Round one of chemotherapy was pretty non-eventful. What was I expecting? To be honest, I don’t know, but I expected something horrible to report back to everyone. I sat in a chair for five hours, receiving bag, after bag, after syringe of meds. Then I went home. Seriously. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of the experience but perhaps I built it up in my head so much, that it turned out to be nothing.
I arrived at the cancer center and was quickly escorted back to have my weight and height taken – It will be the first thing they do every single time. Why my height? Am I going to shrink? Is this finally the time where I turn into my mom’s side of the family and become barely 5 feet tall?? Then, will I suddenly forget the name of my kids and call them every name, (including the dog’s), before I hit theirs?
I sat in the room as the nurse asked me a long list of questions. She paused when she noticed something in my folder, which made me lean in to see what she was looking at. She pulled the folder up and and looked at me with a very puzzled look. “You don’t take any medications, or did they make a mistake?” I looked at her and said quite proudly, “I don’t take anything!” She flipped a few pages, (I’m not sure what she was thinking she would see) and said “Not even for headaches? What do you do for headaches?” I told her that I use essential oils and that I’m not a big believer in drugs. She chuckled and said, “Ohhhh… your body is in for a shock today!” Super. Thanks so much Nurse Ratched.
As she set up the tray with the line, syringes of saline, gauze and other crap, she asked me if my port had ever been accessed. Well, that’s a personal question! I suppressed my urge to answer with a smartass response and told her that no one had. Nurse Ratched told me “No problem” but… “Would you like to be numbed or just get the main line without the numbing?” WHAT? Couldn’t they have prepped me for such a big decision? I HATE needles. I’m not joking when I tell you that it took me a good 5 minutes to decide this after a series of questions for the nurse.
“Do many get a numbing needle, before the main needle? “Have you ever numbed it, and it doesn’t numb?” “What size is the needle for numbing?” “Is the main needle as painful as the numbing needle?” “Where would you put the procedure on the pain scale?” I finally grew very irritated with my own questions and lack of decision when I looked at her and said, “Just do it. Don’t numb it, just do it.”
Nurse Ratched seemed eager as she grabbed the line. Then I noticed the needle had some width to it so I grabbed my coat sleeves for emotional support. I know that makes no sense but it did in the moment. She put her hand flat on my chest and pushed against the port site. It felt like the port was going to come out of my back when she said: “Remember I have to push the needle to the back of the plate on the port.”
Nurse Ratched pushed that needle in firmly, but slowly, to not miss the site. And perhaps, to cause me a little pain. It felt like a pencil, piercing my chest, hitting a piece of metal, and possibly coming out through my back. It hurt so bad that I slapped my foot down on the floor. The nurse jumped a bit and said that she didn’t mean to hurt me. I let her off with the excuse that it was more the pressure of her pushing against the port… and I was trying not to hit her. She smiled slightly and quickly moved away from me after she taped the line down.
Next, I had to sit in the room and wait for my doctor to come in. As I waited, my bra started to rub on the now-bruised port site. It was so sore already and I didn’t want to sit for five hours with it rubbing against the line so I decided to do a super slick move I learned as a teenager: remove my bra without taking my shirt off.
I unclasped the back of my bra and slid each arm out of the straps. As I reached down the front of my shirt to magically pull the bra out, the doctor walked in. SHIT! There I was, sitting with my bra half-pulled out of the top of my shirt! My mind started to race! Do I pull it out, or push it back into my shirt? As he turned to look at me, his gentle smile turned to a “What the hell are you doing?” look of panic. I smiled demurely and carefully shoved my bra back down into my shirt. “Sorry! My bra was rubbing against the line and I had to adjust it.” He just gave me a polite smile of “So classy!” UGH!
Sitting there, talking to him for 15 minutes with my bra bunched up in my shirt, was absolute torture. Could he not tell that I was completely uncomfortable? The straps were bunched inside of my shirt, and the cups were half on my boobs. Finally, he said that we could go back to the treatment area and I breathed a sigh of relief. Clutching my jacket to my chest, I walked through a line of nurses, doctors, and patients. I tried to not make eye contact with anyone in case they could tell that I was half-wearing my bra.
