I haven’t blogged in quite some time, not even since I had my first treatment, which was Aug. 28. I don’t know why. Having no experience with chemotherapy, I didn’t know what to think or expect. With four treatments in the history books, I’ve learned a few things.
DOCTOR AS PARTNER
For one, I’ve learned that a caring, compassionate, involved medical oncologist is imperative to success in treatment. He or she will be on top of things, will listen well when issues are reported, and will respond with medication adjustments. On the patient’s side, it is their responsibility to pay attention to ups and downs after treatment, whether caused by treatment or some lack of, or imbalance in, side effect remedies. As with most life situations, it all boils down to communication. The patient must report issues to the doctor, and the doctor should respond.
My first treatment set the pace for the next four: I arrived at the treatment center, a blood draw was taken to check blood levels, my vitals were taken, I saw the doctor, then went to the infusion room to receive treatment. This pattern would repeat with every subsequent visit.
Prior to each course of chemo, an infusion nurse would prepare the port under my skin to receive the needle that conducts the chemo into my body. That prep consists of a thorough disinfecting, then administration of a freezing spray to deaden the area so the needle won’t hurt going in. That strategy is, for the most part, effective. Those are some of the mechanics.
While receiving the treatment itself, I’ve felt nothing – except the big belt of Benadryl that’s part of the “pre-meds” that are administered to reduce side effects. That much Benadryl does cause an “out of body” sensation that is actually pretty pleasant. Other than that, it’s just a matter of having to sit there for four or so hours, rolling the tower of bags into the bathroom when nature calls, and knowing it won’t last forever.
PHYSICAL vs. EMOTIONAL
As I’ve gone through this, I’ve come to expect that by about Friday or Saturday after treatment on Wednesday, my body starts to feel side effects. Those seem to last several days, so that by the following Wednesday, I’m more or less back to normal.
Initially, nausea was part of the mix; communication with the doctor resulted in some medication adjustments, and I’ve had no more nausea since the second treatment. No matter what, I have had bone and muscle pain, and a small amount of fatigue. The degree and intensity of this discomfort has varied; it seems there are some things I can do for myself to ease it, including Epsom salts baths and massages.
The physical part of this I’ve been able to handle, but by now, the emotional and mental parts have become more difficult. My energy level fluctuates with treatment; some of the medications given to ameliorate side effects can cause depression. So, my ability to be vital and fun and interesting – to be good company – comes and goes. Living alone doesn’t help. Having no hair is a challenge too, because to go out means some degree of exposing this deficit. People look at you. No matter what you do, you can’t hide the fact that you’re a bald woman.
THE ISSUE OF IRRELEVANCE
I’m not sure people know what to do with folks in their life who have, or who are receiving treatment for, cancer. I’m pretty sure I was like that before the “C” word entered my life. Even when my own mother was dying of cancer, I had very little idea what to say to her. I’ve had friends with cancer since then, whom I was afraid to talk to because I didn’t know what to say. I think of myself back then, and I think I was afraid of saying something stupid or hurtful. Now that I’m on this side of it, the worst thing you can say to a cancer patient is nothing. To leave a cancer patient unto themselves to deal with this alone is very painful for the patient. It may take a lot of courage to approach a cancer patient, but if you do, you will make their day.
I’ve lived alone just about all my life, including now. This episode is causing me to question the wisdom of that kind of life, and what I’m gaining by having all this time and space to myself. I think about getting into the dating world again, and I realize I’ve got some baggage now, like cancer. So, I go to my faith about this. I welcome and honor God’s will for my life, including whether or not I survive this, and whether or not I am alone.
Before treatments began, and the physical and now emotional rigors of being a cancer patient set in, maybe to me cancer was just a bump in the road. Now, I see it will likely cause that path to change completely and forever. God only knows.