^^^ Wore some mantra bands – all gifts – for luck and courage. Seemed to work!
If you’re curious, here’s how my first chemotherapy session went on Tuesday.
My check-in time was 12:45. I squeezed quite a bit into the first half of the day before chemo started.
I had a baseline bone density test (DXA scan) scheduled in the early morning. This will periodically be used to monitor me for osteoporosis, which I am now at greater risk for developing from the cancer treatment and its side effects. This was quick (10 mins) and painless. The technician performing the scan was making small talk and asked what I was planning to do the rest of the day. Me (brightly): “Getting chemo!” Her: Silence.
And once again, cancer becomes the ultimate conversational mic drop.
She mentioned one interesting thing to me, namely that I was the last patient on their schedule. Because of Coronavirus, they were stopping all bone density testing and routine mammograms. This got my attention. As I’ve mentioned, my cancer was detected when a routine, on time, mammogram in December 2019 showed a change from exactly one year earlier.
Have you ever delayed a screening test because you forgot or didn’t have time? I have.
This led me to think: what if I’d not scheduled that mammogram on time? Maybe I’d remember in January or February and would have been one of those patients getting deferred for now. By the time the restrictions are lifted and the backlog of patients is accommodated, I could easily envision a scenario where my “routine,” no rush mammogram was pushed to May. That would have permitted my cancer to linger, fester, grow and potentially spread for nearly SIX Months. I shudder to think of this.
After the bone scan, I went to work. We are navigating the Coronavirus and wow! It’s dizzying to keep up with recommendations for patient and staff safety. This is far from over.
I left work a little later than I’d planned but with almost zero traffic, I crossed the metro with ease.
After checking in, I had labs drawn. The immediate concern is to see if my immune system is strong enough to get chemo. It was, although that’s not surprising since this is my first treatment and haven’t had the drugs yet.
I had a brief but pleasant appointment with one of the providers on my team and she signed off on the orders to go through with the chemo.
I was led to the infusion room, which was sunny and warm. I picked a chair by the window. I would describe the chairs as being like functional airport seats, definitely not as nice as a massage chair at a fancy nail salon, but not terrible. I mention this because that chair was my home all afternoon. They offered me a blanket or pillow but I declined.
Because of the Coronavirus risk, they staff was also clear that there were absolutely no visitors allowed in the infusion room. I was secretly so happy about this! I envisioned large extended families in matching t-shirts all crowding around Great Grandma to keep her company and support her during chemo. Looking around today, there were definitely some candidates for this scenario but the room was blissfully quiet. Spouse and I had a debate on whether he should accompany me. I said no; it didn’t seem purposeful to have him ruin his afternoon waiting around. Turns out, I was right. It was kind of boring.
^^^ My eyes look a little red, which is weird because this is one of the few days I did not cry.
After getting an IV placed and re-applying lipstick, the infusions started.
First up: two pre-medications to prevent/abate side effects (they both combat nausea) from the other “real” drugs. These each took about 20 minutes and were given one at a time.
Next up: Docetaxel. This is chemo drug #1. It took a little over an hour to slowly drip in. I was given warning signs about potential allergic type reactions that could happen but I was fine.
Finally: Cyclophosphamide. This is chemo drug #2. This can be given in as little as 30 minutes but the kind infusion nurse helping me today said that some patients have sinus pain (? weird?) and giving it over 40 minutes reduced that symptom, so she liked to follow the slower route.
While I was getting the infusions, I read the newspaper, listened to two podcasts, transitioned to music and read a magazine. Their internet was spotty so I couldn’t download the new book I had pre-ordered that became available today. Mental note for next time: download in advance.
When the medicines were completed, I had one more thing to do: I got an automated medication delivery device – it looks like a case for AirPods – attached to the skin of my abdomen. This device is filled with a medication designed to boost my immune system and is set to automatically inject me tomorrow night. One it deploys, I can peel it off.
Total time for this adventure was just over four hours. I felt fine afterwards and was able to drive myself home, and then go for a social distancing approved walk outside with Spouse, Trixie and our dog.
While this was a straightforward experience, I also know it is early. This was cycle #1 of 4, and effects are cumulative. Side effects also don’t kick in immediately, for example, my appetite is low but real nausea doesn’t kick in for 6-10 hours. Immunosuppression starts about a week out and peaks (actually, nadirs) at two weeks, then (hopefully) recovers by the third week – at which time the cycle starts again.