I think this is a question on people’s minds. The answer is probably disappointing. It’s kind of pleasant. Think about it: I am sitting in a recliner for hours while someone else takes care of me. Usually I’m with a good friend. There are no children asking me for food every five seconds.
The waiting room
I check in and wait for the nurse to call me up to the infusion floor.
I don’t know how other hospitals and oncology floors are set up, but at the U of MN, the check in for getting any ol’ mammogram is the same place where us cancer patients check in for our chemo infusions and labs (blood draws). Oh man, is it so depressing or what?! I mean, you go in there to make sure you’re cancer-free, and then there are all these somber, bald-headed cancer patients. The music doesn’t always help. Twice, Brent and I have heard the Beatles’ “Yesterday” play over the speaker. We snickered because it’s just so hilariously fitting. Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay, Oh I believe in yesterday...Twice! And I’m not even halfway through treatment yet.
After I learned that I had cancer (still feels weird to say that, by the way), I went to the same place and checked in with the same lady that I had checked in with two times before. She asked, “How are you doing today?” and I answered honestly as I do, “Pretty good. Y’know? It’s just so much better knowing I have cancer than not knowing!” Anticipation is horrible all by itself, but there’s more to it. The place takes on a whole new feeling. Before, it was a place of impending doom. When I was in that in between place, I didn’t know if I would get to stay in the happy cancer-free zone or if I would be condemned to the cancer world. It feels crazy in that in between place. After the diagnosis, I saw this as my place of healing, the place that would take my cancer away from me. It wasn’t scary anymore, just surreal.
The chemo floor: blood draw, meds, snacks and a nap
When I first started going, I had hair and I felt like I was an undercover cancer patient. Now that I’m bald, cancer surivors stop to tell me how my hair will grow back. They are sweetest people. I love cancer survivors so much. They are a life line. I must admit that when I lost my hair, I felt a sense of shame, even on the chemo floor. There was the slightest chance I’d maybe not lose my hair. I didn’t let myself entertain that hope until a few days before I lost it. I felt like I was such a fool for wishing for a second, even if I never let on. Coming back to the chemo floor with a shaved head felt a little like a walk of shame. Isn’t that so stupid ironic?! That should have been my most comfortable place to be bald!
So, chemo…what it’s like… You get up to your little pod on the chemo floor which includes a recliner, tv, extra chair for a friend, a locked cabinet of medical supplies, box of kleenex, and usually a window. You can shut your curtain around you for a modicum of privacy. The infusion nurse cleans the skin over and around my port to prevent staph infection. Then she accesses the port with some fancy needle thing that I never look at because gross. Ok, I just searched for an image to help us. So, see that white part with the needle that’s a little bent? They take that little sleeve off the needle and poke that into my port. It doesn’t hurt. And then they have those handy blue ports (or is that called a cath?) to draw blood, clean the line with saline and to get the chemo into my body obviously.
They take my blood to make sure all the counts are still good enough for me to get the chemotherapy. It takes about 15-25 minutes to get lab results. During that wait time, I get warmed blankets and water and check my phone and see that Heather has texted me a verse and that Joy is praying for me and that Liz has gotten my kids and that various friends are thinking of me and it’s really sweet. When I’ve gotten the green light for chemo, they start my pre-meds. I take two Benadryl capsules. And in my IV, I get Pepcid and a steroid (much smaller dose than before!). They are all to curb side effects. Then they start with Perjeta if it’s a third week. They wait a half hour for observation. Then, I receive Herceptin and then Taxol, always in that order.
I’m usually there for 4 to 6 hours. The time goes by really quickly now. It feels routine. At no point do I feel anxiety about the drugs going into my body (yet! Different drugs this fall.). I enjoy some snacks and the company of a friend or Brent (he truly is my favorite!). I also like to be alone because that’s a rare treat. So sometimes, I have my chemo buddy for only part of the time. The Benadryl knocks me out for a little bit and I like to just rest for about an hour. That feels awkward to zone out while I have a friend there, because my entertainer personality wants to stay alert. But my speech is slurred and I’m dizzy and it’s best to just snuggle with three warm blankets and listen to the sounds of infusion floor. No actual sleeping happens.
I’ve had my chemo buddy read to me. I’ve enjoyed catching up with whoever is with me. I’ve tried to catch up on texts. I still haven’t caught up on email, even a little. Someday! I visit with Adrienne when we are scheduled the same day. The time really does fly by for me. And when that last drop of Taxol goes in, I’m pretty much done. They just run some saline to clean the line, and then do a hep-lock. That means they put some heparin in my port to make sure my blood doesn’t clot there (ew!). After that little procedure, they throw on a little bandage and I’m good to go. After my last chemo, I came home and fell asleep for a bit. Usually, I feel fine afterwards, like nothing even happened. It’s not for a few days that side effects creep in.
A few last thoughts
Infusion nurses are wonderful people. I should start asking all of them, but the ones I have asked went into this field because they’ve been touched by cancer in a hard way. They are really tender towards the patients. Nearly all have had a great sense of humor. It’s light-hearted and comfortable. But, I can hear enough around me that I know it’s not that way for everyone. I’m young and strong, but not too young. I have a well-researched cancer. I’m only a few months into this. Most importantly, I have an army of prayer warriors letting their requests be made known to God on my behalf. I feel thankfulness in a big new way. I have peace that is beyond my own comprehension. So maybe that’s why chemo is pleasant.