Sunday, April 1, 2012

First Abraxane

It's Wednesday - chemo day. On this day I start my fifth chemo, Abraxane. I drive my usual route through the city, park in my favorite area of the hospital parking lot, grab my iPad and purse and make my way to the building entrance. The afternoon light is slightly golden and the day, after a bout of rain, is warm, moist, and spring-like. Hopeful. I see wet blossoms on the small trees struggling to survive in the asphalt meadow of the parking lot, and I realize, as I open the glass doors littered with small drops, that I have been coming here weekly for nearly two and a half years.

By now I'm a pro at this chemo thing. I take the wheezing elevator to the 3rd floor, walk directly to the sign-in sheet, write my name, greet the receptionist, and sit. I have long stopped noticing the mottled gray/blue carpet, the machine carved wood sign that warns about the wait, the hospice and wig brochures, or the yellow and black check pattern of the waiting room chairs. I know one or two have lost their padding, and I avoid those without thought. I pull my iPad out and start my kindle app to read. The wait might be 10 minutes, or it might be 45; by now I'm beaten into submission, or perhaps I've finally learned patience. I no longer care about time. I'm here, I have nowhere else to be.

They'll get to me.

When my name is called, I walk directly to the scale and step on. I wear heavy clothes because I'm always cold and why wouldn't I be? In jacket, sweater, boots and jeans I weigh 95. Losing weight again, but nobody comments. They take my weight, I know, merely to calculate my dose of medicine. I hop off the scale and go back into the infusion room without being told, where the oval ring of recliners sit waiting, like hunched bears.

Sometimes now, I find one that is farthest away from people. I read more than talk these days. The chatter of the rookies about their newly lost hair, their uncertainty, their doctors - it has become tedious. But the room is open and people sit just feet from each other so it's hard not to be drawn in. There are donated paintings on the walls - seascapes and still-lifes, painted in oils by somebody who watched too much Bob Ross on TV. There are homey, 1970s-colored hand-made afghans and quilts on the back of each chair and a pillow with a paper case on each seat; chemo poles aside each one. The shelves on the walls have wigs and ball caps, free for the taking but too ugly to want. The one window shows the sky, the tops of trees, the edge of the parking garage. To the left is the hospital. I've seen budding trees and rain, sunsets and shimmering heat through those windows, season after season.

It's hard to believe this shabby, comfortable infusion room is where I have spent every Wednesday for two and a half years. And, it's likely where I'll spend every Wednesday until I have no more Wednesdays left to spend.

If only days were like coin. If you could save them up, not spend them, gather them to use when you need them. I think of days I wasted. Threw my coins into something foolish, thinking there was an endless supply. I wish I could have them back.

I know the drill. Today's nurse puts in her special needle, and I turn my head to the right automatically, otherwise the blood doesn't flow properly out of my port. Once the flow begins, I watch the bubbly maroon liquid stream into the tube and then ready myself for the metallic taste of the heparin flush. This chemo, Abraxane, requires an IV anti-nausea drug and 10 mgs of decadron. I watch her place the bags on the pole - bags with my name and the time on it and a large syringe taped to one. She will inject that into the bag at a time known only to her. The assistant drops a fluttering sheet with bloodwork results onto my lap. My marrow is doing its job now - next week, I know will be different. I tell my nurse, and really the entire room since no privacy is available, that for the past two days my stomach has been acting up, the pain has gotten much stronger, my bowels are not normal. I'm worried about the return of c-diff. I wonder if I will need something stronger than compezine for nausea. She promises to call a prescription for Zofran in for me if I need it, and turns on the flow.

I know all the nurses: their children's names, their problems, how they feel about their jobs. One once admitted she doesn't want this to be happening to me. I admit that I don't either.

Drip. Drip. How many drips have flowed into my system over the past two and a half years?

