Preparing for Chemotherapy –
Following the review of my treatment plan, I left the exam room to meet with my oncologist’s nurse. Now that I was cleared for chemotherapy, it was time to get dates on the calendar.
When is the earliest I can start? I asked the nurse.
How about Wednesday? she replied.
It was currently Friday afternoon. Wednesday was five days away.
I regrouped and rephrased the question.
When is the second earliest I can start?
Sensing my anxiety, the nurse smiled and shifted the discussion to the things I would need to do before my first chemotherapy treatment.
First on the list was to schedule an appointment with my oncologist’s physician assistant for a chemotherapy orientation. This session would cover all of the drugs I needed to take, my blood work schedule and any questions I had specific to my treatment plan.
The second critical task was to have a medical device called a “port” surgically implanted into a vein on the right side of my chest. During treatments, I would receive chemotherapy and other drugs intravenously through my port.
This list felt like a lot to accomplish in four days. My desire to get things moving was overshadowed by my fear that I would not have enough time to mentally and physically orchestrate everything I needed to get done.
I conveyed these concerns to the nurse, and we settled on a ten-day timeline. She took out a blank calendar and started writing in my appointments. I would return on Monday for the chemo orientation, followed by the port procedure on Friday.
I entered the weekend with a myopic focus. The word “orientation” was incredibly comforting as it played directly into my love of big projects and organization. Feeling overwhelmed by the impending drugs and side effects that would soon become part of my new normal was momentarily pushed aside as I contemplated how I could best manage the process.
I prepared a list of everything I needed to order on Amazon.
A notebook with multiple sections, preferably separated with different colored tabs. Sharpies and post-it notes, also in different colors. Some type of folder system to hold the stack of papers I receive after each visit with my oncologist. Maybe a binder would be better? Well, if I go the binder route, then I also need to get a three-hole punch.
I affectionately look back on this day as the moment when chemo met “My Crazy.”
Later that weekend as I searched Apple Music to make the perfect cancer playlist, my internal dialogue became more aggressive. I thought to myself, Fuck you, chemo, as I clung to the hope that if Journey and Def Leppard could get me through adolescence, maybe 80s music was the key to getting through chemotherapy.
After a weekend indulging in my Type A tendencies, I was ready for my chemo orientation. I was more than ready. I was loaded for bear.
After arriving at my oncologist’s office, I met the physician assistant in a consultation room. We each introduced ourselves; then the physician assistant kicked off the orientation.
Going through chemotherapy can be overwhelming. I know you must have a lot of emotions about what you are facing and I am here to help you through this process. There are support groups available, which I am happy to connect you to….
Hey, sorry to interrupt, I interjected. Actually, I wasn’t sorry. My stomach had instantly tightened upon hearing the words “support groups,” and I felt compelled to change the direction of the conversation.
Here’s the thing, I continued. I’m not really interested in self-identifying as a cancer patient. I just want to get through chemo as quickly and as healthily as possible. Is the support group a mandatory thing?
I waited for the physician assistant to respond, praying that my tone and comments had not put her off.
This is not my typical first encounter with a patient, she said.
What do you mean? I asked.
She replied, Patients in your situation are usually very overwhelmed by their circumstances, and we normally use this time to first get comfortable with the idea of chemotherapy. You seem like you are already there.
Trust me; I am totally overwhelmed, I said. But I am also a control freak, and I am just anxious to understand how this is all going to work so I can get my head around it.
The physician assistant nodded emphatically, I completely understand. I felt the same way when I went through chemotherapy.
It had not occurred to me that the person assigned to my orientation would be a cancer survivor. This was a game changer.
Suddenly I was Luke Skywalker in the cave with Yoda.
Teach me everything, I thought to myself. Then the physician assistant handed me a binder.
This is for you, she said. There are multiple sections, organized by topic. Schedules for your medication, treatments and blood work, as well as an overview of your side effects and patient resources that are available to you.
As I opened the binder, my love for office supplies reached a new level.
This woman gets me.
We spoke at length about what I could expect from chemotherapy – side effects that would impact me mentally and physically. I was so grateful that this information was coming from both clinical and personal perspectives.
You need to remember that chemo is cumulative, she said. Your side effects will increase with each treatment, so you will need to modify your schedule and activities depending on how you feel.
What is the best way to deal with this? I asked, pen in hand, ready to make notes in my new binder.
The answer surprised me.
You have to let people help you, she replied. You need to balance wanting to do everything on your own with including your family and friends in your treatment. I had to learn this when I went through chemotherapy, and I sense that this may be something you need to hear.
Yoda sees all.
The binder began to feel heavy in my lap. It contained multitudes. Information I would need to understand and instructions I would need to follow. But without question, the wisdom the physician assistant was imparting was the immediate lesson I needed to learn.
After an extended silence, the physician assistant realized that I may not know where to drive the conversation next, so she asked, What else is on your mind today?
There was very little that wasn’t on my mind. However, my chemotherapy treatment would last eighteen weeks. I had some time to figure things out. I decided to prioritize. I flipped open the “Patient Resources” section of the binder.
Let’s talk wigs.
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