Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Week In The Life Of Chemo


With five months of Gemzar chemo behind me and only one more month to go (horray!), I thought I should log my experience with this phase of treatment.

Each Tuesday, I go down to City of Hope (cancer hospital). Hubby is always with me and is my biggest cheer leader. While I'm there, my blood is always drawn and analyzed prior to being hooked up to an iv. Doctors want to make sure that my body is continually strong enough to endure another round of a poison (chemo) invasion. An hour usually goes by (or more, if they are running behind) while my blood work is being analyzed and sent to the chemo infusion staff.

In the chemo infusion room, having the iv put into my arm is stressful as I never know if the nurse I'll get has the knack for finding a vein. So far, I've been hurt twice to the point that the pain brings me to tears and wish this was all just a bad dream. It's those times that make me think that with all that cancer patients have to go through, one would think that the hospital would make sure to place nurses who are efficient with iv placement into the chemo infusion area so that patients don't have to endure more pain than necessary. And it's those times that I ask to have someone else step in to do the work...and they're usually pretty understanding about it. Once hooked up to an iv, I receive a 20 minute infusion of Zofran...a medication that reduces nausea; a side effect caused by the chemo. And finally, I'm hooked up to the bag of chemo. Mine is Gemzar, a milder form of chemo than most and a 30 minute infusion. I look at the clock to mark the time ( now, I just want to go home!) ...and then I try everything possible to stay distracted. I feel the Gemzar going into my body. It's so cold, it burns. Even though the nurse puts a warm pack on my arm, I ask for an additional warm blanket. The warmth sooths the painful, burning Gemazar. Once finished, removing the iv is quick and painless. I feel physically drained from the stress of the whole process and can't wait to get home.

Through it all, I'm friendly and pleasant with the nursing staff. After all, I can only imagine how their days go having to deal with sick, (even dying), depressed patients (bless them all!). I have made friends with several people on the nursing staff and I can see it makes a difference to do so. They are glad to see me and some greet me with a hug. Some pass by my infusion room (where I'm hooked up to an iv) and stop in to chat.

For the following two days (after my chemo treatment), I have to go to City of Hope for a shot called neupogen. It's to raise my white blood cell count so my immune system isn't compromised from the chemo. Thus, I'm devoting 3 days a week to hospital visits.

Wednesday (the day after my chemo treatment), I have red flushing across my nose and cheeks and my face feels hot. By that night, I'm running a low grade fever. But my energy level is good on that day so I'm still smiling, energetic and able to do many things. But the neuritis (caused by the chemo) sets in to both arms and hands making it painful for me to do much. Even drying my hands after doing dishes or washing my hands is painful. Being out in a chilly breeze makes the neuritis even more painful. Advil doesn't help. As time has passed, this side effect is less intense.

Thursday and Friday are my 'sick' days as I feel like I have the flu. My nose gets stuffy, I have a nagging headache, my eyes are weak and I'm so fatigued on those days that I forget what feeling good feels like. My concentration is very poor. Each week, these effect vary in their intensity. As time has passed, the intensity of the flu like symptoms is not as severe.

By Saturday, the side effects are lifting except for the neuritis in my hands and arms. I'm usually feeling good enough to do most things I enjoy despite the neuritis. Sunday is even better...except for the neuritis which is still a problem.

By Sunday, I'm feeling completely normal and try to pack as much activity into that day and Monday as I can. starts all over again.

EVERYDAY, I'm losing more hair. By now, I think I've probably lost half of what I had. I'm fortunate that I'm not bald but not sure that ending up looking like Bill The Cat would be any better. It saddens me as I use to have beautiful, thick, shiny hair. I had to have it cut short a couple of months ago so that the long length wouldn't clog the drain and choke the vacuum. One friend (whom I sure meant well) said, "To hell with your hair!". Frankly, I'm not willing to wish any part of me to hell...and I believe I have a right to feel sad about losing the person I use to be (hair and all).

The fourth week of every month is my 'week off'. The doctor gives me a break from chemo and the white blood cell shots so my body can recuperate from the effects. And it does! By Friday (of my week off), the neuritis is gone...and it feels SO good to be free from pain and have a descent energy level again. During this week, I can almost forget that this has ever happened, I feel so good! One side effect remains...I continue to lose hair... (drat!)

Recuperation from the surgery itself is still ongoing but going extremely well. I feel LEAPS and BOUNDS better each month and moving about is near normal now. It's still difficult to go from a sitting position to a standing one without feeling a tug and some soreness within my midriff. Thus, I stand up very slowly. My intestines are returning to normal and, thank God, I can eat most all things again without much abdominal/intestinal pain. I've learned (the hard way!) which foods to avoid and, frankly, the list isn't that long. I eat all day long (3 meals plus snacks) and have been able to gain two pounds since I had the surgery. My body doesn't metabolize foods the way it use to since it's been 're-plumbed', therefore, gaining weight is a problem. I take enzymes to help with digestion. Fortunately, though...I haven't lost any more weight. It's odd to go from counting calories so as not to the extreme of eating all I can to try and keep the weight on. I feel like 'Pac Man' most days!...chomp!...chomp! I love making fruit smoothies and I add protein powder to aid in maintaining muscle mass (which I lost during my 32 days in the hospital). The fanny I lost while in the hospital has returned (horray!) and I'm not looking too sickly any more. In fact, you can't even tell I've been sick.

I've always been a happy person and this ordeal hasn't changed that. I still like to make light of a bad situation. My loving, supportive family makes it easier to have a bright attitude. But inside, I do have fear that one day the cancer will return and that my life will be over. My doctors go by statistics and this is what they believe. I hate that they beat the 'statistics' drum! I look forward to the day when the chemo and radiation treatments are finally over...but then I fear that the cancer will return. Even though I talk with my hubby about these fears and, bless him, he quickly lifts my mood with his positive (near denial) logic....I hand my fears over to God because this monster disease and the fear of what it can do is WAY too big for me to handle.

I'm in need of feeling productive as I refuse to just sit around each day wasting time away. I received a candle order last month, filled the order and realized how much I've missed doing this. I'm working on a website for a special client, I'm also making soaps, candles, crocheting and planning to sew some pretty summer dresses with my grand daughters. Life goes on ... :-)

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