Thursday, March 30, 2006

chemotherapy (part 3 - the grim aftermath)

Two down, four to go.

Feeling a little "off" after this morning's chemo but OK.

Anxious, though, because last time I was fine for the first 24 hours and then...became very sick.

I spent the week end curled up in the fetal position, in agony, unable to deal with sound, light, movement (I read an interview with Melissa Ethridge yesterday, in which she described living through the exact same experience after chemo. I'm in good company). On the Saturday afternoon, I had the home care nurse come and give me an injection of an anti-nauseant which helped me keep the oral medicine down.

As for eating, once I could keep food down, chicken soup and soda crackers were the only item on my menu. That's tonight's dinner.

Once the nausea subsided (the following Tuesday), I started to experience the bone pain associated with the injection I get to keep my blood cells up (at $3,000 dollars an injection, which I'll get each round of chemo), an unbelievable case of the jitters and restlessness (like I'd had three pots of coffee injected directly into my bloodstream) and a weird twitch in my hands (couldn't knit or type). Turns out that was a side-effect of the anti-nauseant.

We've tinkered with my drug regimen slightly this round and I'm going to acupuncture tomorrow. Hopefully that will help. This is all so surreal. I still can't quite believe I'm this person with cancer and seven different prescriptions to take at bedtime.

On the other hand, when the fog lifts and the nausea subsides I feel joyous (I have a friend who is going through this at the same time I am and she describes this feeling as euphoria). I feel so damn grateful not to be sick that everything seems wonderful. I have grabbed onto those days and carry them with me because I know they'll come again.

I've been listening to a lot of music lately. The album of choice today is Casino by Blue Rodeo, in particular the tracks "Till I am Myself Again," and "What am I Doing Here?"

Not very subtle, I know.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

chemotherapy (part 2)

This is what it was like to get chemotherapy:

1. The Vampires
They're actually three attractive nurses but the women who work in pharmacology were introduced to me as the vampires, and as such I will always think of them. This is where I had blood drawn and ended up performing a duet of Patricia the Stripper (Chris DeBurgh, circa my misspent youth), to which, I was astonished to realize, I remember all the words.

2.The Chemo Room
This is a large room with a nursing station at the centre. At a guess, there are at least thirty of us receiving chemo along the room's perimeter, at any given time.

Before, we begin the infusion, an oncology nurse goes over my extremely complicated post-chemo drug regimen. I have seven different prescriptions to be taken at varying intervals over the next several days.

3.Red Devil
The first chemo drug is nicknamed this way by the oncology nurses because it's bright red, it burns, it's the one that guarantees hair loss and - you excrete bright red after it's infused. The red devil takes 15 minutes to do its work.

4.Icy Fingers
After an hour's break, during which I receive saline, it's time for the Taxotere, famous for the fact that it can make your fingernails turn black and fall out. In an attempt to prevent this, patients are encouraged to spend the hour and fifteen minutes of treatment with their gloved hands in ice (I am reminded of my college Economics prof, "A statistician is someone who has his head in the oven and his feet in a bucket of ice and says, on average, he's comfortable.")

5. The Closer
The last drug is a walk in the park, because I can move my arm, and, thus, read. It takes about half an hour and then, after my "vitals" are taken, I am free to wobble off home. All told, I have been at the hospital for nearly 6 hours.

My spouse has observed how surreal it is that an experience can be simultaneously so intense, yet so unbelievably boring. Thank god we brought music. Greg Brown, Jesse Winchester, Johnny Cash and the incredible Melissa Ethridge got me through it, along with the aforementioned very patient spouse.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Today I learned that if I throw up on my clothes in the first forty-eight hours after receiving chemotherapy, I am to put them in a plastic bag and bring them to the cancer centre, where they will burn them.

I am not making that up.

Chemotherapy is very scary stuff.

On March 9 and every third Thursday thereafter, I will spend at least three hours in the chemotherapy room, being infused with a toxic cocktail. Then, after a break of a couple of weeks, I will be radiated every Monday to Friday for five weeks.

Being a cancer patient is a full-time job.

I had a fitness test done at the gym at the cancer centre yesterday (every cancer patient gets a free life-time membership). I am in excellent shape, despite my post-surgery inactivity. This made me feel very good.