Oh, my glamorous cancer life… filled with medications and schedules and needle pokes. Each week I am both anxious and excited for Wednesdays. It usually starts Tuesday night around 8pm, I get the same feelings – it doesn’t matter how many weeks I’ve been at this. I plan my morning, walk through what I’ll need to take, who’s going with me (I usually have a fantastic entourage), and mentally prepare for another round.
Before all of this, the only insight into ‘treatment day’ I had was from the few times I went with my dad. Since his cancer journey was completely different from mine, I had no clue what I was getting into. The truth is, a lot of people have no clue – and those that do, don’t talk about it a lot because it can be scary. Even just walking into a cancer center makes everyone think about the emotional movies they’ve seen… sickly patients wearing masks or rows and rows of chemotherapy stations and a whole lot of sad.
I thought I’d set the record straight and share with you what a chemo day looks like for me. Spoiler alert: it’s not too scary, too sad or too horrible. In fact for me – its usually filled with laughs and feelings of reassurance.
6:30 am – Dane alarm clock. Dane has a habit of coming down from his room when he wakes up and crawls into bed with us for snuggles. It’s my favorite way to start the day.
6:45 am – Prep my chemo port for the needle. The port is located right under my collarbone under my skin, so each week I have to apply numbing cream approximately an hour ahead of time so I don’t feel the needle poke. I’m thankful for the cream – it makes the whole thing a little easier. Pro tip: I keep the cream in place using Press and Seal wrap. I found out quickly that medical adhesive bandages are really harsh on my skin and actually do more damage than good.
7:30 am – Arrive and wait for the needle placement and blood draw. They usually take two tubes of blood plus flush my port with a few syringes of sodium chloride to make sure there are no clogs. One thing I heard about the flushing was that people can sometimes taste or smell the sodium chloride, which sounded weird to me… but turns out I ended up being able to smell it and it’s like rubbing alcohol. Thankful I’m not *lucky* enough to taste it – yuck!
8:00 am – Vitals and routine questions. Blood pressure, temp, and lots of personal questions about fatigue level, bowel movements and more than you want to know.
8:30 am – Blood work typically takes about an hour to come back, and my oncologist or the PA I meet with that week reads it to determine if I’m healthy enough to receive chemo. So far my numbers have been great (all things considered). I’m technically anemic right now which is pretty typical for cancer patients and can sometimes lead to the need for a blood transfusion – which I’ve been able to avoid thus far and fingers crossed I won’t need one.
I only meet with a doctor or physician assistant every other week at this point in my treatment but when I do, I always feel so much better. I feel especially better when I meet with my oncologist, because she is one of the only people who actually felt my tumor prior to treatment. At this point, we’re assessing my progress based on physical touch alone. I haven’t (and won’t) have any scans done unless my surgeon decides she would like me to, and we will determine that when we meet in about a month.
My doctor always does a full breast exam and feels my lymph nodes to check if anything is off. It is ALWAYS to my relief that she hasn’t felt anything since about week three – meaning the chemotherapy is doing it’s job and has shrunk the tumor down a ton. It wasn’t big to begin with, but just hearing her reassuring words that she can’t feel it anymore always gives me a pep in my step.
We usually chat for about 30 minutes – discussing everything from my fears and anxieties about aches and pains, to what I’m doing outside of chemo to ease the weight of this journey. I appreciate that she is a straight shooter and doesn’t sugarcoat anything, yet has this incredible compassion and treats me like I could be her own daughter.
9:00 am – Time for the treatment! Once my blood work is approved, we start with pre-meds. This includes a couple more flushes and a bag of the sodium chloride to get started, plus 4 medications to help ease the side effects of the chemo itself. The drugs include Pepcid (anti-nausea – also known for helping with heartburn, which weirdly I do get as a side effect of the chemo so I’m thankful for this), Zofran (also anti-nausea), Decadron (steroid) and Benadryl (to help with any sort of allergic reaction.) Benadryl has always knocked me right out, so having it injected in liquid form directly into my bloodstream gets me LOOPY. I’m talking slurred speech, Martha 4 glasses of wine deep loopy. My nurses tell me sometimes patients will sleep right through treatment because of the Benadryl but I haven’t nodded off quite yet.
At this point, I also start with my ice therapy to help prevent the neuropathy. I get one bag for each foot and a big bag to hold in my hands. The feet aren’t so hard, but I struggle to keep my fingers cold the entire time. I keep this going for about 2-2.5 hours. The cold makes me uncomfortable and twitchy so my wonderful nurses bring me warm blankets and wrap me up tight. I look ridiculous but it helps.
Once the pre-meds are all in my system, I get a bag of Taxol that takes about an hour. After that, more fluids and you guessed it, a couple more flushes. They remove the needle from my port and I’m free to go! Usually the whole process takes about 4 hours from beginning to end, which isn’t as bad as with A/C which tended to take more like 6 total.
So far my cycles have been pretty easy – with really only one “down day” where I can really feel the fatigue kicking in, which is likely the steroids leaving my system. I definitely bounce back more quickly though, and enjoy my good days as much as I can.
I have a sneaking feeling the next 8 weeks will fly by and just when I “get use to” this routine, I’ll be finishing it. I’m anxious every single day about surgery and what my life will look like after this whole nightmare but am so ready to get there. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some incredible women through social media and this blog who have been great resources for each step of the way and I am so thankful for that.
So there it is – a day in the life of a chemo patient. Of course this is just my personal story, and the way I choose to view it. Each patient has a unique cocktail of drugs and I can’t speak for them but I can say I’m so happy with my care and how things are going at the halfway point. 8 more treatments to go!!
Till next time…