Ok, kids. So here I am, alive on the other side of chemo treatment #1. Definitely not my favorite thing I’ve ever experienced, but significantly better than it could have been! I’ve been a bit of a recluse since Friday when it happened, because, in all honesty, the side effects hit me harder than I had expected. And I’ve been sort of a pathetic heap of feeling-sorry-for-myself on a couch ever since. But here’s what’s been up.
As of today, Wednesday, I am still tired and have some discomfort in my mouth and throat. The other strong side effects have been nausea and heartburn (let me tell you, having never really had heartburn before, I was freaking out when that one showed up and I didn’t know what it was). Friday, the nausea hit my like a brick right before Dad & I left Georgetown and into the night. I was bent over on the couch for hours trying not to vomit while watching Ratatouille with the gang, and I finally realized – chemo actually hurts. Chemo is not just a walk in the park. And there is a big difference between knowing it and knowing it. Now, ich kenne Chemo.
I had mentally prepped myself for the fatigue. And the hair loss (which will set in in a few weeks). But I’d heard the nausea could be 100% controlled (by medication, a lesson I’ve quickly learned), and everything else, like mouth sores, sort of faded into the background like white noise. But mouth sores are my current main enemy. The problem with chemo is that it is meant to kill fast-growing cells (like cancer). But along the way, it also demolishes my naturally fast-growing cells, notably the ones up and down my digestive tract. I can already tell that some foods taste different, due to my taste buds dying off (strawberries have lost their charms, I’m afraid). To combat mouth sores, I must do my salt/baking soda rinses, brush with my special non-sugar/alcohol toothpaste, and use my numbing Magic Mouthwash. One big thing that doesn’t help, though, is that I’m a habitual lip/inside of mouth biter. So many sores…
As for the nausea, my meds are the bomb. Seriously. It is so easy to control. But it also means I’ve been living off of the blandest food possible. And all I want are big doses of chocolate and cheese and burrito and things that I cannot eat for fear of making the alien in my stomach rear its ugly head. I had a grilled cheese on Sunday that brought me the closest I have been to actually vomiting – but success of successes, I have kept everything down with the power of meds!
Regarding the actual chemo administration, it is TIME-CONSUMING! Dad & I were at Georgetown Friday from 11:30 when we parked until 5:40! Good grief, is basically what I have to say to that. I mean, I got to read nearly all of Game of Thrones Book 2 while I was there, but come on…
For the record, I’m part of the study at Georgetown. Only because I can pull the plug on it at ANY time in case I decide I don’t want radiation if I don’t respond well to the ABVD. Being on the study will be good to provide information to future patients, which I’m a huge fan of, having done those studies at NIH and contributed to science before with my healthy body. Now my cancer body can help out too!
The beautiful man you see on the right up there is the lovely violinist who serenaded us as Dad and I arrived at Georgetown’s Infusion Center. For about 3 songs only, sadly, because the place was DESERTED Friday at noon. The woman who registered me and brought us sandwiches actually left as soon as we got there, and I spent the next 6 hours watching everyone giddily slip off to their weekend plans, including the sole 3 other patients I saw. My nurse was lovely lovely lovely, though (and also has a daughter named Elizabeth, who goes by ‘Bithy’ – a nickname that I’ve never heard ever).
In terms of the process, it goes as such –
1) Arrive, sign in (10-15 min)
2) Have blood drawn so it can go to the labs (30 min) – This is so they can make sure my white blood cell (WBC), red blood cell (RBC), and platelet counts are high enough so I’ll be able to tolerate the drugs. This took a looong time Friday, because my blood simply did not want to come out of my body via the Mediport (left side of my chest, under my bra strap area). Hopefully this will get faster in future…
3) Blood analyzed in the labs (1 hr)
4) Blood approved, send down for meds from pharmacy (1 hr) – Yes, it takes an hour to get the meds, because they can only start MAKING them once my labs are approved. This is because they are making them specifically for me, Elizabeth Almen Stone, based on my BMI and metabolism and lab results and such.
5) Get drugs, administer anti-nauseants & steroids (1 hr) – These are the beautiful drugs that stop me from puking as soon as the chemo enters my body.
6) Get chemo (1.5 hrs) – Adriamycin, Bleomycin, Vinblastine, and Dacarbazine. There’s a link from another blogger in the Links section of my blog where she talks more about these. Suffice it to say, they are my enemies. EXCEPT….
(Big secret – the tumors have already gotten smaller)
The nurse at Life with Cancer (INOVA Hospital’s cancer program) said it could happen. And it is, which I’m taking as a sign that I’ll hopefully be a fast-responder and finish out my 4 cycles of ABVD on November 2. I can literally no longer feel a lump that had appeared up behind my collarbone. The group of masses on my right chest wall has shrunk. It is a glorious feeling.
And I think I’ll stop there for now. I like texts & phone calls – in my pathetic slug state, I have been isolating and not reaching out to people because I’ve been scared. I’ve basically been relying 100% on the goodwill of the Browns (Beth, Tim, Katie, and Annie, for the record), and not extending myself much further. But I love you all, and I miss you, and would love to hear from you.