Monday, March 2, 2009

what it means to "go for chemo"


Believe it or not, but the photo above is of the red devil chemo as it was being 'dripped' into me today, Monday March 2 2009.
Now what I am going to describe is what 'going for chemo' means for me on my treatment. Every cancer is different. Some people have to book into hospital and have it for 10 days in a row. Some people have two different types given to them simultaneously, others have what appears to be about a litre of stuff given to them which can take about five hours. There is also oral chemo (pills) which is sometimes given in addition to (I think at a different stage of the treatment) the chemo on a drrip.

Ok, so now that you know you cannot say "but that is not what my cousin/aunt/friend did", this is what I do.

I go to the treatment centre which is about 10 minutes from where I live. The room in which you have chemo is open plan. Last time there was a support group person hovering around chatting to people which was great but there was no such person there today which was actually a pity. (Think am almost ready to contact a support group one of these days).

What people do during chemo: The room is packed and sometimes people have to wait to start treatment. The person having chemo sits on a comfortable lazyboy which has an optionable footrest (I like it) and the person or people who come with you sit on other chairs. It is quite usual to have someone come with you and - believe it or not - to bring food and what not. The person next to me today was beading (making beaded jewellery) and her friend was crocheting. I bought food but only ate some sweets, drank some water (not enough to want to go to the loo although u just take the drip thing with you, minus the stand), and drank the fennel tea (more on that at a later stage but it really is a godsend for settling tummies - and recommend freshpak which is a mix of rooibos and fennel).

First the blood test: Anyway, you start off with a blood test to check your blood count - white blood corpuscles, red blood corpuscles and platelets. Not sure if iron is part of that but that also comes up (I am pretty medically illiterate). Anyway, if the blood count is not ok, they don't do the chemo. Delay it. Luckily mine was fine.

Quick weigh-in and blood pressure: I had lost about one and a half kg on their scale since the last visit just over three weeks ago and my blood pressure was the lowest ever, 110/60 - it is usually 120/70 which I have always been told is on the low end of normal - but nobody was alarmed.

Doctor's appointment: Then I see the doctor. He answered all my questions and then examined me. Said the lymph nodes below my armpit had become softer and was pleased about this. And of course the rash which had appeared on my feet yesterday and legs today had disappeared!

Then the drip: Sat on the chair and they put a hot water bottle on my arm to warm up the veins. Then the drip (the link below explains that it's a cannula or flexible tube) into my hand, this time my left hand, and the first 'treatment' which is a saline and cortisone mix. Last time I was horrified as to why I was getting cortisone (it makes me eat like a pig - for eg have had about four lunches today!)

Oh, asked The Tango Man about the cortisone and he said it was anti-inflammatory, anti-something else which I did not catch/understand and did not think it was necessary to get repeated, and helps the chemo penetrate into the cells. Makes sense to me.

The cortisone mix takes about half an hour, I think, if not then a little less, and then the proper chemo starts. The red devil is bright red and yuch. It gives you a metal taste in your mouth almost immediately, makes your urine red immediately for a day or so (need to drink some water to wash it out, lemme take a gulp now)and is the cause of my hair loss (incidentally it is going fast but still not completely bald).
Then the other chemo.

Last time the whole thing (the drip) took about two and a half hours. This time it took about an hour and a half; the nurses say one's body gets used to the chemo and it takes quicker after the first treatment.

I don't enjoy the experience but it really does help to have a friend there. The drip hurts but when you are chatting to a friend, while eavesdropping on other's conversations and gossiping about others' hats and size of their chemo drips, it helps a lot.

Oh, and I have to go every three weeks.


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