I get my chemo, I go dry, I'm unplugged, and I leave, driving through darkened streets to my family. This chemo is no different than any other. I am weaker than I used to be but I tolerate it well. I have some nausea but it's controlled with Ativan and Compezine and is gone in two days. Ominously, my hands and feet tingle and I know l-glutamine may help me with that; I have used it successfully in the past. But, it must be dissolved it in a glass of water and the thought is now repugnant, me with no appetite. I know I can't get that in my stomach this week.

Next week, I will for sure. I promise myself.

My head also has that feeling you get before you are going to lose your hair. It took ten days last time, now the feeling has happened in two. It's as if I've slept on dirty, knotted hair for too long, and ants are crawling on my scalp. I even washed my hair, just to be certain it wasn't actually dirty. Nope, even freshly scrubbed the feeling is there. The follicles are rebelling, gathering reserves and preparing to jump out of my head. I'll be bald soon.

Carboplatin. Taxotere. Taxol. Navelbine. Abraxane. Herceptin and Zometa. Drip. Drip. Drip.

It's Wednesday. It's chemo day.



  1. Ah Ann, losing your hair for the second time sucks. I know what you mean about the coins/days. I really hope this chemo is easy on you. I hope you don't mind me saying that u sound down which is perfectly understandable of course... Lots of virtual hugs being sent your way.

    Katie31 (bco)

  2. Bless you. Ann in England x

  3. Ann, I'm reading a fascinating book at the moment. I don't know whether you've heard of it, but I'm listing the link below. Although te author recovered from her stage 4B Hodgkins, she's not suggesting the everyone can heal themselves. Rather, she's encouraging everyone to realize that we are all pure love in our basic, pure eternal form. Her near death experience is compelling to read and I hope it interests you too.

    Best always,
    Barrie, Ontario, Canada

  4. p.s.


  5. Ann, I am constantly amazed at the quality of your writing while you are in the clutches of cancer Hell. You really have given the world a gift but I wish you would get one back in return for your suffering. I wish for a cure for you right now and forever. I think about you every day.
    Susan Kranyik

  6. Okay, I am deleting references to Oprah and Wayne Dyer because they appear to be spam and there are too many of them. Not interested in that sort of thing, nor is this the place to do that sort of promoting.

    And, sorry I made you cry! I didn't meant to!

  7. Oh, and I'm not down, sorry if I gave that impression. It was a rainy day when I wrote that and I was contemplative. Not sad. :)

  8. Hi Ann. I use to have my chemo in one of those rooms. I hated it. I go to California Pacific Medical Center (2100 Webster in SF). I know SF is probably too far for you to travel, but they have built the most amazing cancer care center, Bryan Hemming Center. Now I go once a week and to a beautiful private room. There is room if a friend wants to come, a big window which has zen fountains outside to look at, and even a flatscreen tv with a dvd player. The nurses there are amazing as well. If you have a chance to transfer your chemo treatments to another place, go here. :) Thinking positive thoughts for you. Living the stage 4 lifestyle right along with you and awaiting my next scan on April 6 th. Peace, Jennifer

  9. Sounds fantastic Jen. But, I can't drive 2 hours each way for chemo so I'll stick to shabby. Plus, I love my doctor, wouldn't want to give him up. Sounds like all you need is a manicurist and you are in chemo heaven! :)

    Hope you get NED results on your scan!

  10. Thinking of you, Ann.


  11. Ann: I came by to see you last week, but you hadn't come to school yet. I'm still praying... though we haven't talked in awhile... Was good to see you out at Sci Oly, although you got away before I could weed my way through the crowd. Enjoy this week without all of us and the kids around to bother you... And, thanks for the paper, although I think I might leave it until 7:15am Monday. :)

  12. Hey Kathy! I didn't see you at Sci Oly! Fun day, always. I'm glad I had the energy to go again - it was my third year going when sick. I'm at school at 11:30, stay until 3:30 or 4:00. Have a wonderful break!

    Teachers and kids NEVER bother me, they make my job worth it!

