(NOTE: It's ironic to be posting about my first day of chemo on the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the year AFTER my diagnosis. In the grand scheme of treatment, chemo seems such a distant memory yet really wasn't so long ago. Amazing what a year can bring!)
Chemo Day was finally here; a day I had been dreading, yet just wanted to get over with, because every chemo round done meant one less to do, and I was closer to the finish line. Since we had been staunch, non-driving New Yorkers for so long, we learned the hard way about L.A. traffic during morning rush hour. Google Maps decided to take us on a circuitous route through the hills (to supposedly avoid the highway traffic), which wasn't much better! We finally got there and found out that there were two locations, and we were at the wrong one. Sigh. Luckily, they are not that far apart, so we headed to the other one, but due to the traffic and location snafu, we didn't start as punctually as I would have liked.
When I arrived, I was happily surprised to see that there were windows. I was hoping I had something pretty to look at! The chairs in my area were completely filled, and I was the only one there without silver hair. Since the ladies seated underneath the window were older, they didn't like the sun much, and they asked to close the blinds, so unfortunately, I lost my view. 😞
I ended up sitting next to a sweet and lovely older British couple. The husband was receiving chemo and his wife was seated next to him to keep him company, doing a crossword puzzle. His son called while he was there, and I heard him say, "I'm getting the chemie done!" Every now and then, they would ask for help with their crossword puzzle, so I would use my iPhone and cheat a little (sorry, New York Times). He was able to fill in an answer and got excited, so he started saying, "YES!" and pulled his elbows towards him, until his wife reminded him he was supposed to keep his arm straight for the IV! He had also pulled over a rolling stool to rest his feet on. My nurse then showed me how to recline my chair, and he was like, "Hey, why didn't anyone tell me it did that??" His machine kept beeping, and every time it did, we would look at each other and ask, "Was that you or me?" At the beginning, it was usually him, but towards the end, it was me (the drips are timed)! Before they left, they looked at us and said, "Maybe we should coordinate our visits with these nice people?" What unexpected fun to interact with them in this not-so-fun situation.
The amazing benefit to my boyfriend's work is that he was able to do it from anywhere, so he had packed up his mobile workstation and was setting up camp in the waiting room. Since it was my first chemo, I was not sure he would be allowed back in the infusion room (even though survivor pals told me they had "chemo friends" accompany them). I thought I could go it alone, but the nurses kept asking if I wanted him to join me, and after thinking about it, plus due to first day jitters, I said yes. It felt much better to have him there to keep me company!
He had also thought ahead to bring a cooler of snacks and waters, since he knew we would be there for quite awhile. When he was packing it the night before, I was like, "Do we really need all that??" but I was so glad to have it later. It is a long day. The nurses informed me that it was fine to eat, since it is such a long process.
I had eaten in the morning an hour before chemo like my nutritionist had instructed, but due to all the detours in the morning, it had been quite awhile, and I was feeling weak before we even got started. He had discovered a yummy Chinese place nearby and had just picked up some fried rice. I was trying to eat better since my diagnosis, so I had said no, but given I was feeling weak, I indulged myself. However, one arm was hooked up to an IV, and the other arm was still a bit sore from the biopsy (I was a bit of a mess), so he had to feed me. (I always pictured that we would be doing that when we were in our 60's, not now!) The British couple said, "That's quite nice." Indeed, he takes good care of me! 😊 My nutritionist had suggested to snack on string cheese afterwards, since it is a good protein snack, so I had just packed the whole bag of cheese. While we were there, we offered some to our new British chemo buddies and others in the infusion room. They loved it! Always pack extra!
Since it was the first time, and we didn't know what to expect, the actual process seemed quite long. First, they take your blood (again, I was not looking!) and set up the IV. Then, you have to wait for an hour for your labs to return to confirm your numbers are ok before you can start. The first two drips, Aloxi and Emend, are anti-nausea meds to ease the chemo side effects. THEN the actual chemo begins.
My first chemo drug, Adriamycin (aka "The Red Devil"), had to be manually administered (if it leaks into the surrounding tissue, NO BUENO), so the nurse sat there for ten minutes and pushed it through. Since it's red, she warned me that my pee would also be red (she was right). It only happened right after, but I am so glad she warned me, because I would have freaked out otherwise...it was like the Red Sea in there!
My second chemo drug, Cytoxan, was a drip (about an hour). I actually was able to get some rest during this part. When I had fallen asleep, the chairs had emptied out, but when I woke up, they were full again! I also noticed a few younger people were now there, around my age. In a way, it comforted me, but it also makes me sad. Cancer is too common and discriminates against no one. 😞
After chemo finished, I went in to meet the doctor to discuss all of my take home anti-nausea meds and what to expect. I was hoping to not take all three of them, on top of the anti-nausea/chemo drips in my body. She recommended one to be the best and to only take the others if absolutely necessary. Also, the anti-nausea meds have a side effect of constipation. Super! They also have steroids, so one potential side effect is insomnia. She said my oncologist had also ordered a monthly shot to put my ovaries into "hibernation," so on top of the chemo mouth (your mouth is dry and everything tastes metallic, since the chemo gets into your saliva, which was a major bummer for this foodie), potential nausea/insomnia, vomiting/constipation, I would now also get hot flashes. The hits just kept on coming!
President Obama was also headed to our area that day, so we were trying to get out of there as fast as possible. (If you think L.A. traffic is bad, it's even worse when POTUS comes to town.) That Obamajam traffic is insane, since they shut down lots of streets and major arteries. Luckily, we left before it hit.
Some of my major Cancer milestones seemed to be marked by the craziest things: 1) My first oncologist visit was on the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and 2) My first chemo visit was when POTUS came to see Gwyneth Paltrow. As Vonnegut wrote, "And so it goes..."
The next day, we had to meet my nutritionist and then go back to chemo for a quick Neulasta (this stimulates the bone marrow to increase my white blood cell count, which is compromised due to the chemo) injection. They said I may feel wiped out with achy bones for the next two days. On the night of my first chemo, I vomited once and had some light constipation. I had a massive headache, chills AND hot flashes, waves of nausea (people were checking on me, but it was tough to talk on the phone, since you never knew when the nausea would come), and didn't do much else but curl up in a ball except at feeding times (every two to three hours). The metal mouth isn't fun; even water tasted awful, but I had to stay hydrated. Lemon helped a little, but everything just tasted metallic. 😞 I took one anti-nausea pill — given everything else in my body, I didn't want to add more stuff. And although I really didn't have energy for it, I made myself get up and take care of my teeth. I made my homemade mouthwash and ensured to be better about brushing and flossing. On top of all the other fun, the last thing I wanted was mouth sores.
One chemo down...seven to go!