Tuesday, February 01, 2011

a day at the chemo unit

Today is a chemo day, so I won't be around to post anything new. This piece originally appeared as a guest post on the blog of the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. It's pretty Ottawa-specific but I suspect that many of the routines are similar, wherever you're being treated.

Further to yesterday's post, I thought I would write about what you can expect when visiting the cancer centre for a chemotherapy or other systemic treatment. When I was starting out, I found the chemo orientation and the tour to be very helpful but there was a lot of information to digest. And I was feeling so overwhelmed that much of it was quickly forgotten.

Checking in:

Present your green hospital card at reception and your requisition form for blood work, if you have an appointment to do that before chemo.

Blood work:

It's worth digressing at this point to talk about blood work. You need to have blood work done in advance of every chemotherapy treatment – usually the day before or the day of treatment. You don't need an appointment to go to the lab, just your requisition.

However, I highly recommend getting a picc or a port. I had a portacath put in after my second treatment (it's a pretty simple and quick procedure) and I have no regrets. Chemotherapy can cause veins to become hard and small and blood draws can become painful, frustrating and traumatic. By my second treatment, finding a working vein was already a challenge. I think that my port makes everything much easier and am always happy to show mine to other patients. 

The only downside to going the port or picc route is that you have to make an appointment through the chemotherapy unit to have your blood drawn by a nurse. It's worth calling as soon as you know when your chemo will be. Allow about two hours between bloodworm and chemo. I always try and do both appointments on the same day – have my blood work done, then go have a snack and come back for chemo.

Back at reception:

Once you have checked in, look at your watch. Then go sit down in the waiting area and get comfortable (this is where a good book, crossword puzzle or knitting come in handy). You can also go and check out the free hats and scarves in the alcove to the right of reception. Just be sure and keep an ear open so that you know when you are being called.

If more than twenty minutes elapse between when you check in and when you are called, it's worth checking in again with reception to make sure there are no delays. In almost five years of treatment, I have only had to wait more than twenty minutes a handful of times.

The receptionist, a volunteer (in the yellow jackets) or a nurse will let you know when it's your turn and send you to one of the “pods” - the numbered units arranged around the outside perimeter of the unit.


Your nurse will introduce herself, go over your info (name other id, to make sure that you get the right drugs!) and you will be settled in a bed or a chair (don't be shy about stating your preference).

There are lots of chairs around for guests. If you have someone with you, ask them to sit on the opposite side from the iv drip, so that the nurse will have easier access and your friend will be more comfortable.

The nurse will take your “vitals” (blood pressure and temperature), check over your blood work and hook you up to the iv unit). Your drugs will be ordered from the pharmacy and while you wait, the nurse will likely start a saline drip, to get you hydrated.

Speaking of hydrated, it's perfectly OK to go to the bathroom during treatment. You're being filled with a lot of liquid! Just unplug your unit from the wall (they have batteries for back up) and head over to one of the washrooms.

I always bring my own blanket to chemo but there are also lovely warm sheets available to patients. Ask the nurse for one if you get cold.

During treatment you can read, talk to your friend, listen to music, watch a DVD and even cruise the internet (ask at reception for the wifi password). Do what you need to pass the time comfortably.

Treatment can take anywhere from ten minutes to several hours. When you're done, the iv unit will beep and the nurse will come and unhook you. She will mostly likely take your vitals again before sending you on your way.

I know that sounds like a lot of information but it's actually all pretty straightforward and there are lots of people there to ask for help and to answer questions. It will be easier than you think.


Memoirs of Me & Mine said...

Thanks for sharing your story and your courage!

Babz Rawls Ivy said...

Gosh, I haven't been over here in quite awhile. I see you changed the furniture (new look of the blog) I love the warm earthy color.

How are you my dear? And Gosh we ought to plan to see each other...I would love to come to Cananda when its HOT! LOL!

Are you planning on attending any conferences? Perhaps we could catch up at one. I still think of the great fun we had at BlogHer San Francisco.

I think you and your family often and I follow your tweets and facebook posts. Be well and I wll be back around soon! ((HUGS))

nancyspoint said...

Good info here that I'm sure will help many. Hope you are feeling well and strong today!

laurie said...

Thanks to you both. And Babz!! Great to hear from you. I won't be at BlogHer this year (and yes, we did have so much fun in SF!) but hopefully we will connect face to face again sometime in the near future. xo