normal” self again, I realize just how much I miss running. I’m looking forward to cyber running with you again! I’m terribly behind in reading your blog, and all others for that matter, so please bear with me while I eventually get caught up again.

      • iRuniBreathe

        Don’t worry about getting caught up on my blog. I appreciate your comments and thoughts but also realize you are pretty busy these days being healthy. My blog is not going anywhere — this can wait.
        I like the idea of you running with me — it puts a smile on my face and such joy on my feet.

  10. Ricky Richardson

    Angela, hang in there. We are sending prayers your way as fast as possible. you are a fighter and soon it will be in the past. God bless you and your family and keep us informed of your progress. Love you. Ricky

  11. Deanna Middleton

    Hi Angela,
    Hope it helps to know you are in the thoughts and prayers of many, especially between your updates. I have much experience of chemo over the years from being there for close family members..very difficult for the patient and for their loved ones. Thanks again for sharing your story…you are an inspiring lady, and you will make it through this challenging time. Only the best to you and your family.

    • Mind Margins

      Thank you, Deanna. We often forget how difficult this can be for the families and caregivers. I can’t imagine what it’s like for everyone else on those days when I feel horrible and can barely get out of bed. Everyone around me feels so helpless, which makes me feel so sad for them. This certain affects everyone.

  12. Grace @ Cultural Life

    I smiled at your description of the amount of stuff you took with you. My mother also had bags of stuff which accumulated when she was in hospital. A few hours after she had her liver transplant surgery, the hospital actually rang me to ask me to come sort out her stuff because they had to put it in their storeroom while she was down in theater and it was taking up too much space. She had not one but two suitcases (albeit small ones) and about three big bags filled with healthy food, blankets, pillows, (she hated the feel of the hospital sheets and blankets), books, her iPod, aromatherapy spray….. I don’t think the nurses had ever had a patient quite like her. LOL!

    I’m glad to read this update from you. All the best.

    • Mind Margins

      Ha! Your mom and I would get along great! You should see me when we go on camping trips up north in the summer. I guess I took to heart all those years in the Girl Scouts and the motto “be prepared.”

  13. getgoing-getrunning

    Great to see you back Angela! I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say we’ve missed your writing. It amazes and inspires me to see how you are carrying yourself through this whole episode in your life! All the best for the rest of your treatment and your recovery.

    • Mind Margins

      Thanks, and I’ve missed staying up to date on your blog. I’m woefully behind on my reading, but I will eventually get caught up. Glad to see you’re still running, and I dream about having some of your weather when it’s still in the 100’s here.

  14. Devadatta

    Satnam dear Angela: I always remember your wide smile on the first meditation you took with me. I can see that you haven’t loose it. That is very good. Reading your experience, and the way that you situated yourself in it show us that you don’t only have it on your face.
    Your smile; my friend is in that big golden aura you carry around you brightening the life of others.
    Thank you.
    Devadatta
    franciscocasabal.com

    • Mind Margins

      I’ve missed you, Francisco! I will definitely see you tomorrow for meditation. You certainly have a gift, and draw many people to you with your inner peace and beauty. Everyone who comes to you leaves a changed person. Looking forward to seeing you again.

  15. MikeW

    So good to see your clear writing here again. It is an experience no one who has not been through is likely to fully understand. Still, your essays help us have a way to approach. I remember when my father in law, a wonderful father, and a true friend to many people went through chemotherapy for a rare cancer, and how the only way many people could interact with his experience was to have something helpful to do. Some could just sit by with love. Some volunteered at the center. I think everyone prayed. Here’s to your full recovery, and prayers included for the long run! The long run is something you understand. Along the way, I’ll take a cue from your view of chemo as the hardest thing ever — aimed at taking care of business:

    Prayers and warm regards from here!

  16. kardarc

    Thank you for sharing Angela! You are setting an example, whether you want to or not, and whether you know it or not!

    • Mind Margins

      Thank you, Kurt. I hope putting this out there helps someone, even if only in some small way. It can be scary having to go through something like this, so breaking the silence on what it’s like might make it easier for someone else.

    • Mind Margins

      Some days I save most of my humor for these posts. It’s not always easy to stay upbeat, especially the further I get into this. Just knowing there’s an end in sight, and that I have so much support from all of you, helps me so much.

  17. pwhent

    I am liking the sound of day one but liking the sound of what is to come a lot less. Most of all I love your humour and courage . Positive thoughts and prayers continue unabated.

  18. Rebecca Latson Photography

    I’m glad you have such a great support system in your family. Alot of what I am reading here reminds me of the day I accompanied a friend for her chemo treatment. I wish you the best of luck and speedy healing.

  19. Irish Katie

    Hey you.

    I am glad to see a blog of yours. (This is my first day back here in a long time…my last round…last Thurs/Fri took me out a whole lot…it is now Thursday night a week later and I am finally starting to have the nausea abate…stupid IP….)

    And … your first treatment was only a few hours? *whaps you* … but with love. *smiles*

    We are almost done ok. Hang tough. YOU FREAKING KEEP FIGHTING.

    I may post something soon … not sure….I am so tired these days. But we WILL fight and WIN.

    Do I owe you an email? I am so fuzzy brained, chemo brain …. ack… I have not been keeping up…

    Oh … what week is this? You have one more free week?

    (I am so sorry I am not making sense.)

    • Mind Margins

      You make perfect sense to me, Katie, because I know exactly what you’re going through! The IP chemo now takes me at least a full week to recover from. It is so tough. I’m glad to hear you’re finally coming out of it and will be able to eat soon. I one more week until the next IV treatment. This is the first week I’ve felt halfway “normal” since the end of May. I even did yoga yesterday. Woo hoo!

