On Wednesday, my first chemotherapy session took place and I was happy to have a friend do the driving and stay with me because I was more apprehensive than I had been going into surgery three months ago.
Part of the reason, I think, as I told you recently, is that I read the stacks of material the chemo staff gave me (a whole binder of information, and enormous Powerpoint deck and a variety of other printed matter) three times while making and organizing notes to myself because there is so much to remember.
[NOTE: Before I go any further, I must remind readers that what I am telling you is my experience and mine alone. If you are facing chemotherapy, your experience will be different for more reasons than I can count. So take this as only a general overview that might or might not be useful to you.]
THE FIRST CHEMO SESSION
In a pleasant room with lots of windows, I was settled into a lounge chair. My first visitor was the RN who numbed the port that was surgically placed in my upper chest about three weeks ago, then drew blood for immediate testing.
Twenty minutes later, he returned with the chemo infusion bags and set me up. I'm lucky, mine takes only about an hour. And what an hour! I had expected to spend the time chatting with Joseph. But nooooo. I have a lot of team members.
After the RN, the nurse practitioner, who will oversee my chemo treatment during the six-month duration, came by. We had a chat about my treatment and then, because he had studied medicine at NYU in New York, we talked about our neighborhood there. He misses it too.
Almost as soon as he left, the social worker showed up. She's concerned about my emotional and mental wellbeing and I did my best to reassure her. But I'm glad she's there just in case.
Then there was the nutritionist whom I already know. We talk a lot because I dislike my extremely limited diet so much I'm always pressing her to allow more and different foods.
My next visitor was the pharmacist who went over my current drugs with me and added three more so I am making a new chart for myself or I'll never keep up.
By then the infusion was finished and I was free to leave.
REACTION TO FIRST CHEMO SESSION
Apprehension had been growing over several days leading up to the first chemo and by the time Joseph arrived to pick me up, I was in a terrible state. But then he showed me the teeshirt he was wearing and I started feeling better right away:
And guess what? He had one for me too.
I can't wear it for chemo treatments because it prevents the nurse from getting to my infusion port, but I wore it when I picked up the new medications and the pharmacist commented. He liked it.
By the time my first chemo was finished, I was in a great mood. It helped to have a friend with me and the attention from all MY team members whom I will see each week is as terrific as my surgical team was in the most important way: they make me feel safe.
Every one of them is knowledgeable, concerned, helpful, caring, warm and patient with me. I will get through this to a large extent because of them.
HOW MY LIFE IS DIFFERENT NOW
As it turns out, the chemo infusion is easy compared to what I must do every day for these next six months - most of it is meant, as much as possible, to help reduce the incidence of the nearly two dozen possible side effects:
⚫ Rinse mouth with baking soda/salt solution four times a day to try to forestall mouth and tongue sores
⚫ Rub a special lotion on feet and hands four times a time to try to forestall hand-and-foot syndrome
⚫ Use only luke warm water for baths, showers, hand-washing dishes (winter is coming, folks; this is hard to face)
⚫ Wash hands constantly (luke warm water) including each time after touching the cat
⚫ Use gloves to clean litter box⚫ Wash fruits and vegetables extra carefully ⚫ Stay away from people with colds, coughs and fevers
There's more but you've got the idea. It's not that any of it is hard to do; it's that it's so time consuming along with the need to be constantly checking the clock and keeping track of the schedule. One thing or another is due to be done about every two hours.
But there is no choice for me. All the anxiety and apprehension before the first infusion was directly related to the side effects I had been reading about and I'll go to almost any length to do what I can to avoid them.
So far, there have been no signs of side effects but chemo effect is cumulative so I doubt I'll get through this scott free.
Eventually there will be side effects. But nobody can say which ones, how severe or if they will happen at all. If I'm lucky and I've been diligent with the prevention measures, maybe it will be light.
The best news is that with all the wonderful OHSU people and Joseph being with me, I won't dread my visits to the chemo unit again. Good thing, since this goes on almost every week until March 2018.