  13. Ann, Thank you for your many writings. I agree that you are an excellent writer with a gift for putting the words together so that everyone gets an idea of those recliners and the infusion room. They seem to be the same nationwide (except for that SF center). And how is school and work and the students? Your school does Science Olympiad? I am the head coach at our high school. It has been a real challenge this year because of my many absences. We keep going, and then we go back for more to fight this stuff. Hang in there. Chemteach.

  14. Got your back, to whatever extent I can....Just please know that. I won't shut up until all of the realities are part of the conversation. I promise. And I send love to you....

  15. Just discovered your blog. Love your wonderful juxtaposition of humor and pathos. Very satisfying as I prepare for another day of radiation. I'm 71/2 months into my fight with breast cancer and looking for the good stuff where ever I can find it! I hope the Abraxane does its job. xoxo Tracy S.

  16. What you have described is, I feel, not just the same nationwide, but the same right across the first world.

    This is exactly just like my chemo experience in Melbourne.

    I do think of you quite often Ann, and I hope this chemo is not too bad for you (relatively speaking of course).

  17. Oh Ann: You have given me so much God bless you for your honesty All I can do is pray but I do that every day Love Marion Ferguson(only anonymous because I can't work the other stuff)

  18. I guess the infusion center where I received my treatments was "in between" - we have larger spaces between recliners and curtains for times when perceived privacy feels important. Twice I ended up in one of the small number of private rooms, which was great because the private rooms have beds.... making for spectacular chemo naps.

    Ann - I wish you the most effective chemo - leading you closer to NED with each infusion.... and minimal side effects. I got your contemplative tone. You are a great writer, and you are generous with your writing. Thank you.


    Lee (syncing with my blog doesn't seem to be working....

  19. Ann,

    The vivid imagery of your writing always blows me away. Having accompanied my father to one of his weekly visits, I can say that New York is very similar to California in the cancer treatment room setup.



  20. I, too, am sorry this is happening to you. Keep writing- you are an excellent writer. ;-)

  21. Ann, may i wish you all the best. I am reading your blogs for some time and i admire the way you cope with the problems you have to face. The best wishes from Carla from the netherlands (by the way: Have i made a lot of mistakes writing english?)

  22. Ann, you paint such a perfect picture of your chemo experience. (If such an experience can be described as perfect.) I can imagine the scene completely in my mind.

    I also imagine your pockets jammed full with all of us — little bobbing avatars, offering you support. ;-)


  23. Beautifully written, Ann. I am going to make my sons read this, especially that part about coins and days and not wasting them. They are young and like I was at that age...think they have neverending days ahead. I am so thankful for each and every day and know how quickly everything can change. Blessings to you.

  24. It's nice to know that so many people have similar experiences. Next week when I go in, I'll think about all the tens of thousands of people across the country, sitting in similar rooms. And, I love the idea of all the avatars in my pocket. :)

    Patti, kids think they have all the time in the world. I know I did. I am not sure that can be changed with words. It all goes so fast but they don't know that.

    Carla, your English is fine! Thanks from reading from so far that I "know" people all over the world.

    AnneMarie, it's good to know somebody is going to keep up the fight. We can't do it as we die off. It has to be non-metsters.

    Love all of you who have taken the time to write me!

  25. Hi Ann. I feel like I "know" you from the BCO boards (Karri/kltb04, we are posting on the cosmetics thread a bit lately - chick who was scared to wear contacts, :) )

    Just read this entry and wanted to say thank you. I was about to waste this morning "wallowing" for lack of a better word. Just the frustrations that everybody goes through with the hair, my consistent and constant fear that "something else could be wrong," the general "why me" whining" and such. I am now getting my sorry ass out of bed and going and doing some housework because thank God I can this week. And looking up a cupcake recipe to make for my daughter's birthday because this week I can. And calling some of the billing depts and saying "hahaha, yeah right you are not getting all this money in one payment" :) So thank you.

    BTW, my chemo room is the same. Could hold hands with the person in the next chair. ;) Heaven forbid.

