Chemo 101

I now have my first chemotherapy session under my belt. There really is a lot of anticipation and build up until you get through it and realize that, hey, maybe this isn’t going to be that bad. I checked in the day after my port was installed and was thankful that my doctor was awesome enough to leave tubing attached to the port, so no one had to push on my chest the day after surgery. There still was the removal of all of the protective tape, followed by the comment, “Oops, it’s bleeding a little.” It was cleaned and then the tubing and port were flushed with saline, to ensure things were working correctly. I later realized how important this is when I saw a fellow patient drenched in clear fluids from their i.v., possibly their chemo meds.

The port, one day after surgery, with tubing attached.

The world’s best phlebotomist works at my oncology office. Seriously. Do you know how many times I’ve had blood drawn in my life and by how many different people? Let’s just say enough to qualify me to make that claim. When she drew my blood, twice, I never felt a thing. She is a goddess. She is the one who flushed my tubing out. She also is the one I had told on my initial visit that I wanted to take home my parts after surgery. Now, 3 weeks out from surgery, she remembered me and asked me if my doctor let me take home my parts. I told her no and she was bummed for me. She also told me stories about doctors photographing parts removed for patients and I instantly felt disappointed that my doctor hadn’t made that happen for me.  When leaving her office I heard her tell the next patient, “She’s an artist. She wanted her parts back after her surgery, for a show in a gallery.” I heard them both speaking in excited voices and it made me smile. My reputation at the oncology office was cemented as the crazy, but likeable artist who was going to make art about her cancer.

The world’s best phlebotomist in action.

We were ushered back into the chemo lounge, as I like to call it, and were told to help ourselves to any of the snack foods or beverages we wanted. There were chips, crackers, coffee drinks, juice, etc. It was very sweet, but I couldn’t eat any of it since it was all processed and mostly had sugar or things I don’t allow myself to eat. Luckily, we were prepared with snacks and such and since they told us we would be there for most of the day.

The first time you have chemo they run both Benedryl and steroids into you in order to prevent an allergic reaction. I had been slightly fearful of having a bad reaction because that would then interfere with my healing. I sat in the recliner and watched the bags of fluid drip through the tubing.

Next, the nurse brought out two bags and presented them to me like one would bottles of wine. She explained to me which drugs we were administering, as if she were speaking of the vintage and characteristics of what we were about to enjoy. I enjoyed the process. The drugs were given one at a time and I sat waiting for any sign of a reaction, yet it never happened.  Whew! They bring out a tray with medicine they can administer if you start to have a reaction, so it’s sitting next to you the entire time, making you think about what is happening in a more serious light. I am very grateful that there was no reaction and I was able to breeze through both drugs at a decent pace. Apparently, if you have a reaction, they administer drugs and then go back to administering the chemo drugs, just at a slower pace. I was grateful to be able to get done with everything quickly and a couple of hours ahead of schedule.

I had been told by a few people that getting the first chemo treatment would be very anti-climactic. It was. I’m grateful that my body took the meds so well, without complications. I’m grateful that I have energy and am sleeping and eating well right now. The nausea has been kept at bay and I am using a minimal amount of medication right now to counter any side effects. I know that this is an accumulative process and I will most likely hit the wall at some point when enough of the chemo drugs have accumulated in my body. I will probably lose my hair and be tired all of the time. I may lose my appetite and have a strange taste in my mouth all of the time. That’s okay. I’m okay with it, I really am.

Every day I hear stories of people who have survived all of the things I’m going through and worse. I also hear stories of folks dealing with far worse circumstances and I cannot complain. In a couple of days I will be back in chemo for my second round and I will keep doing so for 16 more weeks after that. What is this week’s silver lining? We are going to meet the giraffes at the zoo the day after I complete chemo. It is a lifelong dream of mine and it’s going to happen. I am over the moon happy about this wonderful gift my mother-in-law is making happen for me. Life is good. In this moment, it’s all about perspective and gratitude.

*photos by Sam MacKenzie*

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