I was dreading, dreading, dreading today: The First Chemo Threatment.
Tonight, I feel like I was making a big fuss over nothing.
Harold, my chemo buddy for the day, and I showed up at the West Michigan Cancer Center around 8:30. They started by taking my blood to make sure that I wasn’t anemic and that my kidney function was fine. From there, Harold and I went to the chemo lounge, which has a couple dozen lounge chairs and lots of IV equipment. I was paired with a nurse named Wendy. who spent the first hour or so explaining things and having me sign various consent forms.
The worst part was connecting the IV lines to the port installed near my left collarbone last week. Putting in the IV felt like a big thumbtack getting stuck into my chest. (The port is completely under the skin, but eliminates the need for searching for veins every treatment. And I have bad veins for poking.)
Once the lines were in place, Wendy first gave me a cocktail of anti-nausea drugs and a mild sedative. About 15 minutes later, she started the actual chemo drugs — Eloxatin, which is the drug that can cause neuropathy, and Leucovoran, which is folic acid along with some other minerials and vitamins.
That infusion lasted for two hours. Harold brought me a delicious sandwich from the gourmet deli across the street. I read the New York Times and a book on the Enron scandal. I got a free hand massage. I dozed off for about a half hour in my comfy Barcolounger. Honestly, an airline flight in the coach section is far more traumatic than an afternoon in the chemo lounge.
After the two hours of infusing chemo drugs came the final stage, this one involving the main drug, Fluorouracil, or 5FU. I got a shot of that through the IV lines and then I was attached to a pump that I’ll have to wear around my waist for the next 48 hours, with a IV line running under my sweatshirt up to my port.
I thought the port would be the size of a beeper that I could clip to my waist. In my dreams. It’s actually inches by four inches by two inches, and I carry it in a fanny pack around my waist. It’s not heavy, but it’s not subtle either. (Kat took one look at the setup and said that she’d risk cancer before wearing a pump with IV lines hooked to her chest. Sarah said, more sympathetically, that fanny packs are so out that they’re coming back in. But added that there are definitely cuter fanny packs to be had than the one I’m wearing.)
The pump is definitely a pain — sponge baths only until it comes off Thursday — and I need to figure out a way to sleep with it. By my side? On my nightstand? We’ll see.
But so far, the pump seems to be the biggest annoyance. As of right now, the side effects are minimal. Food tastes different — a little more bitter, a little more flat. My jaw feels a tad stiff (part of the neuropathy syndrome). But no tingling in the hands or feet; no cold sensitivity that I’ve detected yet, (although I haven’t stuck my hand in the freezer or downed ice cream); no nausea or fatigue.
When I got home, I walked the dog, making sure to dress warmly, and I was fine. I also made a fairly elaborate dinner (ham, escalloped sweet potatoes, collard greens) without a problem.
Tomorrow I go back for another three-hour infusion, and on Thursday, there’s a short visit to remove the pump.
So far, these seems totally doable, a piece of cake. But I’m fully aware is the first day of a three-day treatment, and the start of the first treatment of 12 over the next six months. It is utterly and completely possible that I will feel much crappier in a few hours, a few days, a few weeks or a few months. (I’m told that the cumulative impact of the drugs means the end of chemo feels much worse than the beginning.)
But I’m viewing today as a good omen. I’m trying to do the few things that will boost the effectiveness of the drugs and lessen the side effects — walking four miles a day on a treadmill (I’m heading out to the Y after I finish this post), eating fruits and veggies instead of junk, taking a protein supplement (glutamine) recommended by the doctors.
So far so good.