The reality of six straight days of chemo therapy sinks in as I settle into my reclining chair this morning (4/12). I had four chemo drugs in 2015 one day every three weeks, three times, then the same protocol three more times on two-week rotation.
My winter routine diagnosed in October 2016 was two days – back-to-back – with Bendamustine one day then Rituxan and Bendamustine the next. I did that once a month for four months. The regiment made me cancer free – but to explain, my cancer came back in about a year – not good. I’m sitting here cancer free today but with a window of opportunity for a prolonged period of cancer free life or even a full remission. The procedure is done when you are cancer free.
My stem cells (5.6 million of them) were harvested last Tuesday – they are in the freezer until next Monday. In between I’m getting one of the most intense chemo therapy treatments possible. I started Monday with Carmustine. Yesterday through Friday I make two visits a day – 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. I get the same two drugs each visit – Etoposide and Cytarabine.
Monday’s drug is mixed with an alcohol substance. Not the kind that makes non-dancers want to dance or people say bad things or touch inappropriately, the kind that leaves you with a sickening headache. My doc and nurses both said it would be like a bad hangover and they were certainly right. It was a more unpleasant start than I had anticipated.
My doubleheader appointment yesterday was a breeze in comparison. I had a little low-grade chemo fog after the second but not a bad day.
Of course, along with all of this goes medications – something I’m not very used to and hadn’t had much of through my two previous treatments. I take three tables – two different medicines – every day, twice a day to prevent nausea. I take an anti-viral as a precautionary measure (with more medicinal immunity protectors to come). I also have a nausea tab I take before bed to help me sleep. And, I rinse four times a day with a salty-tasting solution to protect my mouth from mouth sores which often accompany this treatment.
The two-a-days end Friday and then I get the grand finale – Melphalan. That seems to be the knockout punch after just getting slapped around for a week. The most-veteran nurse on staff, a no-nonsense type I generally like, put it this way. “Well, you want the truth,” she said more in a declaratory fashion than inquisitive. “About Sunday night or Monday morning you’re going to feel like a Mack truck ran over you. Then that truck is going to roll back over you and drive over you again.”
One of my doctors, and technically I have four, told me yesterday that after the chemo ends and for most of next week I probably would feel like eating two bites of yogurt for breakfast and maybe a cracker. Lunch, he said, might be three spoons of chicken noodle soup and if I was able maybe two crackers.
Obviously, that’s the low of the lows. My immunity is gone – all the way down to the simplest scratch, fever or bump becomes a concern. I will be wearing a mask virtually everywhere out side the home where I’m staying. Traffic is restricted in and out where I’m staying. And, we prepare to do all sorts of sanitary things around the home. I’ll be quite a wimp.
After Saturday’s chemo, I have to come in for blood tests briefly Easter Morning but no treatment. A nurse will remove the attachments to my chest port. My “re-birth” the staff likes to call it – will be done Monday. That means my stem cells will be defrosted, put in a drip bag and returned to my body via the port I’ve had embedded in my chest since April 2015.
The start of that wimpy period is the toughest of the entire process. I may need transfusions and any number of other treatments to keep me as healthy as possible at a point when I have none of my own defenses. That lasts around eight days. After returning cells Monday I continue to visit the clinic daily for them to keep an eye on all the mess described above. I also resume Neupogen shots which boosted my white count initially before harvest. The idea is my returned cells are seeds and the Neupogen is fertilizer.
Eight days after replanting, my immature cells should be big boys kicking out white cells. Then the long process begins to get me from less than 100 cells to up around 4000. That is going to be the point where I need support and self-discipline. I feel like I didn’t push myself nearly hard enough in 2015 post treatment. I must force activity … moving around house, walking outside … staying out of a recliner all day. I’ll heal faster and feel better.
I write here a lot about attitude. I’m admitting this was scary going in to it. I was surprised how rough Monday was but happy the routine I’m in now isn’t as profoundly impactful. But the roller coaster goes down a Beast-size hill (nice King’s Island analogy) at start of next week when I crash to rock bottom. I’d be lying If I didn’t admit that’s an anxiety-ridden notion.
The staff at Saint Francis Cancer Center is marvelous. I like the mixture of veteran caregivers and the young nurses who all have a good consistent answer to my questions or insist on going and finding one.
I’ve given them minimum guff. My BFF Kathy has been a marvelous caregiver. I know she will be great. I obviously don’t know exactly how next week will go – but I know I’m going to be very dependent on my best friend. I hate to be in that position but have a world of appreciation for a friend like that. Too many people never have a friend like that.
By the way, cancer sucks.
Chemo – well, it sucks even more.