This past week was a big one. So big that I am just now having the energy to write my blog. I was going to write this each of the past four days and just didn’t feel up to it.
I had two tests yet to go before starting chemo last Thursday––a PET scan that covers the entire body and a MUGA scan of the heart.
My co-chair of the FFOB and friend, Connie and husband Lon, took me over to Eugene last Monday. I laid down in the back seat and put my legs up to ease my back pain; it felt like I had two chauffeurs. They dropped me off at RiverBend and ran their own errands.
I was given radio-active isotopes and rested on the world’s largest recliner for an hour. I was in a darkened room and asked to relax––no stimulation allowed, not even reading.
Then I spent 45 minutes on a table that slid into the huge round PET scan. This covers the entire body. The purpose was to determine if there was any cancer hiding in my brain or bones. I learned later in the week, that none showed up. Thank goodness!
This test was to determine if my heart is beating strong enough to handle at least one of the chemo drugs. On Tuesday, my neighbor Hope and her husband took me to the imaging department at PeaceHealth Peace Harbor Medical Center here in Florence. My pain wasn’t bad that day, and I was glad of that because lying on my back, even with a pillow under the knees and head, was uncomfortable. After a half hour, he had me sit up because the computer had crashed. Go figure!
After spending another 20 minutes working with a techie on the phone, it just wasn’t going to work. So a service rep would be coming over from Eugene, and I would have to come back tomorrow.
So Hope brought me back on Wednesday, and unfortunately my back was really hurting. The computer, however, was in better shape. It was up and working, thank goodness. For me, it was really excruciating to lie there. The doctor doing the test had to take three 10-minute photos. The first one was from above, and then when he realized how painful it was for me, he took the two side ones simultaneously, which shortened the time. I was very grateful.
I found out later that my heart function, while on the lower end of normal, should be able to tolerate the chemo. Not exactly a resounding endorsement, but I will be going ahead with the full chemo protocol. For three days in a row, I received radioactive isotopes. It’s a wonder, I didn’t glow!
Next morning, I was up at 5 a.m.. Hope was here by 7 a.m., and off we went. My pain wasn’t as bad, thank goodness. We arrived at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute about 8:45 a.m. and soon were being indoctrinated into chemo world. Some drugs are dripped in by IV and others by injection. I would be having four drugs, two of each kind. One side effect of many of the drugs is nausea, so anti-nausea drugs were first dripped into me. Then Benadryl to counteract reactions I might have to the first drug.
The first drug, Rituxan, is a monoclonal antibody that targets this specific cancer. I like that, but it is also the one the body tries to fight off most vigorously. That’s why the Benadryl, which made me close my eyes and be out of it for the next 2 ½ hours. It was possible that it could take six hours to drip in. That’s why it looked like I was moving in, when I arrived. I had pillow and blanket, food cooler, tote with tons of reading material, water, and my purse. And Hope had food, water, and reading matter too.
The nurse said that I wasn’t record time for the Rituxan, but 3 ½ hours was pretty darn speedy. So I felt good about that.
Then Adriamycin and Vincristine, old time drugs, were injected. Back in 1987, when Walt, my late husband, had Hodgkin’s Disease, he was given both of these. They affect the whole body and scare me. Adriamycin, if a drop gets on your skin, it damages it. So we must have pretty tough veins. And Vincristine caused constipation that turned into a bowel blockage in Walt that ended up with an infection that ended in septic shock that almost killed him. So I will stick with stool softeners and prunes and prune juice for the duration.
This wicked chemo cocktail ended with Cytoxane. This one took only 40 minutes to drip in. It too affects the whole body and will cause me to lose my hair.
The miraculous thing that happened while I was in the recliner hooked up to chemo drugs is that my pain went away. I couldn’t believe it. As we packed up to go, I was tired and felt weak, but pain free. That made it worth it! We stopped and got some groceries and gas before heading back to Florence and were home by 5 p.m. I had survived my first chemo. One down—five to go.
Also part of the protocol is a shot of Neulasta that is a biologic drug to help me survive the chemo. It is a colony factor stimulator to help produce new white blood cells as the chemo drugs kill off most of the original ones. My friend Theresa took me to the hospital in Florence for that shot on Saturday and then chauffeured me around town for errands.
And lastly, I took huge amounts of Prednisone, one of my chemo drugs, twice a day for five days starting with chemo day. I had a gag reflex everytime I swallowed one, so I took them in the middle of a meal with applesauce to help get them down. I swallowed each one, but it wasn’t easy. I took the last one last night, Monday night
Now that the drugs are all in place, the battle has begun!