A Day in the Life of a Chemo Patient...
Chemo in progress
by Michele Adams
After some conversations, I realized that most people have no idea what “getting chemo” really is, so today I thought I’d enlighten you.
Chemo day, for me, actually begins the night before (Tuesday). I come home from work, eat supper, then start watching the clock. While I try to relax and enjoy my evening, the countdown has begun. In my head I’m thinking, “12 hours left”. “10 more hours.” I tend to go to bed late, and toss and turn all night, because of the dread that morning will bring.
So eventually I get some sleep, and the alarm goes off around 6:45 on Tuesday morning. I get up and take a LONG hot shower, scrubbing my hair too much, scrubbing my skin a little too hard, and then usually just letting the hot water flow over me for a long time, dreading to get out. This will be my last shower for two days (you will find out why later.)
I pick out my “chemo clothes”. For me I wear one outfit the entire cycle of chemo. I found, last time, that I will hate the outfit when chemo is over, and I throw it away. So this round of chemo, I picked out a fun pair of PJs to wear. I know, weird right?! But anyway, I picked out some dalmatian spotted Mickey/Minnie Mouse PJs. The shirt buttons up (a plus for chemo), and they are warm and comfortable. Plus they are fun, and tend to make people smile when then see me walking in.
Breakfast ate, teeth brushed, hair fixed, then I apply the “numbing cream” over my port.
For those who don’t know what a port is, or it’s function: A port is sort of a “pincushion” that is surgically implanted under the skin (for me, by my right collarbone) with a line that is inserted into one of your main blood vessels. This allows for easy access to a vein, because chemo destroys your veins, and it will get harder and harder to access one as we get deeper and deeper into chemo.
After I applied the numbing cream, I cover it with “Glad Press N Seal Wrap” to keep the goop from getting all over everything.
Then I gather up all my electronics. I take my iPhone, iPod, and Nook. OHA, where I receive my chemo, has free WiFi, to help keep the patients occupied. We pop into the vehicle and head to OHA, a 45 minute drive.
After checking in, around 8:30 I get my weight checked and visit the Dr. She updates me on whatever she has to update me on, adjusts my meds, etc.
I head to the chemo waiting room. Once it’s “my turn”, I walk into a room that seats some 50 people (I’ve never really counted, so my numbers could be off). Blue vinyl recliners cover every square foot of space there is in this room. I can pick any chair that I want, so I tend to find a secluded corner, as far away from other people as I can get. It’s not that I don’t like people, it’s just that this treatment really sucks, and I want to crawl into a dark hole and lie down to die. (Really, this is my feeling about the whole matter.) So, I find a “comfy corner” and retreat into my mind for a while.
The nurse comes in and cleans the “numbing gook” off of my port, and inserts a needle into the port. For those that like a visual image, imagine getting stabbed in the chest with a needle…now you know why the numbing cream is important. Sometimes the cream works, sometimes it does not…either way, the port is accessed.
After accessing the port, they flush it with heparin to make sure it works correctly.
Now break for a minute. Go to your medicine cabinet and grab your nearest bottle of rubbing alcohol. Unscrew the cap and take a big whiff. Remember that smell. When they flush your port with heperin, it gives you an awful taste in your mouth. It tastes like that alcohol smelled. It makes me gag, just thinking about it.
After flushing, they draw blood through the accessed port. This isn’t unpleasant, as they continue to use that same needle, so I don’t even notice it. They can take as much blood as they want, if it concerned me, not a big deal. Then they tape down the needle and such, and take the blood over to their lab.
I now have whatever conversation that I need to have with Tom concerning the week, etc. Check my email/read my nook/whatever. It usually lasts a half hour or so.
Eventually they return with my blood work results. We go over anything we have to go over, then then start giving me IV meds to reduce the nausea. I can feel the drugs as soon as it hits the vein, causing some lightheadedness. They give the injection very slow, but it hits hard. I’m going to need it, because next they hook up the chemo IVs.
I think everyone knows what an IV is (bag of fluids that run through a tube), and I receive 2 or more at a time. They travel through a pump (see the photo) that then sends them, at different intervals, into my vein. This can take anywhere from 4-6 hours or more, depending on how many and how much is given. The chemo drugs are mixed with saline fluids to help keep me hydrated, and make the infusion easier.
Visual break again. Think back to the last time you had the flu. Not the sniffles or aches, but the real “sitting on the toilet and barfing into the trash can” flu. Remember lying in bed, between the bathroom trips and trying to decide if you should make a run for it, or wait to see if it is going to pass, because you are so exhausted that you just couldn’t get up again? This is how I will feel for the rest of the day. Thinking I’m going to barf, but then drifting off to sleep.
Sometimes I pop on my headphones and listen to music. Thanks to the drugs, I then drift in and out of consciousnesses for the rest of the treatment, waking around noon to eat.
Eating is important, because it helps to keep the nausea down. It doesn’t prevent it, but helps calm the stomach.
Tom (my dear hubby) goes and gets some sort of food, usually soup from a local restaurant, and we eat lunch together.
If all goes well, there isn’t anything exciting. Just sleeping, eating, talking to Tom, fighting the urge to barf, making frequent trips to the bathroom (thanks to all the IV fluids), etc.
If things don’t go well..never mind, we are just going for “well” today.
Eventually all the chemo drugs are in my body, and it’s time to go…but wait there’s more!
Now they come and unhook all the bags, but then hook up (through the same needle) a portable pump. This sort of looks like a grenade. Don’t know what a grenade looks like? Well, then picture a tennis ball, with a line running out the top to my chest. The pump is activated by my body heat, so they tape the “on switch” to my chest, then tape the rest of the needle/tubing etc. I then wear that home, with the pump in my pocket.
Depending on how the treatment went, Tom either has to help me walk out, or I can walk out on my own to the vehicle, for the 45 minute ride home. This is the worst ride ever. I’m nauseous, and the sun KILLS my eyes. I try to wear sunglasses, and sleep all the way home, with Tom “driving like the wind” to get me and my whiny butt home as fast as possible.
Then I hit the bed (see why wearing PJs is good?), port, needles and all. Trying to sleep with needles sticking out of my chest is…well…words can’t describe it, but the drugs usually enable me to fall into some sort of comatose state for the next several hours.
Nausea wakes me, so I pop some pills, shuffle to the kitchen, and fix some sort of food (unless Tom has already made it for me). Pills kick in, and I shuffle drunkenly back to bed. I then travel in and out of this same routine over the next 24 hours.
Hopefully, by Thursday morning, the nausea has dissipated enough that I can go to work (with pump still attached). Because of the pump, I am unable to take a shower, so I wash my hair (carefully because the needle is sticking out of my chest) over the tub, and sponge bathe the rest.
Normal day at work, but with the “flu” feeling, until around noon. Then I head to OHA (luckily JUST across the street from my workplace) to get the pump unplugged.
They unplug, and flush me with that awful heperin. Then I return to work and wait for my body to heal.
So, now, you’ve experienced a day in the life of a chemo treatment.
© 2014 Michele Adams