The day had arrived, Tuesday, March 18th, for round one of chemotherapy. Part of preparing for, and, hopefully, countering the effects of chemo, involves taking steroids, beginning the day before chemo and continuing for 5 days. I had no idea what that little pill would do to my life. I am normally a very mellow person, falsely propped up by a nice cup of coffee each morning to get me through the day. I love my coffee. Well, no need for coffee when steroids are involved. Steroids make me hyper. To say the least. Monday was productive, my most energetic day since surgery. I cleaned the house, made dinner, prepared the slow cooker for Tuesday night’s dinner, and then, stayed up most of the night. On the bright side, staying up all night did give me a chance to get on a discussion board to have some last minute questions answered regarding what to expect from chemo. I figured, surely, I’ll sleep during the 4 hours chemo session.
I arrived at the hospital at 9am, and made my way up to a couple of pre-chemo appointments, that, in my opinion, could have waited. After that, it was time to check my blood work to be sure I was really ready. Being relatively healthy (otherwise), everything looked good. With the IV line secured in the port, I made my way back to, as I’ve (affectionately?) named it, my “chemo-cave”. In addition to having a great staff around me, I have to say, the facility is nice. They have included everything one could think of to make chemotherapy a comfortable experience. Each “cave” is fully enclosed by curtains, though I left mine open so I could look at the photographs of beautiful beaches that line the walls. I have a reclining, heated, massage chair, personal TV, heated blankets, snacks, and a volunteer art therapist and massage therapist at the ready. I also came prepared with a favorite blanket from home (per middle of the night advice from the discussion board), snacks, books, and my phone; complete with music, audio books, social media, etc. But, I wouldn’t need all of that. Surely, I would take a four hour nap.
The first med up into the IV – Steroids! So, never mind that nap….
I got my books out and settled under my blanket. Every so often, new things were added to the IV. Anti-nausea meds and various other things to ease the impact of the chemo drugs. After about an hour, the first of three chemo drugs was added to the mix. I am getting the full package, the works, as the nurses are calling it. TAC. Taxotere, Adriamycin, Cyclophosphamide. There was nothing to it. I had anticipated more sensations, tastes or something, based on the long list of potential experiences expressed by my “chemo coach”. I really didn’t notice anything. So, I read my book, colored with the art therapists’ supplies, listened to some music, and had the nurse whip up some popcorn. Time passed. It was time to go home. I walked out, feeling good.
My dad gave me a ride home from the hospital, but I feel that I would have been fine to drive. My mom, my kids, and my slow cooker dinner were waiting for me at home. Dinner hit the spot, and we went on with our usual school night routine. Later that evening, I started to feel slightly off. I think I may have been okay if I had been able to sleep. The minute I got in bed, my heart started pounding, my mind racing and a general crappy, nauseous, feeling started to take over. Reminiscent of my morning sickness days, I lined up crackers and water by my bedside, and tossed and turned all night. The day started with an overwhelming exhaustion, queasiness and a touch of wired energy.
Wednesday afternoon, it was back to the hospital for physical therapy and a shot called Nuelasta, which is given 24 hours post chemo, to boost the bone marrow to kick up production of blood cells. The side effect of the shot is bone pain. I am involved in a study comparing a couple different options for managing this pain. The option I am taking, apparently, is not working.
By Thursday, all of the symptoms were hitting me. This was not unexpected. Based on everything I read and learned from the nurses and discussion boards, day 1 and 2 are controlled by the steroids, anti-nausea meds and all the rest. Day 3, 4 and 5 are expected to be the worst. Thursday was day 3. On top of the exhaustion from lack of sleep, I generally felt dizzy, queasy and when the bone pain hit, it made me feel like I’d been run over by the flu. I would compare the pain to Dengue Fever, which I had in the 90s, courtesy of a rendezvous with a mosquito in Jamaica. I’ll never forget that pain. It felt like all of my ligaments were removed and my bones were left to clatter against one another. Imagine the achy joints and pains associated with the flu. Multiply by 5. Add a smashing headache, with a distinct pain behind the eyes, and that is Dengue Fever. Moving hurt. Everything hurt, actually.
Friday everything peaked. In a nutshell, on Friday I felt like I had Dengue Fever with morning sickness, exacerbated by sleep deprivation and the pain of recovering from major surgery. It was also pizza and movie night with the kids. I managed to make it through the movie and tuck the kids in before collapsing on the bed. Thankfully, the kids had a fun weekend planned with their cousin, so that I can rest and rebuild.
As I write this, on day 6, I feel like I’m over the hump on my first round of chemotherapy. It is early Sunday morning. I am sitting on my couch, watching the sky change from black, to blue-green to pink and orange, the birds are singing, and I’m feeling alright.