Thursday, January 15, 2015

So You're Going Through Chemotherapy

That's what I envision one of those cheesy brochures would say. Many years ago I was actually handed a brochure that read "So You've Got Mono" therefore I know they really exist! Here's another one, a favorite of mine from The Simpsons:
Gratuitous Simpsons Reference

Anyway, my next chemo treatment is this coming Monday. That's the bad news. The good news is that once it's over I'll be 75% done with chemo! Yay!

Many people have been asking me lately, "what's it like?" Specifically, what happens during a treatment, and what are the side effects afterwards? Here's what my experience is like:

My oncologist's practice has an entire floor of a medical office building here in Crystal Lake (so I'm not traveling far or going to a hospital). I meet with my doctor and his nurses briefly, they go through all the medications I'm taking to make sure everything is OK, I whine and bitch for a few minutes, they listen sympathetically, and then it's off to the other side of the floor where the treatment takes place.

Some of you may remember this picture from a recent Facebook post of Bryce's:

That's basically what goes on for an infusion. This side of the floor contains pods of recliners arranged around TVs, and you can sit wherever you like, with your IV hooked up to you. I do not have a port (a little device implanted under the skin that directs medicine into your bloodstream, for those of you in my age group who aren't familiar with this awesome stuff), so I have an IV directly in my arm the whole time (it doesn't hurt very much). They take a blood sample before starting the IV. This is done to check that your white blood cell count isn't dangerously low before they kick the crap out of it with the chemo.

I'm there for about four hours total, which may sound like a lot but it's actually short in comparison to chemotherapy treatments for other types of cancers. For example, my father's treatments for mouth cancer were about twice that amount of time. Close to two hours is taken up with administering pre-meds: saline for hydration, anti-nausea meds, and a steroid that prevents an allergic reaction to one of my actual chemo drugs. Then, they administer two types of chemo (I won't bore you with the unpronouncable names, but these are just two of the many chemotherapy drugs used in breast cancer treatment).

During the entire treatment, Bryce and I sit there with either the iPad or a laptop, our headphones, and we binge-watch some TV. The place has been crowded both times I've been there (cancer is popular these days, I suppose), and I am always by far the youngest person. As such, I find my fellow patients often staring at me, which is unnerving and annoying although I understand why they do it. I know they're thinking "Oh my, such a young woman! So sad!" And yeah, it is sad, but stares only remind me how bullshit unfair odd it is for me to be there. I've said it before, being pitied by the elderly is one of the cruelest aspects of this situation. So I don't talk with anyone besides the nurses, and after I get one bag of each chemo, I'm done!

So what's it like afterwards? Kinda like being sick with the flu or a viral infection. I'm foggy, to the point that I can't focus to read a magazine. I can handle the 140 characters of tweets and that's about it. Fatigue sets in immediately, but it's hard to sleep. Nausea comes within the next day but I have methods for dealing with it. Fortunately I've kept down all foods after both prior treatments, and I haven't lost weight. The day after chemo, I go back to the office for a shot that increases my white blood cells. That's all fine and good, especially since I have kids at home, but the downside is that it causes soreness and bone pain, which set in about a day after the shot.

All this crescendos until about the 72-hour mark, when it becomes the worst. The most mundane tasks—sitting up, getting a glass of water, walking to the bathroom—seem insurmountable. I pretty much don't leave the couch for four days, although I do try to stretch when possible because that helps with the bone pain. Then, by the end of the week the fog starts to lift and the other side effects (bad taste, stomach problems) recede a little, the nausea comes in waves but not as frequently or strongly, and by the end of the weekend I'm feeling sort of back to normal.

This is what I'm gearing up for next week (sounds fun don't it?!?!). We have a cadre of wonderful family members and friends who are on tap to get the kids to their activities while I'm recovering, and most importantly, after Monday I'll only have one more!!

::soothing commercial voice:: For more information about my chemo, or if you have questions, leave a comment or text me!


Rose said...

All I can say is, no, it isn't fair! Glad the end of chemo is getting closer for you.

jen said...

Rose, thanks for letting us know how you're doing. No one can kick cancer in the ass better than you can! Thinking of you -

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