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Chemo is an Interesting Monster – Round 2

Yesterday I had my second round of treatment for the two drug cocktail. For people keeping score, I’m now 1/2 way through the first 4 cycles. I’ll have an additional 12 of a different drug after these are done. I am tolerating it ok as long as I stay on top of my nausea-med schedule and am very careful about eating on time/sleeping when I need to. Except for this whole immune system thing.

The following may be TMI, so feel free to stop here with reassurance that as of this morning I still have hair, I’m not horking everywhere, and I’m going to beat this with somewhat less energy/determination than Maggie Smith while she Professor McGonnegal’d during breast cancer chemo, but still, I’ll get there. Yes I just made McGonnegal a verb, and why shouldn’t she be?

I went to Round 1 on the 16th with a cold. THE cold everyone else is getting right now, with the cough that lasts a couple of weeks and generally makes life miserable and snotty. The nurses all felt terrible for me as I coughed into a mask while they did the chemo dance. So let’s discuss the actual process here.

  1. weight/BP/temp collected
  2. Remember that port under the skin in my chest I had surgically installed on the 9th? The one where I HORRIFIED my surgeon by casually commenting I’d get an all-over skull tattoo before my hair grows back (to which he visibly recoiled before patting my knee and saying “you do you”, and my mom and I cackled like a couple happy witches in the pre-op room)? At chemo, you pick whatever heated reclining chair you prefer out of the 3 areas of chairs, grab a snack and some water, and settle in for a WHILE. Then, the nurse comes to stick an L shaped needle into the port and tape it down, which makes me instantly IV’d.
  3. IV flush. I can taste and smell rubbing alcohol in the back of my throat. Gross. 
  4. Port draw. Chemo nurses are very charming, kind vampires who take as many vials of blood as they want, thanks. 
  5. Now we start the drugging, but not chemo yet. First, three small syringes of prescription anti-nausea meds. Those stay in my system about 48 hours, so this morning I’m currently on 5 different drugs just to combat nausea. FUN! My mouth is dry. 
  6. My treatment currently consists of two different chemotherapy: the first is bright red and comes in 3 big syringes. The nurse has to administer them by hand because each syringe goes in over 10 minutes and if any gets on my skin it’s a bad deal. We chat about her kids and how the holidays are going and other random things, then after the third one is in we wait a few minutes with the saline drip. 
  7. Please note the saline drip or some other liquid has now been pumping fluids into my central line IV for about an hour straight. 
  8. The final round of IV drugs hangs for about an hour. My bladder can NEVER make it that long, but luckily the bathrooms are huge and the IVs are on wheels, so much like the boys in Armageddon I can wheelie myself down the hall to pee. Unlike them, I get to be in real clothes and there’s no anal probing first. I promise that link is SFW. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go watch Armageddon again. 
  9. AFTER the chemo is done, I get my alien attachment. Instead of anything icky, it’s more like  temporary insulin pump that sticks to my belly and waits 27 hours before injecting a booster that helps my bone marrow make more white blood cells. Turns out this one is pretty damned important. 

Remember the cold? So I tolerated round 1 of chemo just fine, didn’t have some of the worse side effects that could happen (I knocked on all the wood, really). But I had that stupid cold. Which was fine until Saturday, then it kicked my ass in no uncertain terms. I spent Saturday night until Monday morning in bed, unable to do anything but drink water and throw up and sneeze and cough. I lost 18lbs. I went in for chest x-rays on Monday last week to check for pneumonia – nope, just bronchitis. “Just” bronchitis. So last week while Christmas was sort of happening I was drugged to the teeth with a steroid, big time cough syrup, antibiotics, and an inhaler. And orders to go directly to the ER if I get a temperature at all. Fun times. Remember how Chemotherapy is intended to kill rapidly-growing cells (this is why hair loss is a side effect – it can’t distinguish which KIND of fast-growing cells)? That means white blood cells too…which make up the majority of your immune system and are made in bone marrow. One week after chemo, Oncology does labs again to check how low my immune system dropped because that gives us a baseline. Mine was frighteningly low…so I’ve been mostly hermiting or wearing a mask when I’m out in public because I can’t get strep. I can’t get the flu. I can’t get whatever next cold is coming around…I don’t want a repeat of that weekend before Christmas.

TODAY is the day after treatment 2, and I mostly feel good. I figure the cough will stick around a while yet but I seem to be over the rest, and the worst thing I’m dealing with today is random tiredness. Eating breakfast (so I can take pills) required a 20 minute nap afterward. Walking up the stairs to login at work took a few minutes of pause at the top. Invalid-ness sucks when you’re used to doing your own thing, I’m not gonna lie. But this is temporary, and I’m 1/2 way through my first 4 cycles. Tonight my family is doing Christmas dinner and presents and stuff (we had important people out of town last week) and I’m excited I’ll be able to taste fancy food…and see what chemo makes weird.

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