One down

Published by pam on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 9:02pm

I am feeling better for some reason.  It's 7:30 and suddenly, my body has decided to take a break from its malaise and feel better.  Maybe it's the accupuncture   Maybe it was the smiling face of my daughter coming in (repeatedly) to make sure I was alright, maybe it was the walk my husband offered to take with me in the waning hour of sunshine. What ever the cause, I feel a better and thought it might be worth taking the time to write about the events of the past day or so.  

Many times, long before now, I had wondered what it would be like to walk into a chemo room, knowing the powers that be we're about to infuse me with something so counter intuitive.  I mean chemo works by stopping everything from growing - cancer, hair cells, blood cells - it seems so odd that such a thing can work. After all, our bodies fight cancer all the time.  All of us have errant cells and usually our bodies destroy them before they can destroy us.  But every now and again, our bodies fail to do their job.   And for that, we have invented chemotherapy. But instead of helping along a natural process, we circumvent it and replace man made systems for natural ones.


That is one reason the chemo room always scared me.


The other is that it is like the ultimate high dive.  It's a long way down and there's no stopping once you take that first step.  And really, is is possible to know what is at the bottom?



There has been so much lead up to my trip into the chemo room, that I a lot of my fear has dissolved away.  In hindsight, the scariest room I've been in so far was the CT PET scan room.  There, they inject you with a radioactive dye that is sealed not one lead box, but two.  If something needed to be locked away that securely, then I was pretty sure I didn't want it injected into my body.


But there were several other odd things about the CT PET scan room.  It was dark, for one thing, and chilly, and ominously.  I sat there for an hour drinking an odd milky mocha shake (there were plenty of favors other than mocha, but according to the tech, mocha was the clear favorite).  And sitting in my first hospital issue recliner in a dark room with the ever present oven-warmed blanket stretched up to my chest, I had a lot of time to think.  Too much time really.  I couldn't believe this was happening to me.  A week ago I was a healthy person.  The only thing I knew about PET CT scans, I learned from reruns of ER.  How many CC Chem7's would I experience in the next year.  And while I  while waiting for the radioactive dyes and the milky mocha drink to take their effect, I had plenty of time to listen to bits and pieces of conversation outside my door.  Most of the people were in similar situations, equally awkward and equally scared.  My favorite snippet came from a young man, maybe 30, most likely younger.   He had straggly shoulder length red hair.  He was tall, but slumped his shoulders  as if trying to camouflage his true height.  He spoke as if still in control and he was determined to fight what seemed like all the wrong things.  


"For women," he said, "it's all about the boobs.  They don't want to give up the boobs.  For me it's the hair.  I told the doctor I'm not giving up my hair.  No mater what, I'm not giving up the hair." I would have happily told him that I would have traded the boobs for hair, but wasn't offered the choice.  And that given his age, his hair would most likely grow back just fine something I wasn't so sure I could say for my own.


That was a major digression, basically to say that I have now sat in a lot of rooms waiting for thingh were unthinkable only a short time ago.  There has been a lot of bargaining.  What am I willing to trade?  How hard am I willing to fight?  Really, how strong can I be, for myself and for everyone around me?


By the time I walked upstairs to the chemo treatment room, I'd given the subject a lot of thought.  I'd bargained and negotiated plenty.  I was as ready as I could be.


We were the first to arrive for the morning infusions.  I thought there would be a fight for those early morning appointments, but I guess I was wrong.   One other family came up along with us.  The woman was wearing what I have come to recognize as a fairly traditional wig - man made hair, a little tall on top, the color was slightly off, but the longer that I looked at her, the more natural she appeared.  She asked if this was my last treatment.  I said no.  She told me she envied my energy and figured I must be either at the beginning of the cycle or the end.  She was coming for her final treatment and smiled wide when she said it. Now it was my turn to be envious.


The treatment room was small and simple.  The recliner was clearly for me.  The uncomfortable little side chair was meant for my husband.  The nurse walked us through the routine.  I asked a few questions about what I could do, eat, etc, during chemo.  She brought us a stack of books. It seemed a little odd to expect patients to study up.  I thought the would be more education to help us navigate the minefield ahead (should I avoid gardening, how carefully should I wash vegetables, can I  go out in public, eat in restaurants, etc).  But maybe the dangers have been over rated. It's hard to know.


