A Begrudging Salute to Chemo
CHEMO WEEK 2, Treatment #3:
The first two chemo treatments were really rough. After years of running, and being a naturally outdoorsy type of person, it was so hard to lie around in bed and be sick. By Thursday of the second week, my third chemo treatment and the last one in the first three week cycle, my appetite had returned and I felt good. Just in time to get knocked back down again!
The week after the first two treatments I pretty much lived on white rice, homemade fruit smoothies, Ensure, and cheddar popcorn. I realized quickly that any calories I could tolerate were good calories, no matter how nutritious they were. Nothing sounded more disgusting than vegetables, raw or cooked. The chemo made me so sick I didn’t even want to drink water–which is bad because chemo can damage the kidneys if they are not flushed out enough.
After surgery and the first two chemo treatments, my weight was just south of 110. I was very thin, and I knew I had to eat. And drink.
The “electric” feeling I had after the first two treatments slowly dissipated from my body, and I was even able to meditate a little and do some very easy yoga. The meditation really helped me to calm down when I felt like I was going crazy. Meditation is usually one of the hardest things in the world for me to do, but it really helped.
I had also decided to cut my hair again, even shorter, because I knew its days were numbered.
I was starting to recognize certain people in the cancer center waiting room: the breast cancer woman who always came with the same friend, who rarely looked up from her iPad and looked like she might be a teacher (all teachers have “that look”); the tall, thin man wearing the track suit who moved to another seat away from us the first time I saw him–who this time said hello, talked about being bald, wished he’d cut his hair years ago, talked about how expensive it was for his wife to do her hair, discussed his wife’s friend who had a beauty shop in her house, and how we should go to beauty school and cut hair in our retirement; and another tall, thin man who smiled sadly at me and walked very, very slowly when they called him back to the infusion rooms.
I also met a possible distant relative. The receptionist told me one morning when I checked in that there were two patients with my last name in their computer. Turnage is a fairly uncommon name, and this was unexpected news. As we waited in the lobby, a nurse called out Turnage! from the wrong direction. I stood up, confused–and so did the man sitting next to me. We looked at each other, I asked “Are you a Turnage, too?” and he nodded. We agreed we had to be distantly related when he told me his family could trace their ancestry to two brothers named Turnage who emigrated from Ireland to North Carolina, which is similar to a story I’d heard years ago.
Sometimes you may discover you have more than cancer in common with the people in the cancer waiting room.
It was a very long day. I went into the chemo room at 8:15am and wasn’t done until 5:00pm. My oncologist’s nurse was waiting for me when I got to the chemo room and said that I looked great for someone who had such terrible numbers. Apparently my blood work showed that my potassium and magnesium levels were low and my heart rate and blood pressure were elevated. I knew the IP chemo had been tough, and the numbers agreed.
I was given a 6 hr potassium IV drip in addition to the Taxol IP. My sister stayed with me the entire time and we watched The First 48 Hours on A&E.
Chemo is boring. IV (intravenous) chemo is administered into the port in my chest. I sit in a recliner and let the cancer killing chemicals slowly drip into my veins. IP (intraperitoneal) chemo goes into the port directly into my abdominal cavity, on the same side where the tumor was located. For IP chemo I have to lie in a small bed and turn on my side every twenty minutes. I set the alarm on my phone in case I fall asleep (which is often). In addition to the chemo drugs, a massive amount of fluid is pumped into my abdomen. It’s not painful, but when IP chemo is finished I feel like a big juicy watermelon. And I have to go to the bathroom a lot.
Some of the drugs make me sleepy. I’m actually happy when I nod off because it makes the time go by faster. I rarely watch TV. Sometimes I turn it on just for the distraction, but mostly I just recline or lie in bed and somehow the hours tick away. I always have someone with me, usually my husband and either my daughter, Dominique, or my son’s girlfriend, Nicole, to stay with me and drive me home.
After the third chemo treatment, I thought maybe I could eat some Asian food with rice. My stomach and the chemo drugs gurgling in my belly had other plans. I will spare you the details of dinner and the effects of the IP chemo on my stomach. Maybe Thai food wasn’t such a good idea. Lessons learned . . .
If you’ve stuck with me through these tough past three posts, bless you. I promise it does get better. I don’t generally like to dwell on the hard times, but those who know me know that I don’t like to sugarcoat things. Chemotherapy is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and in honor of all the people through the years who had no choice when they were dealt the cancer card, and were saved by chemo, I’m giving it the respect it deserves.
Chemo, I may hate you, but I salute you nevertheless!
This is Harder Than I Thought It Would Be
CHEMO WEEK 1, Treatment #2:
Back to the cancer center. This time I dressed a little nicer and carried a lighter bag. I was starting to realize what a time consuming thing it was to have cancer.
Today we would be accessing the IP (intra-peritoneal) port under my left breast for the first time to administer Cisplatin, the anti-cancer drug, directly into my abdominal cavity where the tumor had been removed. We would also be accessing the chest port at the same time to administer fluids and anti-nausea medicine.
Whereas yesterday I sat in a recliner, today I was in a bed (which was actually more like a gurney). This was so that when the Cisplatin was administered I could rock back and forth to coat the area where the cancer had been. It sounds more exciting than it really was.
