February 12, 2019. Today was my half-way point in my chemo treatments. But after last week, I was really wondering if I could go on.
I’m guessing the port implant and the anesthesia just exaggerated all the side effects from the chemo. The day after chemo, I’m typically pretty hyped up and have a hard time sitting still. But this week I slept most of the day and my appetite was not very good simply because everything tasted like cardboard. Food that I usually enjoy, like fresh veggies and fruit, I could barely bring to my mouth. Plus with the port needing to heal, I slept propped up to try to keep myself from rolling over on my left side, the side the port is on. Thursday was no better. Food-wise, the best I could do was smoothies and poached eggs. By Friday I was shuffling from the bedroom to the bathroom like an old woman, the port felt like an alien invader in my body, the nausea just never subsided, my intestines were in a knot, I have chemo brain which affects my concentration and memory. I felt like the Lana I know was disappearing. In my brain I was saying, “Where’s Lana?” I found myself crying a lot, and wondering how I could continue with the treatment. Finally on Sunday night I said to Steve that I was considering asking Dr. Rugo if I could take a week off from chemo. The truth is for the first time in my life I was depressed.
I’ve come to dread Mondays, the day before treatment. Gathering things together, planning what time we need to leave. This week I just didn’t have the energy to care. So, today, Tuesday morning, I was doing everything I typically do on Monday night. We planned to leave by 8:30a, but it was really closer to 9a by the time we drove out our gate.
This is the first time I would have a blood draw through my port. Two hours before my blood draw appointment, I need to put prescription Lidocaine and Prilocaine cream on the port and then apply a Tegaderm film-type bandage over the top. The cream numbs the skin, so when they do the blood draw it shouldn’t be too painful of a poke. So about an hour into our drive, I applied the cream and the bandage as we sped along at 70 miles an hour. And it dawned on me, this will now be one of my new routines. Fun.
We arrived in plenty of time for my 11:40a blood draw appointment in the infusion center, where they also took my vitals — weight, blood pressure, oxygen and heart rate — all good except I had lost 3 lbs since my last infusion. As for the blood draw, it was as promised. I did not even feel the needle going into the port. They left the IV line in the port for the chemo treatment which was scheduled for 2:40p.
My next appointment was at 1:00p with Dr. Rugo on the 2nd floor. First we met with Dr. Rugo’s medical assistant Robin. She talked to me about how my week had been, my weight loss, my labs. She examined my tumors and then Steve brought up my depression. She gently suggested that I start taking a very mild anti-depressant to which I surprisingly agreed. Me on an anti-depressant? I never saw or imagined that coming. Then Dr. Rugo came in. It was a good appointment except for a couple things. She was concerned about my weight loss and my platelets had dropped from 136 to 83 in one week. She suggested that I not do chemo today. Steve reminded her we drive 3 hours one way to be there, and I asked if we could go forward with the chemo and take the following week off. She agreed, but would only give me Taxol this week. No Carboplatin. I would take next week off and she would reduce the dosage of Carbo for my future infusions. I asked if I could get the Benadryl orally rather than through the IV, as suggested by chemo nurse Lisa. The Benadryl directly into the vein really messes me up. She readily agreed.
So no chemo on February 19. I am so relieved. I felt instantly better. The other good news is that the tumors are a bit smaller. By April 2, my last chemo, these damn tumors should be barely detectable, if at all. Then surgery.
We stopped at Em’s desk on our way up to the 5th floor infusion center to let her know I wouldn’t be having chemo next week and that Dr. Rugo wanted me to have another MRI when I came for my treatment on February 26. She expertly, efficiently and with kindness and caring quickly made all the necessary adjustments to my schedule. We love Em. She came around her desk and gave us both big hugs.
So we head back up to 5th floor for chemo. Taxol only. Benadryl orally. And of course the usual Pepcid, steroid, anti-nausea medicines were administered.
My nurse was the lovely young Madeline. A truly delightful traveling nurse from New York who has had been in San Francisco less than a year. The infusion ended around 5:45p, I thanked Madeline for taking such good care of me, and we finally arrived home about 8:45p.
Listen, having chemo is not for sissies even though it can turn you into one. I’m not saying I feel like a sissy. I don’t. But I do feel human. I feel vulnerable. I feel tired. I feel old. I feel lost. I feel alone. No one can do this for me. There are no pitch-hitters. Even though I feel enveloped by love and support and caring, it is still a solitary journey that I’m on. Each time I hear from someone who is just finding out about my disease, or who has read my blog for the first time, or has known but just hasn’t known what to say, I’m touched to my core. My eyes well up with tears out of appreciation and a bit of sorrow for having this be the situation that brings us all together is such a profound way.
But this is what I am reminded about cancer every week when we step out of the elevator into the 5th floor infusion center and see everyone sitting in the infusion chairs, getting their treatments just like me. Cancer is blind. It is blind to age, ethnicity, gender, religion, fitness level, height, weight, economic status, political point of view. Cancer doesn’t care if you are mean or kind, meek or fierce, apathetic or extroverted, educated or illiterate, employed or unemployed. Cancer does not discriminate. It tries to own us. Cancer will not own me.
If we don’t believe the things we put on our agendas will come true for us, then there’s no hope for us…We’ve got to believe in our beautiful impossible blueprints. —Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook