Let’s talk about chemo.
I get a lot of questions about how my chemo works, and since I just completed my 3rd cycle, and tomorrow begin my 4th, I thought I would explain how my customized protocol happens. I say this out loud as an answer to a question about 5 times a day. So, if you ask me, I’ll know you don’t read my blog, or that you stink at reading comprehension. Just kidding. I know, I can barely keep track of it all myself and I’m the one doing it, so if you forget, it’s ok. I don’t mind.
The cycle starts on Monday. Kevin and I go to the UPMC Cancer Center in Monroeville. We meet with my oncologist, Dr. Mehta. He is on the young side, and the right mix of serious, funny and hopeful. I trust him and look forward to seeing him. He asks how I’m doing, we go over any new side effects. This time, at tomorrow’s visit we will be having a major discussion about my nausea from last time. I have a folder’s worth of research in my head and my expectation is that he will be very responsive and helpful. We need to get this nausea under control.
After we meet with him, they draw blood to make sure my levels are high enough to withstand chemo. This is my 12th round of chemo in my life (8 last time plus the three I’ve had) and I have always been ok. However, I closely review my own blood work and I notice a few levels that are concerningly low. We have discussed this and Dr. Mehta has a close eye on them. After they take my blood, I go back to the room and pick a chair. The room is open, with waist high walls and partitions. I try to get a chair in a sectioned off area – depending on who my companion is, we can be a bit rowdy, and many chemo patients nod off to sleep during treatment. Kevin stays with me until I get hooked up to my pre-meds and then he goes off to work. Usually my mom comes, but if she is otherwise engaged, like watching Cass if she has the day off school, different friends fill in as chemo companion and chauffeur.
The pre meds are dispensed via IV. They include fluids for hydration, (basically everyone in chemo is dehydrated. Want to be a pal? Offer me hydrating beverages whenever you see me) steroids, (they help your body deal with the side effects) and anti-nausea medication. This takes about an hour.
Then, they change the bags and bring out the chemo drugs. Oxaliplatin is the main drug for my type of cancer. It’s side effects are primarily nausea, fatigue, hair loss and cold sensitivity and neuropathy. This means that for a few days I can’t touch or drink cold things – it causes a seriously unpleasant sensation. To the point that even when that effect has worn off, I get anxious, worrying that touching or drinking something cool/cold will hurt me. I seem to be experiencing some hair loss this time. I am losing quite a bit in the shower when I wash my hair. I am thankful that I have a lot of hair, because it will hopefully be a while before it’s showing and I feel like I have to do something about it. (Head shaving party?!) It’s possible it will just thin some, so I’m not jumping the gun on this one. But I’m watching vigilantly, lest I be that in denial cancer patient, walking around with patchy mange. Also? Why my head hair?? I notice my leg hair hasn’t exactly taken a vacation. Whatever, body.
Vectibix is another chemo drug administered via IV. This drug causes a terrible rash. I seem to be getting it mildly on my face and chest, but it’s primarily on my scalp. It itches and is a bit painful. So far, not anything I can’t ignore, but I wonder how much worse it will get. It will be really awesome when I have to shave my head and we can then see it’s covered in a horrible rash. Someone, please start scoping out wigs. Something with bangs, perhaps?
Finally, we have good old 5-FU. I hate this drug. FU indeed. They give me a bolus which is a syringe of it, so it comes on hard and fast, and then they hook me up to the Wonder Woman fanny pack. I cart this large and in charge pack around everywhere I go for 46 hours following hook-up. It’s cumbersome and makes a clicking noise about every 30 seconds. It is always a welcome relief to get it disconnected. But on Wednesday, when I’m disconnected, that is when the side effects really start getting bad. Nausea, fatigue, digestive issues, heartburn. It’s not usually all of those, but those are the ones that have given me the most trouble. They last well into the weekend. Sunday is usually the day that things start looking up.
This past time was pretty rough. The nausea really gave me a hard time. I have a game plan for dealing with it this time, so hopefully we can get in front of it and head it off for at least a while. If I could get one or two more days of feeling ok before the really difficult days set in, I would be very grateful.
Generally, with chemo, the drugs have a compound effect, meaning the side effects they cause get worse each time. But sometimes, certain effects, your body has a way of adjusting to them and they get better. I’m hoping and praying that we don’t have all of these side effects in increasing levels each time. But I also know that whatever comes, I am capable of dealing with it. Prayer, thankfulness, attentive medical staff, and unflagging support, assistance and encouragement from #teamjessi is all critical and effective. These are the tools by which cancer and chemo are overcome.
My attitude is currently ok. I’m having a little anxiety and discouragement facing tomorrow. I have some prayer and some other attitude adjustment activities on the schedule for today. Each time, so far, I have been able to rally, able to see the hope, see the need to hold my head up high, and face it square on, get down to business and get it done. Sometimes, it takes more effort. Or more God.
Knowing how much people care has this magical effect on me, too. When it is clear that someone has thought about my current situation and reaches out and does something in an effort to help, it’s truly incredible and I have moments where I think that maybe one of the reasons I am going through this really difficult time is that I never would have understood the depths of care some of the people in my life have for me. My mom, cooking up a storm two weeks ago so that I would have organic, healthy, but comforting meals all ready to go when I didn’t feel like cooking. A friend continually asking me what I need and figuring out that a massage gift card was the sweetest gift I could have received. Another friend who fights hellish traffic every Tuesday to bring my family a gourmet meal from another friend who has agreed to provide it each week as long as we need it. A friend so kind, she supplied me with many needed facial products to combat the acne/rash. A group of friends, most of whom I have never met in real life, chose Pittsburgh for their annual gathering – I assume partly because they are dying to see America’s Most Livable City! But also partly because I’m here. I can’t wait to see these ladies! Friends checking in, praying daily, offering help with Cass – heartwarming, life giving.