One learns more during your first chemo treatment than at any other time in your cancer “trek.” My trek, in particular, is six cycles of two days each and with 26 days in between each treatment.
Our first experience with the chemo treatment occurred upon driving into our hospital’s parking lot, where special parking is provided for, not only the handicapped, but also for chemo patients. My wife, Becky, was with me as a driver is recommended after each first day of the cycle. In the waiting room, we met another patient, Tom, who also has his treatments on Mondays and Tuesdays. He provided us with some helpful information about the monthly blood draws, which are done the day before each cycle.
Nurse Linda met us in the waiting room, introducing herself and welcoming us. After the requisite weighing in and taking the blood pressure and heart rate, Nurse Linda led us into the inner sanctum in which the infusion of chemicals actually takes place. This particular infusion center is L-shaped and has eight stations on each side, furnished with reclining chairs. In each chair is a patient receiving his or her specific concoction of drugs. Some patients are reading, some are sleeping, some are conversing with loved ones, nurses, and other patients, but all are making frequent trips to the restroom, pushing their wheeled infusion stands with them.
You will be given a choice to have a port put into your arm for your treatments or just have the nurse insert the requisite needles each time. As I am pretty active, I opted for the latter.
We were told to plan for a six-hour treatment on the first day of each cycle. After receiving some anti-nausea meds and having the needle inserted, I was now hooked up and receiving my chemo. Every half hour, the dispensing machine beeps and a nurse checks to see how your body is accepting the chemo. If your body is doing well, the speed at which the chemicals are introduced is increased. I reacted very well to the medicines, so I was done in four-and-a half-hours instead of the six.
Water is always available, as are crackers and juice. I took my own “infusion bag” of something to read, my computer, crackers and cheese, additional water, some Bible verses, and a “healing blanket,” a gift from our son-in-laws.
As new chemicals are infused, nurses check and double-check that they are administering the correct chemicals into the correct patients. With up to 16 patients being helped at one time, this is done to every patient at every change and is much appreciated. The nurses were all very personable and ready to answer any questions we had. Nurse Linda explained that my concoction would result in five days of feeling pretty well, 10 days of not feeling well, especially in the mornings, and, another 10 days of feeling better before the next infusion cycle.
Linda provided us with an extensive printout of each of the drugs I would be given. Topics of discussion included: my medical history, including daily medications and supplements; common side effects; dangerous side effects that would require immediate medical attention; and, suggestions to alleviate the more normal side effects. The common side effects include: dry mouth, dizziness, constipation, tiredness, bloating, night sweats, heavier than normal sweating while exercising, and muscle aches.
While my side effects have been light, mine are mostly the queasiness in the morning, dry mouth, and general tiredness. It is not unusual, now, to have a few soda crackers in the morning to address the queasiness. I have also learned that I need to carry a water bottle with me at all times and I have added some supplements to address the other concerns. One of the most effective of the supplements has been CBD oil. Taken orally, day and evening, has resulted in almost eliminating both day and night sweating. And, as my family can attest, I have never missed the opportunity for a good nap!
Nurse Linda met me, again, the next morning in the waiting room. Becky was not required to be there as the second day of infusion only lasts about 45 minutes and the side effects did not include dizziness. After the requisite weighing in, BP, and heart rate monitoring, I was led back to one of the stations. Linda explained that the three pounds I had gained overnight was due to “water retention.” During the infusion process, Linda gave me my infusion schedule, which included 26 days between the two-day infusions.
She also went on to explain the precautions that should be taken at home. Linda explained that the chemicals would exit my body over the next three days, through skin pores and urination, which could be detrimental to those nearby. She suggested that I sleep in a different bed, that I wash my hands several times a day, that I refrain from being around large crowds or individuals with colds, that I keep hand sanitizer for use throughout the day and by visitors to our home, that I use a separate bathroom, that flushing be done with the lid down, that I double-flush after each trip to the bathroom, that I drink at least three to four large glasses of liquid per day, and that I urinate sitting down.
“Sitting down!” I exclaimed. Nurse Linda explained that she didn’t want any splashing. “There is to be NO bodily fluid exchange for those three days!”
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s do a quick review. I have night sweats as a symptom of this Lymphoma, I get morning queasiness with the medications, I am now retaining water, you just put me on a 28-day infusion cycle, and now I have to pee sitting down? I have just one question for you Linda. When do I start singing soprano and watching Hallmark movies?”
When Linda stopped laughing, she said she’d see me “in 26 days.”
(Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of special articles submitted by Jerry Emery, a longtime resident of Escalon and educator, sharing his journey through cancer treatment. He at one time served as principal of El Portal Middle School, as well as being involved with a number of community service based organizations.)