Updated: Apr 20, 2021
“Worries are wasted energies.”
~Lailah Gifty Akita
For weeks, I worried about about starting chemotherapy. If you have never been through the experience, you really don't know what to expect, and nothing anyone tells you will be your experience. I know this in my heart of hearts, but still I read too much and listened too much as people talked about the horror stories. One friend told me that, instead of thinking of chemo as poison, to think of the chemo drugs as an antibiotic that would kill the infected cells.
That helped me a lot, but I still had visions of going in, having the IV stuck in my arm, and feeling a hot, searing liquid drip through my veins. I was afraid I'd start throwing up while wired to the pole. I brought an extra mask in case that happened.
After they took a blood sample, I waited impatiently for the results so that they could start the infusion. I wanted it over. I shuffled in the hard, plastic waiting area chair, watching the phlebotomists running back and forth with patients and samples on one side while the nurses in the chemo suite moved calmly from recliner to recliner. I know my blood pressure was up, and I tried to calm myself.
When I finally went back, Carol, my nurse for the day, was wonderful. She listened to my fears and talked to me quietly about how normal it is to feel that way. She assured me that I was not selfish for being so afraid even though my cancer was small; fear is normal. Fear of the chemo is normal, she added, and she went over the 2551 potential side effects with me. "You might not feel any for 47-72 hours," she said. "Make sure you take care of yourself even if they are mild at first."
They don't hook you up to an IV, throw all the medications in, and leave you alone. They started with a saline drip and a steroid to help with side effects. I felt nothing (except her attempt to put the IV in my less-than-cooperative veins). About 45 minutes later, she brought the Taxotere over, asked my name and birthdate to make sure I was really the person who was getting the mix, and attached it. I felt nothing. No burning. No searing pain.
Because it was my first time on chemo, Carol introduced the drug slowly. It took more than 90 minutes for the bag to clear. Once it was gone, she brought over Cytoxan, the second drug. Again, I felt nothing. I dozed a bit, but a guy in a chair across from me was sleeping hard, and his snorting and snoring woke me up. I worked a little. I read a little. I thought a lot. But, I didn't worry.
During the six hours I spent at the center, Carol talked to me quite a bit about what to expect and about how losing one's hair seems to be the hardest thing for people to deal with even though it is the mildest reaction. As much as my hair and I don't get along, losing it is not something that I'm going to relish. I decided, though, that I have to look at the good side of not having hair.
TEN REASONS HAVING NO HAIR WILL BE OKAY (FOR AWHILE)
* I won't have to worry about spending money on shampoo and conditioner for months.
* I won't have to fight my thin cornsilk to do something other than hang there.
* I won't have to spend money on cuts.
* I won't have to spend money on color.
* I can throw a wig or turban on and be ready in 5 minutes.
* I can change my hair color and style with the flip of a wig.
* I won't have to decide whether to let my hair grow or to cut it again.
* I won't have to decide whether to let my hair go back to its natural dirty dishwater color.
* I can have pink hair without ruining my own hair.
* I won't have to clean my hairbrush all the time.
Once the nurses unhooked me from the IVs, they attached a Neulasta port to my arm. I'd seen the commercials and paid little attention to them until Melissa, another nurse, brought my port. Neulasta takes the place of the booster shot chemo patients receive the day after chemo; the booster helps keep blood cell counts high. Interestingly, once they attach the port, it starts a countdown and doesn't release the medication until 27 hours have passed. Once the medication port is empty, the patient pulls it off, and that's that.
The nurses also presented me with a blue bracelet to celebrate my first treatment. I have to admit that the nurses helped make the day better. With the way this all started with the oncologist, I was happy to have the good care of the nurses and NAs.
About 48 hours out, I'm doing what I can to avoid serious side-effects. I'm grateful right now to feel as I have the flu and not as bad as I expected. I have no appetite, so I'm forcing myself to eat crackers and drink water which they say is key. I'm starting to notice a few minor things, but I'm hoping that this will be the worst for me and that my worries are wasted. The next 24 hours will tell, I suppose.
At this point, I just can't worry about it.....too much.