I had been told that today would be a longer day, as in seven to eight hours of chemo. I was pleasantly surprised that I was done in only three.
I had also heard all about the horrible side effects of Cisplatin: abdominal bloating and cramps, nausea, vomiting, and upset stomach. The nurse told me that the nausea usually took a day or two before it showed up.
The nurse took a lot of time to explain everything she was doing, and she gave some great advice about handling the nausea. There were no immediate side effects this time, like there had been with the Benadryl and the restless leg syndrome the day before.
Before we were done, the nurse saw that my CA 125 test results were in from yesterday’s blood work. The CA 125 is “a protein that is a so-called tumor marker or biomarker, which is a substance that is found in greater concentration in tumor cells than in other cells of the body. In particular, CA 125 is present in greater concentration in ovarian cancer cells than in other cells” (courtesy of medicinenet.com).
The night before my surgery my CA 125 was over 450. The current test showed the level was now 37 before I’d even had my first chemo treatment. The nurse was amazed, saying they rarely see numbers that low before the first chemo treatment. The norm is anything below 35, so it was definitely a good number.
As we were leaving the center after chemo, I ran into my oncologist coming from the hospital. She had seen my number, had already called to tell my family physician the good news, and was ecstatic. She actually said that we had a good chance of “curing” my cancer. The word “cure” is not one you hear very often when speaking of cancer. It was the best thing she could have told me.
Jut like yesterday, I felt pretty good after chemo. My daughter, Dominique, and my son’s girlfriend, Nicole, took me to Target and Buffalo Exchange for some shopping. Other than feeling fatigued, I ate a good dinner and thought to myself: maybe it won’t be as bad as everyone keeps saying it will be. I slept well and hoped for the best.
The next morning, Saturday, I woke up and felt a little tired and queasy, but nothing too extreme. By lunchtime I felt nauseous. Really nauseous. And nothing helped. It got progressively worse as the day wore on.
I took the anti-nausea meds the doctor had prescribed (Zofran and Compazine), but really didn’t notice that they helped all that much. The Compazine made me feel woozy and drunk. All I could do was stay in bed and not move. The slightest movement made me feel nauseous.
The entire weekend was a battle. I was too nauseous to eat, but I knew that not eating and having an empty stomach would only make the problem worse. I ate some crackers and tried to drink water. I wasn’t used to being in bed all day, and being so inactive was driving me crazy. On top of that, the Cisplatin made me feel like there was electricity coursing through my body, so trying to stay still was impossible. My friends Liz and Todd came over to see what they could do.
Sunday was even worse. I had constant nausea and felt restless, anxious, and like I had lost all control over what was happening to me. If you’re the type of person, like me, who is very active and doesn’t even like to take an aspirin, having your body pumped full of poison is not an easy thing to go through. I thought I would first go mentally crazy, and then the chemo drugs would kill me off after that.
I ate nothing more than a small amount of white rice, more crackers, and drank water and Gatorade. The nausea was so bad that putting anything in my mouth, even water, made me gag.
Nicole, bless her heart, cooked dinner for the rest of the family. Within ten minutes of starting dinner I had to run to the back of the house to escape the smell. Within another two minutes, when the scent of sauteed garlic and onions wafted into the bedroom, I had to sprint to the bathroom. Once again, my stomach was empty. She felt horrible for not realizing how sensitive I was to strong smells, I felt bad for her for feeling so bad, and we opened all the doors to air out the house.
After dinner we all drove to Liz and Todd’s house. I needed the fresh air and a distraction from feeling like I was going to jump out of my skin. The house was starting to feel like a prison. It was great to see good friends and it took my mind off feeling so horrible. When we left, though, I was so weak and out of it, I almost passed out when I stood up from petting their cat. I literally felt myself falling backwards as Michael caught me from behind. I laughed it off and thought I was just sleepy.
I called my sister the next day and told her I didn’t know if I could do this, that chemo was scary and much harder than I thought it would be. She told me I “just had to do it,” that I didn’t have a choice, and that it was going to save my life. My friend Alex, who is a doctor, called to check up on me and gave some great advice. He told me I was going to have to find something to occupy my mind during chemo.
Trying to concentrate enough to read a book or write something was out of the question. I tried to meditate using some guided meditations I had downloaded onto my computer, which helped some. The thing that really got me through this tough week: watching all five seasons of Breaking Bad. Walter White and Jesse Pinkman might be two bad dudes, but they saved my sanity during this time.
I slept off and on all week, which was a blessing. I felt nauseous, lightheaded, and so tired I could barely walk from the bed to the bathroom without stopping halfway. I told my husband I understood why some people opted out and refused to do chemo, especially if they’d already been through it before.
The extreme nausea lasted until Tuesday, and Wednesday I could eat and drink a little more. The nurse had told me I was going to feel like a truck hit me, and she was right.
I still had one more treatment in this first cycle, another IP of Taxol, on Thursday, the very next day. Wednesday night, however, I mustered up the energy to meet my running group at Alex’s place for pizza afterwards.
Seeing all my friends, even if I couldn’t run, was the best medicine for me. And I had a great excuse for getting out of a hot, sweaty, Texas summer run.