Saturday, January 31, 2015

Chemotherapy 1

A Saga of My Cancer Treatment

       On a happy note, the nurse who was administering the chemotherapy asked me what I had done for a living and I said I was a retired librarian.  She said, "I might have guessed a teacher, because you're so well organized!"  And I said, "But since I've been retired, I've become an writer!"  "Oh, what do you write?"  "Science fiction.  I'm an independent author and I've published eight books.  Here's one of my cards."  "Oh, wow.  Maybe we could read one of your books at my book club."  "That would be great!  They're available at Amazon as both ebooks and paperback."  "Nook?"  "Oh, yeah, Barnes & Noble, too!"  And away the nurse goes to do her work.
       Probably she immediately forgot all about the exchange and when she pulls the card out of her pocket tonight, she'll say, "Where'd I get this?" and throw it in the trash.  Sigh.  But one can always hope!

       Some background:  In response to a sudden appearance of post-menopausal bleeding (should you ever get that 21 years after menopause, don't delay in visiting your gynecologist) I had a D & C and was diagnosed with a form of endometrial cancer designated as serous papillary, which is a more aggressive form than ordinary endometrial.  Wouldn't you know?  I was referred to the local GYN Oncology Group (two surgical oncologists) and after a CT scan and other tests showed no evidence that the cancer had spread, I had a hysterectomy on Dec. 18.  They used the DaVinci robot -- only got a brief glimpse of it before the anesthetic kicked in, but that's pretty cool.  I ended up with a horizontal incision and five little slits midway up the abdomen where lymphs nodes were removed.  I was absolutely miserable for three weeks, but finally I started feeling halfway normal and then pretty normal again.  So it was time for chemotherapy -- they don't want you to feel good for very long!
       First I had to have one more surgery, however - to implant an IV port beneath the left shoulder blade.  It's semipermanent -- the doctor said they leave it in two years in case you need more chemo later.  It goes into the subclavian vein and thence into the superior vena cava.  This is so the chemicals can get into a vein with fast blood flow so they won't sit in one place and irritate the vein.  They can also draw blood from that port.  The port has a diaphragm under the skin through which a needle can be inserted.  They use a topical deadening again so you don't feel the needle going in.  You might think this port would be uncomfortable, for example, when you lie on that side, but you know, it doesn't bother me a bit.  I can feel it under the skin and of course I have a two-inch incision.  But honestly it isn't so bad.
       The good thing is, there was no evidence that any cancer had spread to the lymph nodes.  However, chemotherapy is recommended because of the aggressive nature of this form of cancer.  There could be some wandering cells.  I have to have three to six sessions, depending on how well I do, spaced three weeks apart.  And so yesterday I had my first treatment.
       They scare you to death, you know, with descriptions of all the horrible side effects.  The truth is, there is no way to know how any given individual will be affected.  The doctor said he had a 93-year-old woman with ovarian cancer who was tolerating the chemo fine, while a woman in her mid thirties was not doing well at all.  So I was nervous about the whole thing, but I certainly want to kill off anything that may have escaped.  They monitor it by blood tests, particularly the CA-125, which shows a certain antigen that is shed from the surface of cancer cells (if I understand it correctly).  Mine is elevated now.  They'll test for it two weeks after each chemo session and it should begin to go down.

       They sent me to the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, which is located conveniently in an adjunct pavilion at the same hospital where I had the surgery and where the oncology group has their offices.  The session was supposed to last 6 hours, and I had to get there early to fill out paperwork, which they had neglected to mail to me.  It turned out that I only had to fill out part of it because "we didn't realize that you were being treated by the oncology group [well, didn't they do the referral] so we have all the data from them."  Duh.  Anyway, you get assigned a different doctor at the Cancer Center, a medical oncologist, who sort of monitors what happens to you over there. 
       You are allowed to eat before and during the administration of the chemo, but you have to bring your own lunch!  (They do have a refrigerator for storing perishables.)  The doctor said they see a hundred patients a day and they can't really afford to feed them all.  I guess I can understand that.  You know, I hadn't fully realized how many people in our society have cancer.  At 8:00 AM the waiting room was crawling with people!
       I had watched a YouTube video on how they access the port and it led me to believe that the chemo was administered in a private room or cubicle.  So I was floored when the nurse led me into this gigantic room like a dormitory, crammed with recliners and nurses' stations and nurses and patients and noise!  I was given a chair and assigned a nurse who was really nice (the same one who asked about my writing) and we got started.  I got two pillows, one under my knees and one behind my head, and a nice warm blanket, and a chair on which to place all the junk I had brought with me (home away from home, you know).  I brought a pair of woolly house slippers (next time I think I'll just wear them from home).  Heck, I think you should go in your PJs, but maybe that's stretching it a little bit!
       I recommend that anybody going for one of these sessions wear a buttoned shirt.  The nurse agreed.  In the video that I watched, the girl had a t-shirt, which she had to pull down and hold while they inserted the needle.
       Anyway, they give you a whole mix of of medications, included a whopping dose of Benedryl.  The nurse said, that's to minimize allergic reactions, but the effect is to make the patient really groggy and sleepy.  I brought some reading material, but most of the time I just dozed or stared into space.  They give you Zofran intravenously, which is to combat nausea.  They give you a steroid.  And then they start the chemo.  I'm having Taxol and Carboplatin.  The nurse said it's a standard combination.  The Taxol took three hours to administer, but the Carboplatin took only 40 minutes.  I ate my snack (banana and yogurt) and my lunch (canned chicken with bread and butter, cottage cheese with tomato cut up in it, and three canned apricot halves), but I was finished with the treatment by 1:30, so it didn't take the whole six hours. 
       I had no reaction to anything.  The nurse said the steroid might make me feel tingly in my extremities, etc., but I felt nothing.  (Maybe I'm not alive!)  After I got home, however, I was really tired, and I also felt first cold even though the day was warm, and then after I went to bed at eight, I got to sweating.  My stomach hurt a little, too.  The upshot was, I didn't sleep very well last night, even though I took my ibuprofen PM (I take that primarily because of my arthritis).  I've been sleeping really well lately.
       Outside of that, I've had no reaction yet at all.  I'm taking Zofran in tablet form twice a day, and it must be working, because I don't have even trace of nausea and I'm really hungry.  I felt much worse in that regard right after the surgery.  I had been planning to have chicken soup and crackers for supper, but when I got home, I thought, I want something solid and substantial, so I cooked a piece of Foster Farms Crispy Strips chicken in the toaster oven along with about 10 (mostly small) french fries, slathered it all with ketchup, and ate it up!  I'm quite certain that is not something they would recommend as a meal following chemo!
       I feel completely normal today.  However, they say that it takes a few days for the reactions to kick in, so ... we'll just wait and see.  I keep pulling on my hair, but it's still firmly attached.  It's not supposed to start falling out for a couple of weeks.  Oh, yes, one other thing: the nurse said they had a bunch of free hats for bald people that they were giving away, so I took three of them!  I'll try to get some pictures of myself looking like the thing
that came from outer space!
I wonder -- 
why do the little gray men never have hair?
Too much treatment with chemicals, I guess,
in order to keep their aging DNA from blowing up.
       I'm planning a series of these posts to keep everybody informed of my progress or lack thereof.  At the moment I'm optimistic and hopeful that I can take the full course of treatment and
kick those little bugger cells' asses!
 Footnote: It's now the second day (Jan. 31) and I slept good last night, but I'm very groggy this morning -- feel really out of it, so the reaction must be beginning to kick in.  I still have no nausea, though.  I'll get this posted and plan to do another post in a week or whenever I feel I have something to report.

No comments:

Post a Comment