When the doctor told me to pick my chair, I quickly sat down in the corner of the room. I thought no one was paying attention to me so I reached down to try and pull the damn bra off. As I did, a new nurse came over and started to talk to me. I must have looked really irritated because she asked me if I was okay.
“Can you pull the curtain?” I asked. She gave me a weird look, but grabbed the curtain and started pulled it around us. She gave me a concern looked and asked if I was okay. I looked at her and quickly reached down between my boobs and pulled my bra out, like I was pulling a rabbit out of a hat! Her face was priceless! It was like she didn’t know if she should laugh, or run away. Luckily she chuckled, and I smiled politely as I tucked it away in my bag.
My newly hazed nurse sat with me and started going through all of my medicines and their side effects. I will start with anti-nausea medicines for an hour and a half. Then I get one cancer medicine, and then one that helps the next cancer medicine work, and another, and another. As she talked about each medicine, she gave me a print out on it that provided information and side affects. I seriously was on mental overload. I just wanted to start the treatment so I could get the hell out of there. Then she caught my attention with my last medicine.
“Your main drug is 5-FU. I’m sorry it sounds so naughty!” she whispered with an embarrassed tone. I laughed with delight and said, “Are you kidding me? It sounds like it was made for me!” This was my silverish lining in my first round of chemo. The ultimate laugh. She was seriously horrified to say 5-FU! Sister! It’s a drug, not a sex position. Lighten up!
5-FU is as great as it sounds. It’s so amazing that I actually came home with a doggy bag of it. I get a drip of it for a few hours at the hospital, and then I come home with what looks like a little tennis ball size bag of it. I would show you a picture of it, but I forgot to take one. And please do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT google “chemo ball”. The results are NOT what I came home with.
Anyway, the ball sits in a small, black bag that I can wear like a purse over my shoulder, or like a fanny pack. I would highly recommend the fanny pack method. I often would lay down the bag and walk away, forgetting it was attached to me. Then quickly I would be reminded of my tether when I felt the pull backward, as I hit the end of the length of the line. Picture a dog on a run, running after something and then being yanked back as it hit the end of the slack.
My chemo ball was with me for a day and a half before I would travel back to the hospital to have it removed. It felt like I was on speed the entire time! Now, I have no clue what it’s like to be on speed but I’m pretty sure I experienced it completely. My body, and mind, was set on fast forward.
I spoke in the fastest manner I have ever spoken. I swear I could feel the medicine pulsing through my veins. My mind was all over the place. I could feel my eyes twitching back and forth like the retro black cat clock. My legs would twitch a bit and when I laid down to sleep, my body felt electrified. Sleep was only a few hours a night. But I felt super! Seriously. I felt great! Twitchy and great!
When I went to the hospital to finally have the line, and my chemo ball removed, it was the most freeing feeling. I felt like I was human again and to top it off, I hadn’t experienced any nausea! I walked out feeling like I conquered the world. Until the next day.
The next morning I woke up feeling like a shell. Something was missing inside of me. I took a shower, sat on my bed, and gave myself the biggest pep talk. “You can do this Heather. You haven’t slept more than 10 hours in two days! You’re just tired!” Somehow I picked myself up and drove to work. I don’t know how I made it there.
For over an hour I didn’t move from my desk. I just sat there, in my coat, trying to figure out how I would function. Finally defeated, I looked at my co-workers and said: “I can’t do this.” I picked up my keys and headed to my car where I sat for 15 minutes before I could turn it on. Carefully, (I think), I drove home and crawled into bed still fully dressed. I slept the entire day and night.
Thankfully, the next day I woke up feeling like I was myself again. I ended up taking a nap in the afternoon, and then slept through the night. The next day was back to normal and I was doing my thing.
While this might all sound like a lot, it was much less than I expected. I tend to build things in my head to help myself “plan” through situations. Well my planning was completely off and it ended up being pretty non-eventful. Will it be that way next time? I don’t know, but I am so grateful that my first experience was so much better than I thought.
I am thankful for all of my family and friends that sent me messages and cheered me on. My girls checked on me, loved me harder, and helped me through every moment while they managed their own emotions. My dog rested her head on my hand as I slept on my crash day. I survived. So for all of this… I am so filled with love and gratitude.