(This week is another post in my side series covering my cancer treatments. Aging parent stories will resume next week.)
When I arrived for my first chemo treatment, my pulse was 121. It probably went higher as I waited for my doctor to review my lab results to confirm whether I could proceed. With my numbers looking good, I was given permission to head upstairs to the infusion suite. I walked into a room where I saw maybe 25 reclining chairs with IV poles standing by silently waiting for the next patient. A few of the chairs were taken.
I took a seat in the corner. My husband took the guest chair next to it. A nurse came by explaining that she would flush my port first and then we would get started. She gave me the lay of the land – the refrigerator was around the corner to the left, the microwave was for anyone, there was coffee and snacks too. Once I was hooked up, I was free to wander around.
“Just don’t leave” she added with a smile. I can always appreciate a good sense of humor.
To help prevent an allergic reaction to the drugs, I had taken the steroid Dexamethasone the night before. They gave me a second dose once the port was cleaned. The steroid made my mouth dry and I began drinking a lot of water. Soon, I was trying to navigate my way to the restroom with an IV pole and its accompanying tubes rolling around beside me. I got the hang of it, although it was a little awkward in the bathroom itself.
6.5 hours somehow passed. They started with several layers of anti-nausea medicine and then I started on Taxol, the first of two powerful anti-cancer drugs, which dripped for 3 hours. Then, I had Carboplatin for another hour. They are so strong that they can’t be infused at the same time.
As I waited, I watched healthy women arrive, sitting next to good friends, keeping them company, wanting to keep their spirits up. I looked at the patients themselves. Some had hair, some did not. Some slept and some looked quietly withdrawn. A few watched T.V. One young woman gave me a small smile when she could see that it was my first time. I felt a sudden connection with her. I am with them now.
I listened to the electronics on the IV poles regularly beeping, mine included. There was an air bubble, a malfunction or the bag was done. The nurses would walk over, expertly flip a switch, hit a button and the drip resumed. Or, a new bag was hung.
I had brought snacks and lots of reading material, but found I couldn’t focus. I drifted off a couple of times, but never for long. It was like I was on high alert. What if my chest started to hurt or I had shortness of breath? I was in survival mode. In fact, I am in survival mode.
That’s the truth of all of this. If I needed to sit there for 16 hours, I would. If I had to do 12 treatments, I would. If they wanted to give me 32 shots in a row, I would. I will do anything the nurses/doctors tell me because it is the only path I’ve got. Surgery may have removed the cancerous tumor and taken my uterus and ovaries along with it, but it was classified a grade 3, stage 3 cancer. If I avoid the treatments and the indignities and the fears and the pain, then according to my doctor, there’s a high probability that the cancer will return.
It’s getting dark as we leave the suite and head to the car. I’m feeling exhausted, the drugs are kicking in. But I also feel a moment of exhilaration. I did it. I got through my first treatment. But even more importantly, I’ve started the process of shutting cancer down. And that’s the best feeling I’ve had in awhile.