Last Thursday was my much-anticipated first chemotherapy treatment. I had read about the two drugs I would be receiving (Adriamycin and Cytoxan), and had been prepped by my friend who underwent the same course over four years ago. But still, I was nervous, not knowing exactly what was going to happen.
I arrive at nine o’clock, a nurse draws blood through my still-sore port (I’ve only had it a week at this point), and we move on to the infusion room. She tells me about a cream that can be applied to the port an hour before my appointment to make it somewhat numb. I vaguely wonder why I haven’t been told about the cream before my appointment. Seems like that would have been a nice tidbit of information to have beforehand.
I am then given a quick “tour” of the infusion room. It’s a long room with windows on one end with multiple recliners. Some people are already there, strapped to an IV. I notice curiously that they all have hair. There are snacks and drinks in one corner, and a nurse’s station in the other corner. My boyfriend has come with me; we carry bags equivalent to a weekend getaway. I have a blanket, a Thermos of ice chips, a cooler of snacks and drinks, and books and notebooks. We settle into a pair of recliners near the window and wait.
First I am given a crash course in the drugs I’m about to receive. A friendly nurse has me sign a paper that I have agreed to be treated with these chemotherapy agents. I feel like I’m signing my life away. She goes over the major side effects such as nausea, fatigue and hair loss. She tells me I can avoid mouth sores by keeping chipped ice in my mouth during the Adriamycin infusion (which she familiarly refers to as the Red Devil). I was forewarned by my friend about the benefits of ice chips, so I’ve come prepared. But I find myself again thinking that this is the kind of information you should give your patients before they show up for chemo.
Before I can even start the chemo drugs themselves, I’m given pre-meds intravenously. These include anti-nausea drugs and a steroid. The friendly nurse tells me the steroid may give me facial flushing, and it may keep me up that night. I have nowhere to go the next day so I don’t really care. It takes about twenty minutes to get the pre-meds in my system. All I notice at the end of it is a slight headache and a weird taste in my mouth.
Then the nurse introduces me to the Red Devil. She pushes her syringe into the IV slowly; the drug in the syringe really is red (I thought maybe it was a metaphorical term). It looks like red Kool-Aid going into my veins; it even feels cool since it’s kept in the fridge. I try to make friends with the Red Devil, telling myself he’s helping me to kill the cancer cells in my body. I even thank him silently as his poison enters my body, imagining the bad cells dying, and the good cells remaining unharmed. I suck on ice chips the entire time this is going on; my hands are also cold from holding the cup of ice chips that my boyfriend continuously ladles out, so I’m huddled under my electric blanket.
It doesn’t take long before the Red Devil has spent himself, and I can ditch the ice chips in favor of some water. The Cytoxan will take a while to drip, so I settle in with a book. I tell myself this will be good reading time.
It doesn’t seem as though I’ve been reading very long (although I’m pretty sure it was close to an hour) when my machine beeps, and my time in the reclining chair has come to an end. We pack up our voluminous bags and head out. I expect to feel strange, but I don’t really notice anything yet. Not anything I can put my finger on anyway.
We head to the pharmacy to get the port cream and anti-nausea medication. I recently had a bout of food poisoning and am in no mood to be nauseated again so soon. We also pick up some Claritin; tomorrow I will get a shot of Neulasta to help keep my white cell count high, and one of the side effects of Neulasta is bone pain. But evidently, someone discovered that it you take Claritin a few days before and after, you can alleviate some of that pain. No one is sure how it works, which makes me suspicious, but I buy some anyway. What could it hurt?
The rest of the day Thursday I expect to be sick or to start to feel some strange and disgusting symptom, but nothing ever comes. Friday the same thing: I take my anti-nausea meds preemptively though, just in case. Saturday morning: nothing. I’m beginning to wonder if they didn’t accidentally give me Kool-Aid and someone drank the Adriamycin at their picnic. But by Saturday evening, I’m beginning to feel the fatigue that is so much talked about. I come home from grocery shopping and c-r-a-s-h.
Sunday: pretty much crash-day part two . I stay in bed forever on Sunday morning, take a nap after lunch, and another nap after dinner. Sunday is the worst day so far. By Monday I’m recovering from it all, still feeling a bit bobble-headed, as I tell my boyfriend. You’ve always been bobble-headed, he says. This may be true. But I’m thinking it’s what is referred to as “Chemo Brain.” I prefer to call it Chemo Daze due to how long it seems to last.
My next meeting with the Red Devil is set for next Thursday. I’m already wondering how our second date will go. Should I make a special effort on my part? A new outfit? Pay more attention to my make-up? And what can I expect from him? Will he be glad to see me? Will he at least bring me flowers?