Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Chemo, the first time

I had my first chemo treatment on a Friday (12/3, specifically.) I was eager to get started. I wish I could say that it was because I wanted to fight this thing. But the truth is, I viewed treatment as the greatest excuse for doing nothing ever invented. I wanted, in the stupidest way, to be no longer responsible. To be sick, which I imagined mostly as lying languid like some figure in an 18th century romance, watching DVDs from Netflix. I knew, intellectually, that it would be a bit more complicated than that.

The treatment itself is not bad. I drive to the Cleveland Clinic in Beechwood, go up to the oncology suite, sit down in a big comfy chair a little like a dentist's chair. Jeanette is my favorite nurse. She's been an oncology nurse for over twenty years. She was the person who's job it was to talk to me while getting my bone marrow test. (Note: whether a bone marrow test is mildly annoying or horrible is largely operator dependent. So if you ever get a bone marrow test, you what my doctor, Dr. Schnur. He's really good. My test was merely annoying and mildly uncomfortable.) Someone asks if I want tea or juice or water, and if I want cookies. Do I want a blanket? I had tea and cookies and a blanket and the blanket was heated. I read Dan Chaon's You Remind Me of Me, which I highly recommended, and chatted with Jeanette while she hung saline and started an IV. Jeanette gave me an Atavan (tm). It's like valium, only it also has anti-nausea properties, which is the ostensible excuse for why I got to be somewhat stoned for my chemo treatment.

I get four drugs. Two are what are called a 'push' meaning that Jeanette or another nurse have to stand there and inject them--this takes fifteen to twenty minutes. The other two are drip. Three of them are clear, and one, adriamycin, is bright red and turns my urine peach colored for a day. Okay, maybe that was overshare. There's a lot of overshare in cancer. All the drugs have long horrible lists of adverse affects and drug interactions. Hair loss, of course. Nausea isn't the problem it used to be, though, they give really strong anti-nausea drugs. Imagine my dismay when I learned that women on chemo tend to gain weight.

Everyone says the exhaustion is the worst. Well, it may get to be, but at first, mouth sores are the worst. The fact that my tongue is sore--it's that old business of becoming aware of something you usually don't notice--is the first really annoying adverse affect I've had. I lie in bed, tired, and think about how my tongue rubs against my teeth. Finally, I used Ora-Jell. It hurt like hell when I put it on, but by God, it worked.

I've also had some joint pain. But mostly, I've been pretty normal. I was tired the first couple of days but went back to Curves and exercised and now, a little over a week later, I'm pretty much without much sign or symptom except for a bit of muscle ache.

It's weird though. Just the thought--chemo. All the images it conjures up. The whole point of chemo is to introduce toxic substances into the patient's body. Since malignant cells divide more often and metabolize more quickly, the idea is that the cancer died before the patient. In the early days of chemo, this wasn't always the case. Even now, a day after chemo, I walked around thinking how weird it was that I had been poisoned. I felt...toxic.

Last night, at the library, Bob found Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner's comic book Our Cancer Year (from Pekar's American Splendor comic books). Pekar was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and treated in 1991. Wow. Chemo has come a long way in a little over a decade. I'm grateful at how much advancement has been made dealing with the effects.

There are no such things as side effects. Everything the drug does is an effect of the drug, and the drug is just a chemical. It just does what it's going to do. So more and more, people talk about adverse effects. I keep thinking about this distinction, and how weird it is to voluntarily poison myself. Of course, the alternative to treatment sucks.


Blogger Ruby said...

Go to the mouthwash section of the drugstore and look for Biotene. This stuff works wonders! I had the sore tongue after my first few chemos, then the nurse turned me on to Biotene. I use it twice a day on chemo day plus about 4 days afterward. Never had the sore tongue again!

December 14, 2004 9:38 AM  
Blogger Responsible Artist said...

I think that illness is completely unfair and nobody should have to go through it, especially you. I hope the treatments go as easy as is possible and you recover swiftly and fully.


December 17, 2004 2:06 AM  
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October 04, 2005 4:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 24, 2009 12:12 AM  
Blogger jamie said...

I am about to go through my first chemo tomorrow - your blog and explanation helps tremendously. I know it's been years since you've posted this, but Thank you.

October 05, 2009 9:46 PM  

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