    :) Karri

  26. I can relate to so much of what you wrote here. You described it all so vividly; your writing brought back many memories. I remember the feelings, the smells, the sights and the people that I met in the chemo room every two weeks for more than a year and a half. You are an inspiration to us all, cancer survivors or not. Each day is a blessing - "a coin" - that should never be wasted. Thank you for sharing your heart so honestly, Ann. Blessings to you.

  27. Karri, I'm so glad something I said prevented you from wallowing.

    Karen, I'm glad my words evoked that time for you. That's what I was trying to do - some day this blog will be all that's left of me. I want my family to know what I've experienced. The humor is part of me, but not all of me.

  28. Wow, Ann. This grabbed my heart on so many levels. You are an amazing writer to be able to lay it out in such clear fashion, this unpleasant experience that you've sat through for more than two years now. A strong woman is an understatement.

    I especially liked the part about wishing days were like coins, and not wasting them on things that don't matter. It was a stark reminder of why my husband decided to retire in 2008, after attending the funerals of two of his fellow firefighters within just a few months of each other. They all had plans for the future, what the intended to do after retiring, but they never got the chance.

    Nobody is promised tomorrow, which is why we should make every day count. Thanks for this wonderful, thought-provoking post. You really knocked it out of the park.

    You are in my prayers.

  29. Hi Ann, thanks for sharing this "contemplative" side with us, you do have a beautiful way with words and I'm thankful that you share them with us!

  30. Ann, Your humanity shines through in all of your posts, whether you are laughing at the absurdity of CancerLand or simply observing the reality of it all. I am grateful for your voice and the spirit that shines through. May you continue to tolerate the chemo as well as you have. xo

  31. Oh, Ann, what can I say? You do know the drill so well don't you? It's almost unfathomable to think you've been doing this for over two years. Despite all you're going through, you continue to write with humor, wisdom and guts. After all, as you say at the top of your blog, you're "livin' the stage IV lifestyle." Thank you for sharing your reality with us. You're educating and inspiring a lot of people. Continuing to think of you, now especially on Wednesdays.

  32. Ann that was so beautifully written. I could almost feel like I was there with you.
    Thinking of you and wishing like that nurse you didn't have to be there either. Hope the after effects of this aren't too nasty to carry on and battle the next onslaught of round 2. xo

  33. Hugs! And I hope your wrong about going until you have no more Wednesdays.
    3littlegirls BCO

  34. Thank you for your eloquent, honest and bittersweet post, Ann. Much to ponder - especially about not wasting our "coins." I hope you are feeling better. I took Zofran. It helped a lot. Hugs, Jen

  35. Hi Ann...Its' KsGal. You need to bind all these posts up into a book and send it off to a publisher for all those women who don't get a chance to read your blog. You are a tremendous writer.

  36. Oh, Ann...

    Just reread this & am struck once again by what a big, huge heart you have. Finally added your blog link to my blogroll & to a page I started on my blog today for info about mets. Those of us without mets need to step up in whatever we we can. Because it could be any one of us tomorrow.

    Hugs & love,

  37. So proud of my amazing sister who touches so many with her words. You may have wasted a few coins, but you are spending them wisely now. Hoping against hope that Abraxane fills your purse once again! Love you. Tracy

  38. The coin metaphor is really sticking with me, Ann. I'll be thinking of you on Wednesdays.

  39. Ann,
    God bless you! I read a number of your posts after a friend posted a link. I currently have 2 friends battling liver cancer, and 1 next door neighbor too. I appreciate reading your journey.

  40. Ann,

    I was diagnosed last August and found your blog when I was in the midst of much internet research. To say I love it would be incorrect - how can I love a blog about something so horrible? Maybe it is better to say I have found comfort in the humor with which you write and the knowledge that though I wish it weren't the case, there are others out there that know exactly what it is I'm going through.

    I wish you strength and peace for your upcoming sessions. And comfy, well-padded chairs, of course.


  41. Ann,

    I can't tell you how this post is so wonderful. I'm pissed off that you've had to deal with it so long, but you write about it beautifully. I wish you many more nights of writing.


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