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Chemo

Chemo, one of those things you have heard of, but really don’t know much about or understand. Other than you think it makes people sick, and causes hair loss to get rid of cancer. But it really is something that has made leaps and bounds in how it is done and how people respond to it. For me, I was lucky, I didn’t have a tough time with chemo, I thought it would be a lot harder and something I would come to dread. So don’t hold my experience as the way it will go, it can be completely different.

I did 18 weeks of chemo, starting in August going to December. The day before starting chemo I got my port placed. That was a pretty easy experience. I don’t remember much, but know that I was awake the whole time. They used an ultrasound to find the artery to put the catheter in, they used x-ray and I wasn’t asleep, but out of it, I just laid there and listened to the music and my pulse. They cut a pocket of skin to tuck the port in and then stitched and glued me up. Other than some pain after words there was no problem at all.

My port accessed and ready to get chemo.

The next morning I got to eat breakfast and take my medications and them went to the infusion center. There the nurses where amazing, they walked me through what they were doing and were so good. So the first thing that is done is getting your vitals, you also have to sign HIPPA forms, also medications you take, and you will get a hospital bracelet. Then they access you, either using your port or finding a vein and putting in an IV. Getting poked with the needle hurts, but they have medication to numb the skin, so it won’t hurt.

They then get you started on fluids, once the nurses get your orders from the doctor you begin your pre-med period. These are medications that are given to you to prevent you from getting sick while getting the chemo and to help you the next couple of days. This medication will also make you sleepy, that is why it is important to have someone come with you. The medications I got were benedryl, the first time I got this it was injected into my IV, I quickly learned from one the the nurses that you can take it in pill form and this way it takes a little longer to get sleepy. I chose the pill because I wanted to be awake during treatment, because I could sleep during the ride home. The other medications I got were ativan, zofran, decadron, pepcid, and maybe some others but mostly those. After getting these medications I had to wait before getting the chemo, partly because I was waiting for them to mix it and just so my body could get protected.

Different bags of fluids, and chemo drugs.

While this is all happening you can get up, walk around, go to the bathroom, eat, drink, sleep, watch t.v., really whatever you want to do. Once it is time for you to get your chemo, they will hang the bag and get it all connected and two nurses will go over your information, this is to check that they have the right medicine, the right flow and much more. For the first day you will have to most likely sit for 15 minutes to the whole infusion time, this is so the nurses can respond quickly if you have a reaction. I took taxol weekly and had no problems, the first time I took it I had to sit for 15 minutes with the nurse, we just chatted and thankfully I did not have a reaction. With the other chemo drug I got every three weeks I had to sit for the full infusion time, only 30 minutes, because it caused more reactions and they just had that as a rule.

Infusions take time, I think my longest day was 5 or 6 hours, so bring things that will entertain you, I didn’t have the concentration to read, so I brought my computer, or watched t.v. or visited with the other patients or whatever. My hospital some times had people come up and do arts and crafts or chair massages or whatever which was nice to fill the time.I had a “chemo bag” which had things like magazines, my notes or journal, camera, word searches, and whatever else. I bought bunny slippers to wear around the infusion center. I did this because I wanted to feel at home and I thought some cute fun slippers would make myself and others smile. And it sure did!

About an hour after getting the pre-meds I would get tired or “stoned”, and when I was done with chemo I usually just rode in the car for the three hour ride home, depending on how tired I was I would sleep the whole ride or parts of it, or none. The thing to remember with chemo is it builds up, so the more and more you have it the more and more you are going to have some left over in your system.

Chemo still has a lot of side effects but each person responds to the medicine differently. I was told that in three weeks I would lose my hair, to prepare for that I cut my hair, and in the end my hair thinned but I did not lose it. I had nausea, but it wasn’t bad and I told my doctor and he was able to figure out a solution. They gave me a steroid the day of and two days after chemo. So for two days after chemo I felt great, so nights I couldn’t sleep, my mind would not stop. But once I was off the steroid I hit the bed, I needed at least a nap and was tired. Then as the week continued it would get better and repeat itself. I would have diarrhea, which was really not fun, but it was how my body got rid of the chemo. Sorry to tell you that, but want to to be aware.

Another thing that you have to have done with chemo is bloodwork, this is done to check your counts and make sure you are healthy. About three weeks into chemo there is a chance that you can go into nadir which means you have a low white cell blood count and you are prone to infections and getting sick. You nurse will keep you informed on your counts and let you know if anything is going on with them and tell you what to do. I didn’t go in to nadir, but I really did not do anything other than focus on chemo. So I was able to rest and take care of myself which is important. Doctors may say that you will lose weight, but that may not be the case. I ended up gaining 20 pounds thanks to the steroid, I gained an appetite, and 6 months after finishing chemo I am just now getting back to my original weight.

At my infusion center, you get to ring the bell when you finish chemo!

Chemo is something that is very individual, every single one of us will react and respond differently to this very powerful medication. So take it one day at a time, and be an advocate for yourself. Tell your doctor about your side effects even if they seem like nothing. If you don’t it could become more serious. For example my toes became tingly. And were like this for most of the chemo. So I had to take a week off to make sure there wasn’t permanent damage. If I hadn’t spoken up, my toes might still be tingly, but instead they aren’t.

I hope this helps some who are going to begin chemo soon, and let those who are curious know. This is my experience and your could be completely different, but I hope this helps a little!

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