It's becoming more real as each day passes.
Tuesday afternoon's chemo class was just too much information in a short period of time. I had read all my brochures from Kaiser and the American Cancer Society and done some online research, but this class...
There were only three patients in the large meeting room. Talked to the older man sitting across from me while we waited for the class to start. He was due to retire in January and was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer. Geez. Poor guy. The nurse started the 45 minute video. Most of the patients said the same thing, "When I heard that I had cancer I was devastated and I cried for two weeks." I wondered what's wrong with me that I haven't had that reaction. There were about six or eight different topics, I don't remember them all but there were do's and don'ts and what happens if and what to watch out for. Then the nurse gave each of us a packet that had our specific diagnosis and treatment plan, and lots of papers, the first one being a notice of the Proposition 65 Warning stating that our chemotherapy for our cancer treatment could, in fact, cause cancer. Is that the definition of irony?
The next paper was titled "Chemotherapy: After Your Visit" and states that if I ever get a fever over 100.5 I need to go to the emergency room immediately. If I develop a rash, I'm to contact the call center. If it's mouth sores, follow the mucositis regimen included in the packet. My medicine cabinet needs to be stocked with a digital thermometer, Tylenol, Benedryl and Imodium. Sounds great so far.
More do's and don'ts regarding nutrition. No raw meat or eggs, which means NO SUSHI. All fresh fruit and vegetables must be washed and peeled, and since you can't peel lettuce, that means NO SALAD. Chemo can weaken your immune system by lowering your white blood count, which puts you at risk of getting sick from foods with either a naturally high level of bacteria, like feta, Gorgonzola, blue and Brie cheese, or foods that can become easily contaminated, like those found at salad bars, delis, buffets, sidewalk vendors and potlucks. No eggs benedict (hollandaise sauce) or fresh berries. Must avoid hot dogs, bacon and sausage because they have a tendency to be undercooked. As for alcohol, apparently it might not be a good idea with the anti-nausea meds and also might affect how the liver works at filtering all the chemo meds. Now when I started fussing about all these don'ts, the nurse said, "I'm not in your house. These are just guidelines." I told her, half jokingly, "Ok, stay outta my house!" But I get it. Basically I need to eat healthy and do my best to avoid the stuff that 's not in my best interest to consume.
Wait. The diet changes depending on the chemo side effects! We reviewed ten double-sided papers with possible side effects, and I shall list them all: fatigue, mucositis, diarrhea, constipation, nausea/vomiting, peripheral neuropathy, hair loss, anemia, thrombocytopenia, and neutropenia. Each side effect has its own set of remedies, some of which contradict another one. Hopefully I would only get one side effect at a time. The nurse had our specific info in her hand, and when we talked about nausea, she looked at my paperwork and then at me, saying, "You need to be sure and take all your anti-nausea meds. Your first four chemo cycles are the toughest, and the patients have dubbed your treatment 'The Red Devil.'" Wow. I cannot wait to get started! When we discussed hair loss, she said that not everyone loses their hair. Again she looked at my treatment plan and then at me, saying, "You will lose your hair." I'm glad I appreciate blunt honesty.
I also found out my chemo schedule. I will need blood drawn before every chemo session to make sure I am healthy enough for the treatment. It takes two hours to get the results, so my Mondays from now until March will consist of having blood drawn at 8:30, then breakfast (with no bacon, sausage, or eggs benedict), and then chemo for approximately three hours starting at 10:30. The other guy in the class has treatment for 7-8 hours, and then has to take home a pump and do chemo at home for five more days. Holy cow! I didn't find out what kind of cancer he had but I sure felt for him. I don't think he said a word the entire time.
Well after all that I told my BFF that I felt like I needed a drink and a trip to the salad bar, so we went to Claim Jumper for dinner.
Wednesday was my bone scan, so I took myself to Kaiser for another injection of radioactive isotopes. I was told to drink lots of liquid before returning for the scan (injection was at 11:30 and scan would be at 1:15). I went to Starbucks for my favorite chocolate croissant, drank three bottles of water and worked on my blog. The scan itself was easy. Fully clothed, on my back, a large, flat screen near my nose passed over my body and I was done.
Today, Thursday, I had my follow-up appointment with my chemo oncologist. He gave me the results of my scans, no sign of cancer! He said it was unusual for scans to be ordered for circumstances like mine (not really suspecting that the cancer had spread) but I am glad that I have a baseline that looks pretty good. And we found out that I have what looks like a fibroid in my uterus so I will need to see the gynocologist. Supposedly it's nothing to worry about. The doctor wanted to make sure I didn't have any questions or concerns about his recommended treatment for me, and told me he was actually hired for the MoVal Kaiser and I would be getting another doctor and my treatment was all planned out and in "the system" with all his notes and not to worry. He also told me again that I'm going to lose my hair (why does everyone want me to know that so badly???). He told me that everything I will be going through is just temporary, and that they want to do everything possible to ensure "quality of life" while I'm going through it. That was nicer to hear than "you're going to lose your hair."
After he signed my off-work order and the nurse gave me my papers, I went to Walmart to get a few things on my chemo list. I got my digital thermometer (one that gives your temperature in only 2 seconds is double the price of one that takes 20 seconds. Waiting 18 more seconds doesn't bother me.) I bought Greek yogurt, which I already love and usually have in my fridge, applesauce and chocolate pudding. Smooth foods are something I'm supposed to have on hand. And some frozen fruit for the Nutri-bullet to make smoothies.
When I got home I had a surprise waiting for me in the mail. Erika and Allie ordered me my first hat, an adorable little burgundy cap with a cute flower on the side. I must admit that I cried a bit, and I'm not sure if it was because it hit me that I'm going to be bald or if it's because I have the best daughters in the whole, wide world. Maybe a little of each.
Tonight is the last night that I'll be able to sleep without snagging the sheets. Seriously, I'm creeped out and really bummed by the thought of what's happening tomorrow, knowing that I will have a tube stuck to my chest for the next five or so months. When my friend Claudia called to pray for me, she reminded me that God worked out the details of my health care in advance of my cancer. He knew what would happen even though I did not. And he still knows what will happen. I need that thought to sustain me tomorrow when I get the Broviac catheter inserted, Monday when I start chemo, and for the next seven months as I take this unexpected journey.