January 15, 2019. I made it through my first full week of after-chemo-side-affects…which weren’t all that bad, so far. What little nausea I experienced was due to the fact that I was late taking an anti-nausea med. Bad Lana. My energy was good. I felt alert. Present. I tired out a little quicker than the week before, but all-in-all, it was a pretty good first week.
Today is the second infusion. My appointment is at 2:40p, however I am also scheduled for a sonogram, followed by a FNA (fine needle aspiration) and then clip implants which serve as markers at the tumor sites, should they truly dissolve.
We arrive by 12:30p to get my blood draw done before heading upstairs to Radiology for my 1:15p appointment. I check in and it’s not long before they call my name as well as the names of three other women who were waiting when I got there. They were all there for mammograms. I find myself thinking “lucky them,” but then realize these are follow-up mammograms to abnormal mammograms, and they are all probably scared shitless.
The four of us go into a cozy room with lockers and dressing rooms. We change into gowns (open in the front), lock up our valuables and sit and wait. We exchange a bit of polite conversation, I help one of the women navigate how to use the combination system on the lockers, and then they call my name.
A nurse, Saba, then leads me into a room with a lot of monitors and an examining table suspended at least 5 feet in the air. I think, “Oh, boy. What kind of sonogram is this? How do patients even get up there from here? Good thing, I’m not that afraid of heights.” Saba lets me know that Dr. Li will be in to speak with me very soon. So, I sit and wait. There are no reading materials whatsoever in this room, so I wander around and read the signs they have up about sanitation and privacy. I watch the screen savers on the monitors. It’s a very boring room, so I decide to meditate. I focus on owning this experience and controlling my breathing and remaining calm. Finally Dr Li enters the room. She is young, petite, pretty and, as she begins to speak to me, I can tell she’s smart.
Dr. Li tells me that the sonogram will be done in another room, not the one we are in. “Whew!” I am secretly relieved to learn they will not suspend me in the air for a sonogram. We walk across the hall into a room crowded with a bed, 3 or 4 monitors, a computer, sonogram equipment, Nurse Saba, Dr. Li and me. It is very cozy. Nurse Saba is tucked on the opposite side of the bed from Dr. Li so she has access to the keyboard. Dr. Li explains that first they will do the sonogram, followed by the FNA (if needed), then the clip implants. The sonogram is fairly straightforward. She easily finds my tumors and they take 5 images of each. She measures each one: the right axillary lymph node tumor is 14x8x14 mm, and the right chest wall mass is 21x12x28 mm. She tells me that when I had my MRI the doctor thought they might have seen another tumor near the one under my arm. But, after a thorough search no tumor was found. That means no FNA. So, Lana has a happy moment. It’s funny how in all the bizarreness that accompanies a cancer diagnosis, you get to experience these tiny grains of joy, and that was one of mine.
Dr. Joe made an appearance at this point. She and Dr. Li talked about the size of needle they should use to place the clips. Once they settled on a course of action, Dr. Li gave me lidocaine injections, both external and internal, at the tumor site under my arm. I could watch everything on the monitor as it was happening and it was pretty cool. The entire process was repeated for the chest wall tumor, and in no time at all (it seemed) the clips were in place. I’m thinking, “Hurray! I’m all done. That I can get out of this open-to-the-front gown and head on up to the 5th floor for chemo.” But Dr. Joe is not done with me yet. She wants a mammogram done to make sure the clips can be seen. What? My tumors are nowhere near my breast, how is a mammogram going to show the clips?
Nurse Saba and I walk across the hall to the mammogram room. I sit in a chair in the middle of the room while she prepares the machine. Like me, she is not sure how she is going to get this picture for Dr. Joe. She tries a couple different completely awkward and very uncomfortable angles, but the markers aren’t visible. She leaves the room to consult with Dr. Joe.
I sit there, alone, in the middle of this room. The light is low. I’m trying to stay calm. I reached down for a necklace I’m wearing that my Grandma Kofford gave me many years ago and bring it to my lips and kiss it. I tell her I know I’m going to be fine. Then I say to both her and Dad that if and when the time would come, I’m not afraid that I know they would be there waiting for me. And then I said out loud, “You too, Grampa Richter and Grampa Kofford and Uncle Bunk and Kris and Jane. I know you are all here, and I appreciate it.” And I wept a little. I just felt like they were all there, surrounding me with support and comfort and healing. I was alone, but I wasn’t. Lucky me. It was then that Saba and Dr. Joe returned. They were going to try one more shot. I’m sure I sighed audibly. Dr. Joe left and Saba once again maneuvered me into an impossible position. On her order, I held my breath. The machine whirred away. She told me I could breathe. She left the room and a few minutes later Dr. Joe came in and told me they were successful. Both clips were visible on the image. Miracle?
I quickly changed into my clothes and joined Steve. By now it was after 3:30p! I couldn’t believe that much time had passed. I was already nearly an hour late for chemo.
My chemo nurse is Laura. She is very upbeat and sweet spirited. I liked her right away. Another nurse name Laurine got the IV going. I mentioned to them both that even though I was getting a late start at least I was only getting Taxol. Laura said, no. You are scheduled to get Carboplatin as well. I showed her my calendar with the Ts and TCs that Nurse Robin had given me. She said something must have changed because the orders called for Taxol and Carboplatin each time I’m infused. Disappointing, but what can a cancer patient do? I was in for another 3-hour infusion, like it or not.
Here’s my chemo cocktail. Each medication is injected or infused separately in the following order (which is why it takes 3 hours):
- Emend (anti nausea and steroid)
- Decadron (anti nausea)
- Zofran (anti nausea)
By the time the infusion was over, it was after 7p. We got home right around 10p. It was a very long, exhausting day.
The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain. —Dolly Parton
January 17, 2019. By far my worst day is today. Intestinal cramping. No appetite. Tired. They said that each week would be similar, so I think I have it figured out now.
- Tuesday, Wednesday: The poison is busy doing its work attacking all those fast dividing cells. That means you cancer!
- Thursday, Friday, Saturday: I begin to feel the effects of the poison’s handiwork. Slightly nauseaous (thanks to the anti nausea meds), unhappy intestines and cramping, fatigue. So far, Friday is the only day I have trouble eating.
- Sunday, Monday: Recovery days. My appetite is better, my energy level is back on the rise. My goal is to gain a few pounds before the next infusion.
January 20, 2019. This coming Tuesday I see Dr. Rugo again, and she should be able to tell me if the chemo is shrinking my tumors. I think it is. Why? Why not. If the tumors have gotten smaller, then I am all in for 10 more chemo cycles. If not, then I will argue (I’m sure) to stop the chemo and schedule surgery. I never thought I would say this, but I’m really hoping I’m right about the shrinkage. I hope that by spring, Steve and I will be planning our “Lana Survived Cancer Again” celebration with a kick-ass party. I see a cancer free future for myself. I believe it.
The only courage that matters is the kind that gets you from one moment to the next. —Mignon McLaughlin