Last Friday morning I went to Overlake Hospital for my first "infusion". Infusion sounds like I'll be enjoying a tranquil spa treatment. Not sure why they use that word when it really feels like you're preparing for battle. They're putting toxic chemicals into my body to kill the cancer and my body is about to experience a full frontal assault.
The infusion room
The infusion room has a nurses' station in the middle surrounded by gray recliners for patients along large window-filled walls. It's surprisingly un-hospital-like and somewhat cheery if you can ignore all the medical equipment and patients.
I was the youngest patient in the room that day. You wonder what each person is in there for and what their prognosis is. You can't help it. And then you wonder if they know that you're a newbie. She looks healthy. She has her hair. Oh, just wait, she's going to be hurting soon.
The best thing about the room are the nurses. Judy, one of the two nurses there, said to pick any chair as Jason, my mom and I entered the room. Judy was buzzing around tending to patients and she would get to me when everyone had what they needed. She instantly put me at ease.
Reclining in my gray chair, pillow and warm blanket I was ready to get it over with. At each infusion they will check my blood work to make sure there's no concerns. I was given the thumbs up. It was time.
To prepare my body for each battle, I'm first given an IV of steroids and anti-nausea medicine. Judy numbs the skin over my port, inserts the needle in, and tapes and hooks everything up. Then I just wait while it drips and drips.
We had arrived at the hospital at 9:30. Around 11:30 it was time for my first dose of Cytoxan. There is that moment where you're thinking, okay this is it. Finally all of this anxiety about what's going to happen will be over because soon you will know.
After 45 minutes of dripping it was time to switch to Adriamycin a.k.a. "The Red Devil". This is the real scary stuff. Judy puts on extra gloves and a gown to protect herself because if it gets on the skin, it's like acid. To avoid damaging my tissue she slowly delivers this toxic red fluid through two syringes. Then you sit there thinking okay, what the hell is this going to do to me?
Chemo really sucks
My first side effect I had was sinus pressure which Judy quickly fixed by giving me some Tylenol. If only everything else could be so quickly resolved and if only Judy could come home with me. But there's more patients that need her help so I'm quickly patched up and sent home with instructions.
When I went home I focused on drinking lots of fluids to help rid my body of all the chemicals. This stuff is so toxic that I must flush the toilet multiple times the first couple of days. I quickly found this annoying.
Things went downhill fast when I made the mistake of not taking the anti-nausea prescriptions immediately and not eating frequent snacks. That first night was horrible. The steroids were making my mind race which made sleep feel impossible. I was getting hot flashes. I was incredibly nauseous, trying hard not to throw up. My arms and legs had odd, tingling sensations. I felt like a train had hit me.
I woke up Saturday morning thinking I'm okay enough to do our family photoshoot with Michelle. I had planned this when I was diagnosed because I'm usually the family photographer so I'm not always in the pictures. I needed one with the family and me— and with hair! Michelle did a terrific job and I will always be grateful for her being there for us at this time.
Saturday afternoon it got worse. The thought of food made me feel sick but I had to eat something and frequently to avoid being nauseous. I couldn't concentrate on anything because of the steroids and I was sensitive to sounds and smells. I had never felt this depth of fatigue before. I was out of breath just going down the stairs. Even talking was exhausting.
Sunday morning was my lowest point. Lack of sleep and everything else just shook me. I felt like hell and was afraid. Can I do this? Will I get better? It's hard not to have doubts, to let the fears in. I know people think I'm strong and I believe I am. But no one can go through this without having some dark moments.
Monday morning we went back to nurse Judy to teach Jason how to give me a shot of Granix (Neupogen). As soon as I saw Judy I teared up, telling her how bad I felt. She immediately assured me I would be okay and hooked me up with an IV of fluids. Then it was time to school Jason on giving me my first Granix shot which he did without me complaining.
After each AC treatment I will need a daily shot of Granix for seven consecutive days. I will be at my weakest point the seventh day after chemo so Granix helps rebuild my white blood cell count which is critical for protecting my weakened immune system. Jason now gives me a shot in my stomach like a pro. I jokingly say he enjoys jabbing that needle into me too much.
Turning the corner
My sorority sister and friend Lisa B is going through her own battle with cancer right now. She's been a mental lifesaver for me. She told me that Tuesday would be the day I turned the corner and thankfully it was.
Since Tuesday I'm adjusting to a new normal. I'm getting more sleep (yay!) and no more nausea (double yay!). I am still incredibly weak. Jason took me on a walk around the block yesterday and 3/4 of the way I had to sit down on the sidewalk and rest. But today I was able to walk with no stop. Small improvements are big right now.
Thank you thank you thank you
One of the silver linings of my experience so far is that it has strengthened my connections with many of you. I'm so appreciative of the messages and cards. It gives me the strength I need at the times I don't have it. Thank you everyone for being there.
This is where I take a break to thank my husband Jason. I cry writing this because he does everything and more for me right now as nurse, husband and part-time therapist. And somehow he manages to make sure the kids aren't going completely crazy too. I love him beyond words.
A couple other thank yous. Thanks mom for your daily check-ins and talks. Thanks dad for keeping me company. Thanks Lisa B for sharing your knowledge and optimism when you're going through this too. I'm here for you always. Thanks Kristin B for assuring me I've got this, making me laugh and the fancy eyebrow pencil! I may have to share some of your stories because they're just too funny not to share.
Many friends and family have asked about meeting with me. I'd love to. I really would. I know now that the first week after chemo is a complete bitch. I'm hoping that the second week post-chemo will be a good time to see people. Stay tuned.
This Friday I get my blood drawn to check how I'm doing and my stitches taken out. This weekend I'm planning to get my hair cut short to help transition before the full head shave next week. Hmmm... maybe it's time to try a mohawk?