Anyhow, the nurse, a kind woman, late fifties, early sixties, walked us through the medications I would be given.  The first three were pre medications.  They would take about an hour.  Then came the one that scared me.  Adriamyacin.  It has all kinds of nasty names and some pretty scary side effects, but at least it didn't arrive in double lined lead box.  It came a rather small syringe and the nurse injected it slowly, by hand.  Other than the fact that it turned my urine red for a few hours, it didn't seem to warrant its nicknames (at least so far).  After finishing up with the red potion, she set up an IV bag with the cytoxan.  And about half an hour later, she flushed my port and sent us on our way.  Fairly uncomplicated.  Nothing like recovering from surgery.


One down.  Only fifteen more to go.  Of course only three more of those are AC treatments.  I'm told the taxol/herceptin treatments are somewhat easier to take.  But each leg of this trip seems to come with its own adventures.


hi pam, 
i haven't forgotten about you. kids are on spring break and we are in austin, tx. for two weeks vising my mom and sisters.  i will be back on the 18th. glad to hear (at least from this post) that you are feeling well.  do you come to seattle for treatment?  do you want me to sit with you?  bring you lunch? bad magazines? otherwise, i will head over on the ferry in the morning after dropping kids off at school and we can meet for a walk or chat.
we have brought the rains to texas...ethan says the weather in seattle is nice so i hope you are outside and enjoying it. i will call when i get back.

Hope Texas is fun even if it's rainy.  Try on some cowboy boots for me, and then drink some tequila since I can't.  Talk to you soon.

Hi Pam,  You write  well - - reading your posts makes me feel like I am in the room(s) with you. It's good to hear you having an "up" day. I love the slide show. I'm so far away and feel helpless but will email you anyway. Hugs.

It's hard not to feel helpless at a time like this, but you're not.  It has been really nice staying in touch throughout all of this.  Don't underestimate the power of that.  It helps a great deal.

Nothing like a little illness to catapult us into the hear & now....  Recently (like for the past 15years), I've been whipped about by ridiculous work stressors, keeping food in the house (let alone on the table), carpooling here & there etc and often disconnected from way too many friends & even family .  Last night I fell asleep (after developing a ppt for a class of 2nd year residents on developing a Career Mission Statement) thinking about you & your incredible family.  Seemingly out of nowhere you popped into my exhausted brain.  After feeling horrible that we haven't been more in touch & wondered how you were doing,  I made a point to connect this morning.  I suspect this surfaced after trying to write my own mission statement about my career as an example for the residents only feeling deeply ambivalent that what I really felt was important was a personal mission statement -- THAT would have been far easier to write, far more important and painfullly unfulfilled......  ANYWAY, when I woke this morning (only because two boxers tried to join me under my warm covers...), Marty remarked, "We need to contact Pam & Marc!"  WOW.  So your vibes are definitely traveling deep into the Bay Area!
ANyway, it is really wonderful reading your blogs.  I don't think I have appreciated blogs so much (not that I ever spend time reading blogs.....)...  Anyway, it does feel like we are there with you (whether you like it or not!).  OUr warmest & encouraging thoughts are with you.  Anytime you'd like a little quiet time , please send your daughters to us - we would DELIGHT in having them (as would our dogs!).  But I know you won't give them up for a second!
Lots of love, Sallie (and Marty, Sadie & Teshie ...oh and Ella, Jasper, Schiz, Shira and Skipper in abstentia).  

I take it you saw the much loved picture of your family and ours in the slide show.  Ryann often concocts ways to come visit more often. Obviously, in the short term, that's not so easy.  But we look forward to catching up and being chased around the house by a couple of boxers and hearing the sound of your children's voices.  And the vegetable impressions.  We could really, really use a few vegetable impressions.

Dear Pam,
I read all of your posts but am mostly a silent witness.  I'm waiting for a warm, sunny day when I can take you for a ride my little row boat around the bay.  Facing life-threatening illness can lead to a near alternative universe where colors are brighter, smells more pungent, and family and friends more dear.  I remember it well.