It is more important to know where you are going, than how long it takes to get there.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chemo Class...

Today I went to my chemotherapy orientation. I agreed to be part of a research study that compares the effectiveness of different types of chemotherapy drugs. The study is nationwide, involving over 4,600 volunteers. I will randomly be assigned one of two different treatments. One of the two treatments is a combination of two chemo medications initially prescribed for me (CA), and the other chemo medication is a drug (Taxol) that is normally used after CA for women with more aggressive cancer. (I think I got this correct.) This trial is not blind, so I will know which chemotherapy drug I will be given. Either drug will only be given over four treatments: every other week for eight weeks. The side affects are similar with both drugs. However, the Taxol appears to have less severe side affects. I decided to volunteer because I believe that the surgeon removed all of the cancer, and either chemotherapy treatment will be effective. I also feel that many women, much more brave than I, volunteered for many other trials that were much scarier than this trial, making it possible for me to become free of cancer.

Unfortunately, my veins failed chemo class. Two infusion nurses - chemotherapy administers - checked my veins today to check if they could find one good enough to take the 2-3 hour IV drip of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy cannot be given via veins inside the elbow -the veins that are normally used for drawing blood, nor can it be infused through the veins in the wrist - the veins that are often used for regular IV drips. So, I must have a port inserted under the skin that will receive the IV and send the drugs to the rest of my body. The insertion of the port will require another day surgery. Yep, another battle scar on my chest. I am beginning to look like the screen on a GPS.

The laundry list of side affects are:
Temporary lowering of white blood cells - I will need to avoid anyone sick or with a cold. This will be difficult since someone in this house is always sneezing or coughing.
Temporary lowering of red blood cells - causing tiredness or shortness of breath. I am half way there already.
Temporary lowering of the number of blood platelet cells - meaning it I get a cut, it will take longer for it to stop bleeding - so much for my new job at Benihana's.
Hair Loss - they gave me a prescription for a wig today. That's one prescription you don't take to the pharmacy. Insurance covers the cost of a wig, but I am going to pass. In this heat and humidity, I would feel like I was wearing a fur hat!
Nausea & vomiting - this is my biggest fear, especially since I was nauseous for five weeks after my surgery. They said that there are a lot of drugs to counteract this side affect, and promised that it shouldn't be too bad. I hope their crystal ball is more clear than mine.
Skin & nail discoloration - gross. I wonder if they can give me a prescription for pedicures and manicures.
Sores in mouth and/or throat - gross and yuck
Urine may turn red - strange
Sensitivity to sunlight - my pasty white Irish/Norwegian skin is already sensitive to sunlight
Allergic reaction to the Taxol - if this happens they give the patient Benadryl. Isn't Benadryl amazing?
There are a couple of rare side affects like heart problems, etc - but I am not going there.

The schedule for these fun and games:
July 8 or 9: Day surgery to insert port. It will probably be at Beverly Hospital.
July 12: Blood Test - I will always go in the day before the chemotherapy treatments for a blood test.
July 13: "Cycle 1" This is what they call the first treatment of chemotherapy.
July 26: Blood Test
July 27: Cycle 2

The two nurses working with me gave me a tour of the infusion area. I prefer to call it chemo corner. I was so disappointed by this area! It looked like a bad emergency room from the 1950's, and this hospital is only a couple of years old! The area is arranged in alcoves containing 4 beds in each alcove, two on each side, with a window in the middle exposing a view of the parking lot. The lighting was harsh fluorescent lighting that made everyone look like they are cancer patients. If I recall correctly, the walls were a pasty, sick yellowish or bluish color - kind of matching the skin color and mood of the patients. Each bed had a standard hospital chair next to it, it's own t.v. mounted on the ceiling, and a privacy curtain that no one seemed to use. This area took depressing to a level that I didn't know existed before today. After seeing the beautiful, tranquil, and almost spa like atmosphere at Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester, with it's rain glass, soothing lighting, beautiful views all the way out the ocean, I was very bummed by the Mass General North chemotherapy treatment area. I mean, very, very bummed and almost depressed. I am staying at Mass General North because of the doctors. After I have my first treatment, I am going to write a letter to Mass General regarding this awfully depressing chemotherapy treatment area, with recommendations on how to improve it. Really, I am.

Maybe my next career will involve decorating chemotherapy centers for hospitals.

Whacky thought for the day...
"If you need someone to do something for you, ask the busiest person." -Agnes McNamara, aka Nana

1 comment:

  1. Nana was great. I remember the little note she posted for herself, in her own handwriting, on the bulletin board in her kitchen over her phone: DON'T JUDGE. I try to remember that too.

    My first chemo treatments at Hospital-Don't-Go-There were in the ugliest room EVER. It was totally depressing. When I switched to Love-This-Hospital later, the nurses worked in a big sunny room with very comfy chairs. It was so pleasant I actually looked forward to a nap there.

    Why is it that so many hospitals feel, smell, look like the last place in the world that would ever heal you???