      You stay strong, dear Katie. We will both continue to fight and kick chemo and cancer to the curb. My thoughts are always with you!

  20. Clay Pleasant

    Hi Angela, you may or may not know that I work in Short Term Disability insurance and I do get quite a few claimants who are on an off work dealing with cancer treatment, including chemo. I thank you so much for these blogs, they give me another angle on what you all have to go through. I will continue to keep you in my prayers as well… Love ya!

    • Mind Margins

      Clay, I had no idea what line of work you were in. I’m happy to be able to give you a new perspective on what we go through on the other side. I can’t imagine trying to work through all this either. Thanks for your prayers–they keep me going! And think of me when you’re marching your group of one of your hills. I do miss running, even the hills (but I don’t miss the summer heat)!

      • MikeW

        We’re working at it too. Too sheepish to tell you that I followed that vaccinia drug trial series from Jennerex and it just suffered a setback in a 2nd trial. Perhaps the cause will be found out, and corrected for. Here’s to Lemon Drops and healthy fish in the Pacific after the Cesium half-life expires! And to total recovery!

  21. Beverly

    I had Taxol/Carboplatin but both in the same port on the same day. Did they have to rock you back and forth with the Cisplatin treatment? I also had a bad reaction to the shot to boost my white blood count. Major bone pain. I felt like I was in a car accident after every shot. That lasted about 5 days. Of all the women I talked to that’s had chemo, no one had the reaction to Neulasta like I did. My oncologist was able to effectively manage the other chemo side effects. I know what you mean about restless legs from the Benedryl. It is frustrating to try to relax and have jittery legs. I asked them to give me a sedative to calm down my legs. That worked. It made me smile when you said you walked in with tons of stuff. I always brought my own pillow and blanket and had many friends sit with me. If I have to sit there for five hours I wanted to be comfortable. Ahhhh yes, chemo brain. It’s very real but I’m hear to say it goes away. Glad to hear that this part of the treatment went well. I know all too well that i gets harder. I do believe that you are still benefiting from your running even tho it seems a lifetime ago since you were able to run like you want. AND, glad to see you back online and blogging. Anxious to hear how the treatments are going. Keep on
    bitch-slapping that chemo!!!!

    • Mind Margins

      I also had Taxol/Carboplatin in the same port on the same day. Yes, I have to rock the Cisplatin back and forth. The only side effect I had from Neulasta was some chest pain, but it was minimal. The second time I had Neulasta I felt zero effects. I had other women tell me I would have the same bone pain you speak of, but I had nothing. We are still trying to get the nausea under control. The Cisplatin affects me the most and I can barely eat or drink anything for an entire week. I will have it again for my last two cycles and I dread it.

      • Beverly

        For me, the Neulasta was worse than chemo. I was in so much pain. One day I’m a healthy, fit person. The next day, I can’t walk across the room let alone stand up. I wondered what the hell I did to my body. And, really, this was supposed to make me better how?? I was told that Taxol can contribute to bone pain, too. They gave me Zofran and Emend for nausea. Took the Emend for three days after treatment then switched over to Zofran. The pharmacist didn’t recommend Emend saying that it was too toxic. But, it worked better than Zofran for me and I only took it for a short time after each treatment. Thankfully, I never got sick or even nauseous. I tried to stay on top of the nausea. I actually set my alarm to wake up during the night and take the meds so I didn’t let any time lapse between doses. Chemo is bad enough without being nauseous and sick for days on end. You need to be able to eat and keep up your strength. I feel for you.

      • Mind Margins

        Emend is the only medicine that makes the nausea bearable, but once it wears off the nausea comes right back. Zofran helps some, but not much. Compazine makes me feel horrible and hungover, so I stopped taking it. I also set the alarm in the middle of the night to take the Zofran. Even when I do manage to keep the nausea at a tolerable level, I have ZERO appetite and have to force myself to eat. I eat so little that it just wipes me out. Thankfully, I am halfway done withe chemo, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel!

  22. susielindau

    I just came from Michelle’s blog.
    I had a double mastectomy in May and reconstruction two weeks ago. I got lucky and didn’t have to go through chemo or radiation. I thank God every day for that. I’ve been writing the Boob Report since I found an usual and humorous way to look at cancer.
    None of this cancer stuff is fun, but it will soon be over and you can go back to your life. It will be a little bit altered. Cancer has a way of polarizing friendships. The sun will seem a little brighter and there will be an appreciation for the small gifts in life like no other time. I take every opportunity to spend time with my friends and family.
    I’ll say some prayers for you! They truly work.

    • Mind Margins

      Thanks for visiting, Susie! I will definitely check out your Boob Report. I’ve had quite a few friends with breast cancer. I used to teach and one year we had four women in the building battling breast cancer. I have a close friend who went through chemo, radiation, and reconstructive surgery. Thank you for telling me that this will all be over one day and that life goes on. I can’t wait! I think you have to keep your sense of humor when going through something like this. Thank you so much for your prayers!

  23. Beverly

    How are you feeling about doing the upcoming NOCC walk? The Illinois chapter has worked with many of the building managements in Chicago. For the month of September, the Chicago skyline is lit up in teal again this year! What great strides they are making getting the word out with their ‘Why Teal?’ campaign. I am so overwhelmed with emotion. It is heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time. This disease has taken too many lives.

    • Mind Margins

      I feel great about it and can’t wait! It will be more than a week after my next chemo and I should be feeling pretty good. That is fantastic what Chicago is doing with the skyline. I think doing the walk will be an emotional experience for me. It will be strengthening to be amongst over women who have gone through the same experience and survived.

      • Beverly

        That will be perfect timing for the walk. When they take the survivor photo, I’m always fighting back the tears. Just seeing the faces of the survivors and supporters and knowing how OC has affected their lives really gets to me. We are blessed.

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