So I had my first chemo treatment last Thursday. That was a looooong day. It started at 9:30am with the first nurse checking me in and getting my vitals. Then a second nurse accessed my port and did my blood draws and hooked up the port so it was ready to access for chemo. Then I waited for almost an hour, half naked with nothing to cover my nethers but a large paper towel. After yet another pelvic exam, I was given the green light for my chemo treatment. The CT scan I had earlier in the week came back completely "unremarkable". In medical speak, this means that they were unable to detect any new growths, everything was where it belonged and nothing that I had removed in January had grown back. I was dismissed and had about an hour to kill before I was due at the Cancer Center. We stopped for a sandwich and ate in the parking garage. Call it a pre-chemo picnic.
Once I was checked in, I was given my choice of chairs, but they wanted me close to the nurses station, just to keep an eye on me. There were lots of "pre-meds" given to me before we got to the actual chemo drugs. The idea here, is that if you give these meds to prevent the anticipated side effects, they become easier to treat, if not completely eliminated. Some of the pre-meds made me pretty sleepy, so I know that I napped for a while. I was visited by the on site pharmacist. He brought some handouts about the drugs that I was being given. He spent maybe an hour with me, going over what I was being given and why. He also explained possible side effects and some preventative measures I can take to avoid some of the potential mouth issues I can encounter. It was a little bit overwhelming, but for me, having all of that information takes some the "ohshitwhatthehellishappeningtome" out of it.
The first chemo drug goes in very slowly. And by slowly, I mean about 3 hours. It sounds like a long time, but I think with the newness of the process it didn't seem to be that long. Next I get a huge dose of Lasix. For you non-medical folks, this drug will make you pee everything you have had to drink in the last 4 days, over a 1 hour period. In the middle of doing the 100 yard dash for the potty, I have to sit still while they administer chemo drug number two, "red death". I tried to convince my nurse that she could push the drug while I just sat on the potty, but apparently this is not sanitary. Red Death, is so named for several reasons. One is that it can burn like hell if it gets on your skin or blows out your vein. The other, which I think is kind of neat, is that it makes your pee and I am told other body secretions, sweat, tears etc. red or pink. While that is fun, you have to keep in mind that because of the toxicity of the drugs that are being pumped into my body, and the radiation that I have undergone, I also have to be aware of blood in my urine. Thankfully, the affects of the red death only last for about 24 hours.
By the time we arrived at home, it was almost 7pm. I really didn't feel that bad, mostly just tired. Next day I had to report back to the Cancer Center to get a shot. This shot is designed to stimulate my white blood cell count, since chemo kills those. They had explained that the stimulated production can cause pain in the big bones (legs, sternum, etc). Think of freezing a bottle of water. As the ice forms, it only has a fixed amount of space to expand into. Same thing with the white blood cells. It's one of those double-edged swords; if it hurts, it's working. That is not a comforting thought. I followed directions and took a Claritin and an Alleve (OK I took two Alleve). The nurse that gave me the shot also told me if I had any pain meds to take one before I went to bed to make sure I didn't wake up in the middle of the night hurting. Done and Done! As I write this now, six days after this shot, I have had no pain from it.
Nausea is not fun. I am not sure which feeling is worse, actually throwing up, or feeling like you might, for hours at a time. In the first few days post chemo, I found that I could keep the nausea at bay if I ate small, snack sized meals every few hours. I only made two mistakes with this: eating a sausage biscuit from the Golden Arches of Hell and about a 1/4 cup serving of pot roast. Lesson here? McDonald's really is Satan's playground and red meat is as evil as everyone says. OK, the latter is not necessarily true. I think I might be okay with a lean ground round or something. Our suspicion is that the fat and grease, as well as the difficulty that a healthy body has processing red meat were just too much. I can live with that. I also found sweets to be a big issue as well. I stuck with slightly salty foods and really did just fine. I must add here that while effective, cancer is a shitty diet. I have lost about 8 pounds in the last week. I think next to figuring out what I can and cannot eat, getting up in the middle of the night to eat has been an adjustment.
A week has passed since my first treatment. The first 4 or 5 days were pretty rough, but not really that bad. The last 2 days, I have felt great. I am still sleeping about 12 hours a night, but I have not needed a nap during the day. Also, I have been able to eat whatever I wanted to, just in small portions.
I have to say, that without my family and my wife as traveling companions on this journey, it would be so much worse. All of you, with your words of encouragement, prayers, candles and "just checking in on you's" have been worth more than you will ever know. I love you all.