April 29, 2013
Lessons in Chemotherapy
Today is a big day for two reasons. First reason, it’s the day I go back to work after being off for four weeks. Second reason, it’s is my ‘chemo teach’, a scary yet necessary part of my cancer journey.
I arrive to work at 8 am I feel strange, like I really don’t belong. I slink quietly down the hall to my office. But as soon as I open the door, it was like I just returned after a long weekend. The familiarity and the pile of git ‘er done assignments gave levity to my step. I longed to feel preoccupied and now my wish is granted.
The second part of the day is getting schooled on how my chemo will go down. Greg and I meet with Barbara, a nurse that looks to be in her mid 50’s or so. She gives it to me straight. She introduces me to my new friends, Eloxatin, Fluorouracil (otherwise know as 5-FU, for real! I'm making that up) and their trusty side kick, Leucovarin. She rattles off a laundry list of nasty-ass side effects; numbness in my hands & feet, thinning hair, mouth sores, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, sensitivity to light, taste changes, discoloration along vein where the medication is given, low blood counts, and nail discoloration or loss. The strangest side effect that she says is common in almost all patients, the inability to drink or touch anything cold. If you drink cold liquids it feels like you’re swallowing razor blades, if you touch anything cold, it feels like you’re being stabbed with knives. She suggests wearing gloves if I need to retrieve anything from the freezer or fridge. I think to myself, what the hell do people up north do if they need treatment in the winter? The weirdness of it all starts to get to me and I fight back tears.
Barbara continues on outlining procedures, what to bring to chemo, what blood tests will be done at the beginning of each round. She tells me I need to avoid buffets and salad bars, crowded places, small children, the sun if possible or wear a good SPF. No showers on chemo days unless I have a handheld shower nozzle so I can avoid getting the port wet. The list goes on and on and my brain begins to tune her out as I start making a mental list off all the things I can’t do this year.
Then she opens the floor for questions. Greg and I look at each other dumbfounded. She can sense we’re clueless so she tries to pull questions out of us. “Who cooks in your house?”
Again, we both look like dumb and dumber, unsure how to answer.
Finally I say, “I use to cook more, but not much lately. And Greg is really good at grilling.”
Barbara looks at Greg and says “OK, you’re going to have to take over cooking duties. Know that most days she may not want to eat, but try to give her something. And if she asks for something and by the time you make it and bring it to her she doesn’t want it, don’t get mad, just put it away for a while and she may eat it later.”
Then she says, “What about sex?”
Say WHHHHHAAAAAAAAT??!! I look at Barbara and say, “Um, are you asking if we have sex, like sex, plan on sex or all of the above? And if you’re getting ready to tell me there is NO sex during chemo, then you can watch me walk out that door right now and you’ll never see me again.”
She chuckles, “No, you can have sex but you may not feel up to it because you’ll be so exhausted.” She looks a Greg and says, “So you’ll need to be patient and understanding.”
Greg replies, “Between the surgery and the port, she has so many holes in her, I’m afraid I’ll hurt her.”
“Well you only need one hole, honey!” she quipped