WARNING: TMI (aka too much information) and occasional hints of sarcasm to follow. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!!
Chemo week. I call it septimana horribilis. I am not making that up either! Its Latin for seven-day period of horror, of shakiness, of the inability to act because of physical or emotional unsteadiness (Shout out to Pastor Mike with the Latin and/or Greek references!). Don’t get it twisted; I am NOT that smart. I googled ‘horrible week’ and have now christened this recurring week with the perfect Latin term. Its really perfect in its definition because ‘horrible week’ simply does not convey the horribilis-ness of chemo.
Septimana horribilis begins every 3rd week with Wednesday, the day before PRE-chemo. Chyeah! There’s stuff in preparation for it! I can’t just show up to chemo all willy-nilly. I must first visit the lab so they can get samples of my poisoned blood to make sure I’m healthy (I use that term loosely) enough to get chemo in two days. If I’m lucky, I get a phlebotomist that has done this to more than a few people so it doesn’t burn and turn to a nice shade of maroon or a beautiful green hue later.
Thursday marks pre-chemo day! YAY! I’m trying to tone down the notes of sarcasm but its a bit difficult in my delicate state. I did it again. (Refer to warning above.) My day starts pretty early in the morning since I usually have to be checked in at the cancer center by 8:00am. I get up and do the usual as any other person except after I brush my teeth, I must tend to my PowerPort or mediport. What’s a mediport you ask? Its basically a little plastic button with a wire attached that is surgically implanted in the chest right under the skin and a second incision by the jugular vein in the neck is used to fish the wire into the jugular. The port has a squishy center through which drugs can be administered with a special power injection needle poked into the skin and into the squishy center (septum). This way I don’t have to get an IV in my arm every time I go to treatment. That’s right! I have POWER INJECTION! I’m bionic. Jealous?
Tending to my PowerPort is actually kinda interesting. I have a special lidocaine cream that I must ‘apply generously’ to the skin where the needle goes. Now, don’t get lidocaine convinced with novocaine. Novocaine is the awesome stuff that songs are written about that you can only get at the dentist. I get the boring stuff. I then get me some saran wrap and gift-wrapping tape, cover it up, and voila! This home-made dressing always gets a chuckle out of my attending nurse. Simple yet effective. She then proceeds to ask me the same question every time before she hooks me up: “Do you want to leave the needle in or take it out?” I usually opt to leave it in as I come back the next day for chemo and prefer not to be poked twice. Except that one time I wanted to wear that cute top to an event…but I digress. The downfall to leaving it in is the dressing or more specifically, THE TAPE. I’m not allergic but its still so itchy! It makes me feel like Hulk Hogan and I want to rip off my shirt like him along with the tape. Plus this dressing does nothing for my look and draws more than a few stares from strangers when they see it. Kinda hard to miss and I don’t blame them. I did it too.
Pre-chemo day is the day I get my lovely dose of Rituxan. I’m given a hefty dose of Benadryl beforehand that instantly makes me feel like I’ve been hitting the bar at happy hour for a few too many hours. I then proceed to take a groggy nap with my zebra print Snuggie for 2-3 hours (I really should send a letter to the Snuggie people, they are GENIUSES. Maybe they’ll send me a green one for lymphoma! But again, I digress.). Rituxan is the “R” in R-CHOP, my specified chemo cocktail. CHOP stands for four different big-word chemo types I’m given the next day on Friday. I don’t even know how to spell them so I suggest you Google it if you really need to know. The whole slow drip (drip. drip.. drip…) process takes about 4-5 hours while I sit in a recliner in a huge, cold room lined with more recliners, all full of fellow cancer fighters attached to their drips.
TMI alert: I visit the restroom at least 3-4 times because of all the liquid being sent into my body, but then again I’m not the only one. Its typical to see a line of people pushing their portable IV poles to the only restroom we have. I hate when I get one with rusty wheels that squeak because then everybody looks up to see who it is and they know exactly where I’m going. There’s always a sad game show or soap opera playing on the tiny, too-far TVs that nobody’s paying attention to anyway. There’s people of all ages, sizes, and stages of cancer. I tend to see some of the same usual suspects, but unfortunately there’s always a newbie. There’s a young woman about my age I always see but have yet to work up the courage to sit next to her, I don’t know why. We always smile at each other with the same sheepish smile that says, “I know.” Maybe this is all we both need? Words have a way of getting in the way, a look can convey it all. Sometimes I’m lucky and I get to sit next to an interesting/funny/inspiring fighter. Most people keep to themselves and sometimes that’s just how I like it…I’m guessing they do too.
I know pre-chemo is over when my attending nurse comes over with the blood pressure gauge and thermometer. She then proceeds to flush my PowerPort with a liquid that (I swear) tastes the way a skunk smells for about 3 seconds. My ‘educated’ guess is that I can taste it is because the wire is in my jugular, close to my head where my nose and taste buds are located. She leaves the needle in as requested beforehand and sends me on my merry way with a reminder card for tomorrow’s chemo appointment. Thursday’s pre-chemo is officially over although the effects of Benadryl still linger. At home, my dogs benefit from this effect as they get to take a nap with me in bed, a rare treat for them. I fall asleep to Coby making piggy noises while he ruffles the bed to find his perfect spot and Flower already asleep smashed up against my side…this part, not so horribilis.
To be continued…