4 minute read.
My first chemo infusion started at 8:30 am on January 24, 2018.
I packed carefully the night before. Talismans – crystals from Kai and Sean; a little statue of Kwan Yin, who turns suffering into compassion, from Isabel; my stuffed possum mascot from Luthien; a ceramic mug Kristen made for me; and blankies from Aunt Tootie, Penny, and Susan. New wireless headphones from mommy. Fuzzy socks. Borrowed ipad. Chargers. Heating pad, since my period was just ending and I still had painful cramps. Tea, snacks, and hard candies to suck on. I had read that when they flush your port with saline, a metallic taste fills your mouth and candies make it taste less awful.
I woke up at 4:30 that morning, full of nervous energy and anxiety. I stared at my phone in our dark bedroom, Brian asleep beside me. This has become my usual routine.
At 7:30, I rubbed lidocaine numbing cream on my port (the little bubble with a tube that connects to my jugular vein, for chemo IV insertion). I covered it with saran wrap, dressed myself in cozy layers, tried to eat some yoghurt, and then we were off. We brought Zero with us in the car. Brian would step out and take him on a walk every few hours.
The chemo room was mostly empty when we arrived. It’s a large, sunny, square room with beige recliners against the walls. In the center of the room is a big, fishbowl-like cubicle for the nurses, so they can easily look out and see all the patients at a glance. I chose a corner chair – it had a good view of the whole room, but still felt secluded and homey, with my back tucked into the corner. Later we found out it’s an especially cold corner. The chemo room is frigid – I think for all the machines. I’m very happy to have all the blankies, and the heating pad was a lifesaver.
The beige recliners are comfy and have a remote to lean up or down. The guest chair is not comfy at all. A hard plastic waiting room chair. Here Brian will sit for seven-plus hours.
A nurse came and inserted the IV into my port. The prick barely hurt because of the numbing cream. They taped it down, took some blood to check my blood cell counts, and flushed my port with saline.
The metallic taste I read about was different for me. First, I smelled burning hair. Then my whole mouth flooded with a flavor of burning – oniony, pungent, almost durian-like.
I slipped a ginger candy in my mouth and it was fine.
After that, meds. The first several hours are a series of pre-meds, mostly for anti-nausea, and Benadryl, in case of allergic reaction to the chemo drugs themselves. They drip the diluted meds into your veins one at a time, so if you have an adverse reaction, they know exactly which medicine caused it. What this means in practice is you sit in the beige recliner for hours, while nurses come periodically to change the IV bag. After the pre-meds came Perjeta, Herceptin, Taxotere, and Carboplatin: my specific chemo regimen. This first session would last for around seven hours.
Chemo specifically targets rapidly dividing cells, which is why in addition to killing cancer cells, it also impacts other cells that grow rapidly: your hair, nails, skin, mouth, and gastro-intestinal cells, and blood cells like white blood cells and red blood cells. This is why people become immuno-suppressed during chemo, and what causes side effects like mouth sores, diarrhea, fingernail breakage and loss, and the more well-known hair loss.
I thought chemo would be fun (go figure). After all, how often do you have a chance to sit in a recliner for 7 hours with no responsibilities aside from watching Netflix? In practice though, there’s a lot of bustle and many interruptions. The nurses come to check on you every half hour, and the meds made me feel icky – achy, flushed, hot, cold, feverish. I nibbled Ritz crackers and tried to watch cartoons but couldn’t really get into a show or movie. I think for next time, magazines or a knitting project may be better. Then came the Benadryl drip, which felt like being drunk. After that I dozed, or just looked at the other chemo patients in a sloshed haze.
Overall, chemo day isn’t bad – just boring and slightly uncomfortable. The anxiety beforehand was the hardest part.