The first thing that hit me was the smell. I almost gagged and actually felt a little light-headed walking into Huntsman. It’s the smell of the chemo room. I asked Patrick if he smelled it, but he didn’t. But for me, that Smell brings back memories of some pretty dark days. I couldn’t even go into hospital without feeling nauseated for a long, long time after chemo the first time. I can’t really describe what the smell is exactly… It’s mediciny, antiseptic, but warm and sickening. It brings a visceral reaction that, even twelve years later, rushes in powerfully, instantaneously, and oh, so familiarly. Dr. Akerley had warned that my body is so conditioned to revolt against the chemo experience that this might happen and could get worse.
As far as chemo rooms go (infusion rooms, in Hunstmanese. Much more civilized than Poison Control, I suspect… But let’s call a cat a cat.), this one was pretty good. There are huge windows with remote control shades, big tvs in every chemo station, a movie you can watch, and snacks (Oreos, are you kidding me???). Every chemo station is set up kind of like the first class cabin of a plane, with the lounge chair, tv, warm blankets… oh yeah, and the pole that holds all the drip drugs and machines that screech.
Even though I’m getting less of the Carbo-Taxol, this chemo ordeal lasted more than four hours. First, the steroid to lessen nausea (and to keep you awake, which is why I’m writing this after midnight). Then, the Taxol. As soon as the nurse opened the drip line, I could taste the drug. She asked if it tasted like dirty money. Dirty money? I couldn’t really say. I’m going to like this nurse, though. She gave me more info, then said she waited to do that til she could see if the Taxol was going to have a negative effect on me. I said, “To see if I was going to pass out?” She agreed, “To see if you were going to go into a coma.” Then she laughed. I am REALLY going to like this nurse.
The Taxol drip took about an hour. I know all my docs agreed that this chemo regimen will not make me sick, but I kept waiting. Then, I had the weirdest feeling: Hunger. I was starving. Now, this is a new experience during chemo. I’m more used to giving back food, rather than taking in food during chemo. So, Oreos it was, and orange juice, and a little later, half a chicken sandwich. The Carboplatin drip (also an hour) was even less exciting.
Sometime in that second 60 minutes, I heard the unmistakeable sound of a leash. Patrick went over to investigate and brought back Axel, a therapy dog. He sat in my lap for a long time while his handler/owner/mom, Cindy, told us she had chemo for breast cancer three years ago and is paying it forward by visiting every Tuesday with Axel. Something about animals makes everything better, and a warm puppy in my lap was just the ticket. Tuesdays are my chemo days, so Axel and I now have a standing date through November.
Chemo wrapped up just in time for my date with radiation. I have no bad memories of radiation, as I didn’t have it in 2001. I just had to lie on a table, in a form that was fitted to the shape of my upper body. This, I can do. The techs used high-tech sharpies (!) to draw the areas where the radiation would go. A quick CT scan, and then the radiation. The whole process will only take about 15 minutes on the outside, probably much less. But I have to go in Monday-Friday for 27 rounds. I don’t expect side effects from the radiation for two weeks or so, with the exception of brown and orange sharpie circles on my chest. I know things will take a turn for the worse after that, when the chemo and radiation side effects accumulate.
I called Dr. Shroff in Orlando to report what happened, and she was pleased with how things went. Then, she asked what kind of anti-nausea meds Dr. Akerley had prescribed. I said I didn’t know, because I didn’t fill the prescription. She pointed out that IF the docs are all wrong and I DO get sick overnight, I’d have to run out to a 24-hour pharmacy, which we don’t have in Park City. She might have even asked if I was crazy. So off to Rite Aid I went. I took a Zofran, too, just to be on the safe side. Now, hours later, even though I’m wide awake from the Dexamethazone, I don’t feel sick to my stomach at all. The docs spoke the truth. Now, I’ll wait for 12 more days to see if my hair falls out. In any case, I’m on the train now and am chugging toward November 27.
One down. 26 to go.