My Chemical Romance
LATERZ, hair and FUN and WINE!
I get to the infusion center, and there are signs indicating this is a grim and joyless place. No more than one visitor at a time as a courtesy to other patients, like you are in ICU. No cell phone usage (how are you supposed to pass 3-4 hours?). My friend Tracy was very good in telling me bring a computer or something to do. She wrote a screenplay while she was getting chemo. I've already sworn off wasting as much time on the Internet and social media as I do now, because time is precious and if this all heads south, I won't say, "I should have spent more time on Facebook." I vow to make my three to four hours productive.
After checking in and waiting for a short period, I am taken to my very own private "infusion suite". Behind the door was a mystery, and they made the "infusion center" sound like a wartime communal treatment tent with people lying on gurneys with IV bags on wheeled rods. I had a nice room with a nice La-Z-Boy style chair, and it was almost like flying first class without the free booze. I get my very own "chemo nurse" who is a nice man called Jim and I can already tell he is my kinda guy. He asks where I live, and he says, "There's a big blue house with an army truck in the driveway." I say, yep, that's my house - the little house next to the big house. Kevin's M35A2 military troop transport has become as iconic in the neighborhood as the former treehouse out front.
They are prepping me for my infusion and they get a bag hooked up. I ask again,"How long will this take?" and Jim says a few hours. First, you get the pre-drugs. I had no idea there were pre-drugs. He explains they have to do three different infusions before the infusions: Steroids for side effects, Benadryl in case you have an allergic reaction, and Pepsin for upset stomach. They do them one at a time. THEN, I have two different chemo infusions: Taxol for general cancer once a week for 12 weeks, and Herceptin for my special Her-2/Neu factor, which I have to take for an entire year. Chemo is not "one thing".
I'm told is the steroids might make me feel "wired" for a few days, and the Benadryl might make me feel sleepy. I've taken Benadryl tablets, and they never make me tired, so I write that off as things that ordinary people complain about. Steroids are done, and they have to change the bag. I've probably been there for an hour already. They then give me a backpack, a blanket and a cute box of "hope" the hospital volunteers have put together for the sorry bastards like me doing chemo. I immediately think I'm not worthy of this kind of gesture, as certainly, there are worse cancer cases than me. I don't have cancer THAT BAD. Maybe it's the kindness of strangers I have the toughest time with. I figure if I come out of this okay, I will give it back and they can give it to someone who is infinitely more worthy or dire than me. It seems ungracious to refuse it now.
The parallel track to my chemo patient indoctrination is all the other wellness and support around the chemo stuff. I'm given a folder. There is an entire community center for cancer patients only, with nutrition and cooking classes, mediation, free wigs and free massages. I latch on to the free massages part of the brochure, which proves that I am not worthy of this voluntary kindness and will exploit cancer treatment to satisfy my hedonistic urges. Another useful piece of information that I latch on to is the offer of a medical marijuana card. I have no love for feeling high, but maybe I should start. Cancer could be my excuse to turn into a raging, aimless stoner. Here's my excuse to do nothing for once in my life. If I sit around and smoke pot all day, who will judge me? I have cancer! That will shut down all consternation. I ask for the nice pot nurse to pay me a visit.
They hook up the Benadryl, and I'm waiting for a whole lot of nothing. The pot nurse stops by. She is asking me for all kinds of information, and I feel stoned. Is this a contact high? They told me the Benadryl might make me drowsy, but I have not felt like this since I took a Quaalude at CBGB in 1994. She's talking at me and I'm watching her mouth move. She hands me a card for a Holistic Nurse, and I'm not sure why. She's going on about diet and nutrition and all I can think is, "I will never remember any of this. I really don't remember this at any time outside of my 20s.
Now they are on the Pepsin drip, which does quickly, but I have not even gotten to the main event. I've been there for two hours already. Where is the wired party of the steroids? How did Tracy write a screenplay when I can't even hold my laptop flat in the chair? We are waiting on the Taxol. When the bag runs dry, the infusion machine alarm goes off, but then it's really not done and they let it drip some more. Each time, the nurse leaves the room, then comes back to the room after the alarm becomes annoying enough for them. It's not really annoying to me because I'm on drugs, but it drags out the process some more. I'm on three hours.
