Chemo Challenges –

With my new wig taped snugly to my head, I was ready for my second chemotherapy treatment.  It was late February 2015, in the middle of the nine-day period during which my Mom, Dad and I each celebrate our birthday.

My parents were coming to Seattle for my treatment and recovery weekend.  As I waited for them to arrive, memories of various childhood birthdays occupied my mind.  Since these birthdays took place in the 70s, there was no endless stream of iPhone photos to validate my recollections, but my mental images were vivid.

When I was five, I got a goldfish.  My sixth birthday party featured a piñata.  When I turned eight, my party was cancelled due to the Blizzard of ’78.

I was devasted.

I remember expressing with great dramatic effect – reflective of the deep wisdom I had acquired during my eight years on the planet – that a cancelled birthday party was the absolute worst thing that could happen to me.

Oh honey… have no idea what’s to come. 

As my parents’ flight drew closer to Seattle, my childhood flashbacks, coupled with the reality of my present situation, put me in an increasingly emotional state of mind.

It didn’t matter that I was a grown woman in my forties.  To my parents, I was still their child.  The thought of a parent dealing with the cancer diagnosis of one of their children would instantly bring tears to my eyes.

Now it’s my parents.

The intensity of my feelings was beyond anything I had the capacity to emotionally process.  I felt enormous guilt.  Intellectually, I know these feelings were extremely misplaced. But in the moment, I was overwhelmed by the impact of my diagnosis, and its tentacle-like grip on the people I loved.

On the morning of my treatment, my Mom accompanied me to my check-in with my oncologist.  My Dad would join us later while I received my infusion.

The check-in was to review my blood work to ensure that I was strong enough for chemotherapy. Childhood memories of the past also filtered into meetings with my oncologist, as waiting for the results of my blood work felt like the medical equivalent of an academic report card.

Fortunately, my results were excellent.  I was fully recovered from surgery and showed no ill effects from my previous treatment.  Even more exciting was that my tumor marker, which detected for the presence of cancer, was well within the normal range.

The fact that my Mom was sitting next to me when I received such excellent results made me feel as though I deserved the type of bumper sticker that parents put on their cars to brag about their children’s grades.

My Daughter is Kicking Ass at Chemotherapy.

As I walked with my Mom to the treatment room, there was a lightness in my step and attitude that I had not felt in months.  I was ready to demonstrate to my Mom how “good” I was at chemo. I introduced her to the nurses and picked out a treatment chair where I would sit for the five-hour infusion.

Due to my Benadryl-induced nap and conversation time with my Mom, the first four hours flew by.

One more hour to go.

The nurses started the infusion for the final chemo drug.

All good.

Five minutes later, I started to feel funny.  A warm sensation ran through my body and my lower back started to ache.

I summoned the nurse.

Let’s stop the drip for a few minutes, the nurse said.  Maybe you need a little time to adjust.

Ten minutes later, we restarted.

Eleven minutes later, the heat and aches returned.

The nurse said, We need to stop for today.  You may be having an allergic reaction to the drug.

But this didn’t happen last time, I said.

This is not uncommon, the nurse replied.  Sometimes patients have reactions well into their treatments. 

The nurse left to call my oncologist to update him on my situation.  When she returned, she said that I would have to check-in to the hospital tomorrow to complete my treatment.  My oncologist felt I was experiencing a mild allergic reaction to the drug.  This meant I would need to receive the infusion through a process called desensitization, where the drip would be drastically slowed down in hopes my body would tolerate the drug.  The infusion, which I would normally receive over one hour, would now be administered in the hospital over 18 hours.

Will I have to receive the rest of my treatments in the hospital? I asked the nurse.

Most likely, the nurse tentatively responded.  I assume she saw the dejection on my face when she added, Your doctor will discuss this with you after you finish the treatment.

I mentally modified the image of the bumper sticker.

My Daughter is “Kind Of” Kicking Ass at Chemotherapy.

When I checked into the hospital the next day, I started to put more of the pieces together on this new development in my chemotherapy puzzle.

I learned that having a reaction to chemotherapy happens quite often, and how one patient reacts to a treatment may be completely different from another.  In fact, many times, a patient may have to temporarily stop or change treatments depending on how they fare.

I was not comforted by this information.  I had a custom calendars printed based on the date of my last chemotherapy treatment and sent them to everyone in my family.  I was not open to the idea that my chemo end date may be a moving target.

When my infusion finally resumed, I spent the first hour in a state of quiet panic waiting for the symptoms I experienced the day before to return.

They didn’t.

Every few hours, I was convinced that I was feeling overly warm, but it passed.

At 8pm, my parents left for the night.

The last thing I remember before falling asleep was debating whether watching Grey’s Anatomy would be a little too on-the-nose for my situation.

I woke up to a beeping noise, which sounded like an alarm.  I instinctively picked up my phone, but realized the sound was coming from the machine I was hooked up to.

The infusion was over.

It was 6am.  The drip had run for almost eighteen hours.

As my mind and body became more alert, I did a quick scan.

No heat. No aches.

I was done.

Treatment number two was a marathon, but I finished.  Under the circumstances, it was the best birthday present I could ask for.

Of course, I would have preferred a goldfish or a piñata, but like my inner eight-year-old, I was learning to roll with the punches.


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