[The steroids have kicked in and I can’t sit still. The nurses don’t know how many laps = a mile. I’ll have to estimate.] November 12, 2015
My 1st round of chemo. WHOA.
This should’ve been my worst nightmare, but I had 2 surgeries and 2 recoveries under my belt along with a crazy haircut that I loved (despite sometimes parting itself in a weird way and making a wave to one side – see above). I also had THE MOST AMAZING TEAM behind me which included numerous friends who counseled me on their experiences with chemo. These were just a few of the reasons why I walked into MSTI with CONFIDENCE on this sunny afternoon in mid-November.
Another reason was that Dr. M was THE MAN when it came to breast cancer research and treatment. Will warned me that he was more of a scientist than a doctor and a few others in the St. Luke’s circle warned me that his interactions with patients could be awkward, but I loved him from our first encounter. That’s for sure. He gave me confidence THROUGH THE ROOF. I don’t know if it’s because he already knew my husband or that he so sensitively reassured me when I freaked out, but I wouldn’t change a thing about him. My dad was a supremely sensitive man and a scientific researcher, too. He was also an academic who worked with brilliant people who were not always the best in social situations. This is what I grew up around so I was used to it. You can skip the pleasantries with me and just dig right into the data. That’s cool. Especially if that data is about how the treatments you are recommending are going to keep me around long enough to see my girls grow up. Start talking. I’M LISTENING.
On this particular afternoon, we met Dr. M in an exam room to discuss my blood work and what to expect now that chemo was starting. He’s always accompanied by a nurse, usually Susan. She’s typically very quiet and lets Dr. M do all the talking, but I came to find out over the months of my treatment that she is an awesome lady with tons of experience both personal and professional. She went through breast cancer at age 31 shortly after having her babies, had a double mastectomy, a reconstruction saga that lasted decades, and isn’t afraid to talk about her now-flat chest. She’s always taking notes and submitting prescription orders to my pharmacy during my appointments. She is all-around SUPER.
Dr. M reviewed my blood work and he and Will talked science and biology while I tried to keep up. We also talked about the mountain bike ride Will and I just finished. Dr. M is an avid biker and runner so we usually bond over this. We also made note of my new haircut and he speculated that I might keep it for another week or two. I stressed that I was worried about only one thing and that was NAUSEA, but he wasn’t worried about that. He had a host of other worries that weren’t even on my radar. We agreed to worry about different things and with that, we were off for the infusion.
Since it was so late in the day, we were sent to 4South at St. Luke’s (instead of staying at MSTI’s own chemo infusion center). This is the in-patient oncology floor that has a small, quiet room with approximately 10 recliners for out-patient services. We were met by a volunteer who gave us the lay of the land as we settled in for our L O N G afternoon.
Once we were comfortable, a nurse introduced herself and asked which side I would like the IV on. I decided to use the left arm since I figured that my right arm deserved a break. Because my surgeries were on the left side, the right arm always got the IV’s. No one told me that I shouldn’t use my left arm because that’s the side that had the 3 lymph nodes removed. (Ah! These are the details that can slip through the cracks and really frustrate a patient!)
Anyway, the nurse poked me and it hurt immediately. I figured this was because she didn’t use any lidocaine like they did before both surgeries. NOPE. Looking back, I should have stopped her immediately. Unfortunately I didn’t and she dug around looking for the vein. Will could see the pain on my face (have I ever mentioned that I have NO poker face?!) and he didn’t stop her either. We were rookies back then. She finally got good blood return and taped the IV to my arm. I thought that was the end of the pain, but it wasn’t. Unfortunately this bad IV placement will haunt me for the rest of my life. You’ll find out more about that later. Oh joy.
The infusion itself was really nothing special. What sticks out in my mind were the steroids and the man screaming next to me. What?! Yes, SCREAMING. I told myself beforehand that I was going to be quiet and respectful of other patients because obviously there were people much worse off than I was. This poor man 2 recliners away was having a particularly hard time with the port in his chest. Apparently his veins were shot so his arms weren’t an option either. He screamed in pain and talked rudely to the nurses. The worst of it had to be him making cell phone calls and talking poorly about the hospital and all of its staff. A doctor finally had to be called to help out.
Just about this time is when my steroids kicked in. That was the first thing I got through my IV – steroids to lessen the side effects and then anti-nausea drugs before 2 bags of chemo drugs. I asked the nurse if I could walk around and she said YES rather enthusiastically. I left Will to his laptop and started walking in circles around the ward. I felt badly about the rattling of my IV wheels but Will assured me that I was better off walking than listening to The Complainer. His situation was obviously not ideal but his attitude was certainly making matters worse. Looking back, I think Will was trying to protect my GOOD attitude more than anything. Thanks, babe.
The last time I checked in with Will back at my recliner, I saw this beautiful woman who looked like a pixie with really short, dark hair. I mentioned the steroids and she started chuckling from across the room. She recounted her experiences with steroids and chemo treatments and then we bonded over the running shoes we were both wearing. She said not being as active as she was before had been difficult but she was encouraging about my attitude and her vote of confidence MADE MY DAY. This was the first time I bonded with someone who was going through a similar situation as mine at the same time. I have thought about her often since that day.
We FINALLY left St. Luke’s some 7 hours after we arrived. We were mentally fried, but I was still hopped up on steroids and talking a mile a minute. Poor Will was just plain drained, so we picked up the girls from our friends’ house and headed home.
What was BAD about Round 1:
- The screaming complainer!
- I should’ve stopped the bad IV placement!
- I would lose my awesome faux hawk and never feel confident about being bald.
- I didn’t know what to expect so I sat around waiting to feel bad. (And I made Will sit around with me. Ha!)
- I realized for the first time that no one gets my sense of humor. (Do you really think I asked the nurses how many laps = a mile?! This is an oncology ward. I’m not THAT insensitive.)
What was GOOD about Round 1:
- I did it and I was still in good spirits.
- I had learned so much from my experience so far that I had CONFIDENCE in myself.
- Another patient told me she had confidence in me, too.
- It was my only infusion on 4South. (MSTI’s infusion center is SO MUCH BETTER. Wait until you see who I meet and the good times I have there!)
- I would get 85% chemo doses from here on out and it would be a relief after what I endured with Round 1. You’ll see!
I thought I was hot stuff, but it’s all about to go downhill for a bit. Shit.