Friday, December 4, 2009

My First Chemo Session

At 2:15, I walked into the oncologist's office and was taken back to the infusion room. It looked like a large storage room, filled with a bunch of old gray lazy-boy reclining chairs up against the walls all covered with a mixture of old, donated blankets that I don't want to think about too long. There were a couple of grey wigs stuck in a corner that I presumed were loaners as well - and those I really don't want to dwell upon. There were poles for IVs near each chair, with a big open yellow waste bucket between them.

Here is what was in the bucket:

Looks like Vincent was the patient right before me.

I was one of the first to arrive for that session and was waved over to chose my chair. Because I was sporting a cold, I decided to take the furthest one away - the last thing I want to do is make anybody sick. From my vantage point, I had a full view of the room, and was surprised to see, as it filled up with those of us who got The Cancer, that I was, by far, the youngest person there. By at least 20 years.

It's been a long, long time since I was the kid in the room.

My nurse came to start my IV and she was not happy to discover that I was to have a 90 minute herceptin loading dose. Oh, she was nice enough about it, but I could see that she was mentally rearranging her schedule. The long loading dose meant I'd be doing herceptin until 4:00, and still had the pre-meds and the carboplatin and taxotere to go. Most people have told me that it takes five or six hours for your first chemo infusion so I was surprised that they had scheduled me for a 2 1/2 hour session. Now I know why: mistake.

Herceptin went in and I sat there, playing with my iPhone, chatting with my husband who had come to keep me company. No side effects from it, not even the herceptin headache that I feared.

I spent some time watching the other patients. Most of them were querulous and complaining old people, asking for lots of special favors and needing pillows propped and wanting medication samples and detailing every ache and pain. The nurses were pretty patient with all the whining - I wasn't. I had to put my headphones in to drown it out.

Nurse: another job I'm not cut out for.

One woman, who seemed to me to be pretty clearly dying, had come from over 100 miles away, just for saline. Her son had driven her, and she had to come back for chemo the next day. I wondered why she had to go so far. Seems very sad that a woman who probably had just weeks left to live had to drive 100 miles each way to get her treatment,especially since there happen to be hospitals where she lives. But, how many cancer patients do I know - maybe she wasn't dying? She complained a lot too: how long the infusion was taking, how long the drive had been, how it was taking too long to get treated - which only made me want to never take off my headphones. I'm an evil person for being annoyed by a probably dying woman's complaints. I smiled at her a lot to make up for it.

At at little after 4:00, the herceptin was done. I got up to hit the restroom, dragging my rolling pole with me. All the elderly in the room smiled up at me like I was a curly-haired and precocious 3 year old in ruffled panties and a sun dress. Honestly, this chemo thing is good for the ego.

Time for the pre-meds; the steroid that is going to give me the energy to clean my house and an anti-nausea med called Aloxi, and then the chemo. As the nurse hung the bags on my pole, the 90 year old man next to me started making jokes about how I was getting more than anybody else and should share. I was joking back - until his wife of 69 years told me he couldn't hear me. So, I just smiled at him from then on.

Taxotere went in first. I got a metallic taste in my mouth but no other side effects. I sucked on mints to help with the taste and read a funny book a friend had sent, which was very helpful in taking my mind off this weird situation I found myself in.

At about 5:30, it was time for the Carboplatin. Obviously, the nurse was going to have to do her overtime, but I'm very thankful that she was not complaining about it. I had fears that she would open that drip up all the way to get home on time, but she remained professional. And, good thing, as I did have hot flashes with the carboplatin, and the drip had to remain low most of the time. At 6:45, I was the last person there.

The janitor had showed up, most of the nurses had left. My nurse and one other were working on a new computer program, and each time I looked up at my drip, it still seemed to still be halfway through.

My husband and I agreed that next time she checked on me we were going to ask for it to be opened a bit wider. Hot flashes be damned - it was time to get out of there and eat!

We did, she did, I ignored the heat and we were done by 7:30.

The worst part of the whole thing was when she ripped the bandage holding my IV in and ripped off the hair on my arm. I joked at at least I wouldn't have hair next time, and she seriously said, "Oh no, not everybody loses their arm hair, it seems to be the last to go."

What?! Are you telling me I'm going to lose my head hair, my nose hair, my eyebrows and lashes - and still have monkey arm hair?

How cruel is this disease, anyway?

Life is seriously not fair.



  1. Hi! I had diff. chemo (AC and Taxol), but I kept most of my eyelashes and all my eyebrows. Also arm hair. But didn't have to shave my legs (yay?)

  2. Yay is right! I totally am looking forward to skipping shaving my legs. It almost makes being bald worth it.

  3. When my hair began to grow back, I was so excited. I so wanted eyebrows and eyelashes and a nice head of hair. My leg hair grew back first. Talk about unfair.

  4. The hair I missed most was my facial hair. My face felt so weird without any hair at all on it. Then after chemo it started growing back very abundantly! I call it my monkey hair - it's pretty long, but blond hair on the side of my face - long enough for me to grab on to. It's slowly starting to go away now.

    I did not shave my legs from April to October - that was nice. And my eyebrows were the last to go, but are slow coming back and growing back in in weird directions.

    My arm hair grew back in curly at first and made my arms all bumpy.

    The whole hair thing is weird.

  5. Lost my hair just before second chemo - everywhere - except arm hair. Now at chemo 4 the hair on my head trying to grow - leg and down below too. No armpit stuff - can live with that. Sadly the brows are still going. No science to any of it!!

  6. So, I lose my breast, my hair.....but gain a beard??? WTF????

    Sorry, not happening. I will be looking for a waxing specialist, stat.

  7. Benefit (do you get Benefit in the US? I'm in the UK) do an amazing eyebrow kit - worth having a look at if you can. FJP xx

  8. You wondered about the lady going 100 miles for treatment? Well, there is a hospital and even a few oncologists in my small town. My doctor (GP) insisted I either go to the Mayo branch in the city about 50 miles north or the university cancer center about 60 miles south. She said my breast cancer was rare and I needed to be where doctors were familiar with it. I chose the university cancer center and ended up with a wonderful oncologist who has actually done research on it. Maybe that lady had a similar situation.
    My hair has grown back now. It went from a lovely long brown (with a little grey) to all grey. And it is very fine and fragile with thin spots. My hairdresser says the anti-estrogen meds I'm on affect hair, too. But, hey! It's HAIR!


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