Now for the main event - TAXOL. It is the standard breast cancer chemo drug that is supposed to kill everything. I call it "Attacks All" and the nurse says, "I haven't heard that before!" and I think she's kidding because for this frustrated copywriter, it seemed an obvious moniker. This is the stuff that makes you sick, makes your hair fall out, and is the reason why I should smoke pot. They write me a prescription for an anti-nausea pill I can take as well. My folder is becoming full of information I will never remember. I'm sorry I ever said I'm not affected by Benadryl.
After an hour of Taxol infusion, I have yet another infusion of Herceptin. I don't know why, but I though chemo was one dose and they would mix it up in one bag and do them at the same time. I don't know why they can't, but that's the way it goes. That's another 45 minutes sitting in the chair, and after 4 hours, i have to go to the bathroom. I stand up and can barely walk. I hang on to the IV pole for dear life and thank God the toilet is just around the corner and has grab bars. I'm using the drip pole like a walker as I come out and feel like the floor is going to come up and hit me in the side of the head.
The alarm goes off a couple of times and when the IV drip has bled its last, I am told I am free to go. This is where the real question mark comes in. How the heck am I supposed to drive after the Benadryl IV? I've had lesser procedures where they make you call for a ride and I feel fine. I am not fine. They practically kick me out with my backpack, my folder and my box of hope and after 5 or 6 hours, I have no idea what in the hell just happened. I'm walking at the door and stop by the concession stand to get a coffee. What do you get when you give a drunk coffee? A wide awake drunk. This is not normal. I don't feel normal. No way no how, I wander out to the parking lot after finishing my coffee and try to walk it off some more. They would not let me go if I wasn't okay, right? Am I impaired or is it the chemo that makes me feel weird. How am I supposed to know.
I finally get into my car, drive though the Dunkin' Donuts down the road, and only have about 3 miles to home. I just feel pain weird, but no one explained to me how I should feel or will feel, except that I might feel BAD later. I do the smart thing and get into bed, drink some chemo detox tea, and watch some bad television. The steroids finally kick in and I get about 5 hours sleep and want to clean the house. I'm moving furniture and the grout needs a toothbrush. I need to rearrange the garage. Who said that chemo sucks? I feel GREAT. I can do anything.
Read the fine print.
I crash after the weekend of my Steroid Speedball, and I'm back to the chemo detox tea sent to me by a friend. I have a business card for the Holistic Nurse and i have no idea what I am supposed to talk to her about. I call and ask why I'm supposed to see her and make an appointment. A few days later, I get a link from the CT Department of Commerce to apply for my medical marijuana card and I'm glad I didn't delete it. It looked like spam and I had no recollection that this is the agency it would come from. I don't recall any specifics, but I make a note to myself to make notes when I do it again next Friday.
I unpack my backpack, and put the Box of Hope next to my bed. It's very sweet - hand painted with care. I have all my info about free wigs and free massages. I put my hand lotion and hand sanitizer and peppermints for nausea in the backpack, with my new kindle and laptop. I optimistically packed my laptop again but am knocked out by Benadryl again, I judiciously bring Kevin to drive me home. I ask them if I have to have the steroids, Benadryl and Pepsin, and they say next time we will discontinue it. I fill the prescription for nausea and look up the name of the drug - it's also used for Schizophrenia. WOW. YEP, NOPE. Not taking that. I'd rather barf or smoke pot, and I don't even like smoking pot.
Now I know chemo isn't one drug or IV bag or one-step process. It is preparation and blood tests and port clearing and one infusion followed by another, and then a port flush, in my case. Then I go home and it's the steroid buzz and the body aches and the chemo tea and the exercise and the dietary changes and no alcohol, which tastes like metal filings anyway due to the chemo. It's bad enough that the hair will go, but when Merlot tastes like mercury, that's just not something I can stomach. Looks like I'll have to abuse another prescribed substance for 10 weeks. Chemo is no friend to the wino.