The infusion room has been my second home over the last five months. We’ve been there almost every week for infusions, blood draws or dealing with the occasional chemo side effects.
You’d think the infusion room would be sad and depressing but it feels happy and hopeful to me. There’s few places where you can find such gratitude and appreciation for life. We’re sitting in chairs for hours poisoning ourselves so that we can live— you have to have a sense of humor and optimism to get through that!
Depending on the chemo regimen (the combination of drugs, dosage amounts, and duration of treatment) you may go into the infusion room every week or every 2, 3 or 4 weeks. For Adriamycin + Cytoxan chemo I went every 2 weeks. For Taxol chemo I go every week.
Infusion appointments are on the same day of the week to give you a consistent rhythm of treatment and recovery time. I chose Fridays because I was crazy enough to think that I could use the weekends to recover and then possibly work the remaining days of the week. That sounds totally ridiculous now. Given my best days are right before the next dose, I wish I had chosen Mondays.
Packing a bag
Before I head in for chemo, I eat a good breakfast and drink water— not too much or else I have to wheel the IV into the restroom. I learned that the hard way.
I pack a water bottle, Sudoku puzzles, and my phone. During AC chemo I brought along my anti-nausea medication and bland snacks to reduce nausea. During Taxol we fill a little blue ice chest with ice packs for my hands and feet to help avoid neuropathy.
The infusion room has blankets, water, snacks, magazines and Starbucks is nearby. The few perks of chemo, if you can call them that, are the warm blankets and indulging in the latest People magazines.
In the Oncology Center we’re always greeted with a happy hello by the receptionists. You get to know them over the months and we chat while they get me an ID band.
From the lobby we walk into the infusion room, a rectangular room lined on three sides with windows and twelve gray reclining chairs. In the middle of the room is the nurses’ station where they sit during rare breaks.
The nurses, Judy and Michelle, immediately greet us no matter what they’re doing— “Hi! Be right there!” or “Welcome back!” They create a sense of comfort in a place that isn’t all that comfortable.
I’m in early enough to have my choice in seats. The corner chairs are the most popular because you can see everything and there’s a little more room. You see the disappointment when people see they’re occupied. The comfy recliner chairs have handy flip-up tables on each side. Guests sit on not-so-comfortable folding chairs on one side and the other side is for accessing the IV.
Before the infusion, they check my blood counts to ensure my body can handle another chemo dose. Judy or Michelle draws the blood from the port under the skin between my shoulder and collarbone.
To numb the area over my port, I can either apply Lidocaine ointment on my skin a half hour beforehand or have the nurse give me a shot of Lidocaine. For some irrational reason I do not trust the ointment so I always ask for the shot. What’s one shot more?
The Lidocaine shot is quick like a bee sting. A minute later the nurse inserts the IV needle into my port. I don’t feel a thing. When I first walked into the infusion room, I grabbed a Lifesaver from the infusion room candy bowl. The Lifesaver masks the taste of the saline flush the nurse does before drawing my blood. I recommend sour apple.
Once the blood is drawn, the nurse does another saline flush, hooks up some tubes to the port and applies a bandage around it so I’m ready for an infusion.
Waiting for the results
After the blood draw I usually meet with Dr. B, my oncologist, or his nurse practitioner to check in and review my blood count results. We go back to the lobby to wait our turn while they help other patients like me. I don’t mind at all because sometimes I’m the patient that needs more of their time.
When it's my turn a nurse checks my weight and then we head into an exam room to take my blood pressure, pulse, temperature and she asks if I’m in any pain. Dr. B comes in and we chat about any side effects, he does a quick check of my mouth for sores, listens to my heart and lungs and goes over my blood count results. My counts are usually low but passable. Luckily I’ve only had to postpone chemo once because I was too low.
Getting the infusion
After Dr. B gives the thumbs up, we head back to the infusion room. The chemo cocktails are created after they review how I’m doing— just in case there’s any changes that need to be made to the dosage. While they get the chemo cocktails ready, Judy or Michelle starts me on some pre-chemo drugs.
The nurse wheels over a computer to confirm what drugs I’m taking and scans my ID band. During AC chemo I was given anti-nausea medicine and steroids. During Taxol chemo I get anti-nausea medicine, steroids, Pepcid and Benadryl. With the pre-chemo drugs going into my body, she covers me with a warm blanket. Aahhh. Then Jason escapes for a much needed coffee and treat at Starbucks.
When I get Taxol chemo, Jason helps me put ice packs around my wrists and funny ice pack socks on my feet right before the dose. Brrrrr. You get used to it. So far so good— no neuropathy so I will keep freezing my fingers and toes off.
The IV beeps to let us know when it’s done. Now it’s chemo time. From a scarily labeled plastic bag, the nurse takes out bags or syringes of chemo. The nurse asks another nurse to check the dose in the computer, scans my ID band again, hooks up a bag to the IV, punches some buttons on the machine and the chemo starts dripping. During AC chemo, the nurse delivered Adriamycin from two syringes after donning extra gloves and a gown. That’s the seriously scary stuff.
Then you sit and wait.
During the two to three hours I’m in the infusion room, patients come and go. Most of the time the room is half full. Over time I see the same patients. There’s the nicely dressed elderly man whose wife sweetly dotes over him. There’s a woman my age who has the same two friends by her side. There’s a son who sits quietly by his father, snoring away.
Most of the patients are in their 60s and above. There’s a couple people around my age and there’s one young woman who looks to be in her 20s. You have no idea what kind of cancer each patient has. Some people look perfectly healthy and some look not so good.
Patients are either glued to a device, talking to their guests or asleep. It can be quiet but Judy and Michelle create a cheery mood in the room as they talk between themselves or with patients. The chatter of conversation is frequently interrupted by the beeping of an IV machine signaling it’s done.
Conversation between patients is infrequent, partly because the chairs are spaced far apart. When I do talk with a patient, there’s an instant camaraderie. My favorite moment was congratulating a mother who was celebrating her last day of chemo. Everyone watched and smiled as her daughter surprised her with a “Congratulations” sign above her infusion chair.
Once the infusion is done, the nurse does another saline flush. She removes the needle from my port, bandages me up and checks my blood pressure. I’m done! We say goodbye to the nurses. See you next week!
With all those fluids poured into my body, the first stop is the bathroom. I know some wanna-be politicians have issues with bodily fluids but it's a fact of life. If I’m feeling decent, Jason and I will treat ourselves to lunch out before I go home to rest.
Can I just say how wonderful my husband is? He's been by my side every step of the way. Love him!
You got this far!
Let me reward your reading endurance with a quick update on me...
On New Year’s Eve I had my ninth Taxol dose. My counts were a smidge lower than usual which was surprising since I had a week off due to the infusion room being closed for Christmas. Unfortunately that means I have to increase my Granix shots after each dose from 2 to 4. Urgh.
The chemo finish line is so freakin’ close! Only 3 more weeks and 3 more Taxols. Since chemo has become a routine in our lives, it will probably be a little weird when its done. Don't worry, I can quickly adjust.
The hair on my head is filling in more. Yay! If you see me, don’t be shocked that it’s very salt and pepper in color. This is not uncommon and it’s supposed to return to my regular color. I hope.
These past few weeks I’ve been talking to the doctors about surgery and radiation options. There’s lots to think about. I’ll do a post on this next. Stay tuned!