Today I started the first round of a 3-week chemotherapy treatment with the goal of reducing the tumor size so that radiation and surgery can follow. After a brief visit with my oncologist at the clinic about the game plan, my wife and I move into the treatment area. It’s a large room with a nurse’s station on the east side, and has 6 recliner chairs in a horseshoe style near the large windows facing west. This comfortable space allows patients to sit quietly for as long as needed during their session. My wife sits next to me in one of the soft, straight-back chairs provided for visitors.
My patient-care assistant reviews the process that will take place, and gives me a printed list of oral medications to assist the intravenous chemotherapy. She explains how important it is to prevent nausea and infections, and to be prepared for some level of fatigue which will surely develop. She says, “Do only the important things now.” I reply, “And isn’t that what all of us should be doing anyway?” She agreed.
By each chair, IV (intravenous) bags are hung on movable metal poles, about 6 feet tall, as prescribed liquids are dripped through clear plastic tubes into each patient. A patient to the left of me, who was also there for the first time, remarked how great it is to have the PortaCath as the method for administration. (See Day 22 post). She hates to be stuck with a needle, and offered sympathy for an older man in a chair to the right of us, who didn’t have a PortaCath.
During my 4-hour session six different types of liquids were administered for me — to hydrate my system, to protect my kidneys and liver, and to start the chemo process. There’s plenty of time to read, go to the bathroom, and eat the lunch we brought with us.
The conversation in the room is relaxed and casual. As the doctor and nurses go in and out of the room, I overhear one nurse say that she is excited to go to Las Vegas this weekend to see the Donny and Marie show at the Flamingo Hotel.
My wife and I pick some books from a bookcase in the room, and scan through ideas and methods for embracing cancer treatment. As newbies to cancer ourselves, we are now learning terminology and techniques that, until now, we’ve only heard about from a distance, and in general terms. While a lot is known about cancer, there is still so much more to learn, for both prevention and cure!
The last liquid is the one I take home with me in the form of my new “techie friend,” a portable pump that I’ll wear around my waist in a “fanny pack,” and will carry with me everywhere for the next 3 weeks.
The nurse attaches one end of a clear tube into my PortaCath, and the other end into the battery-powered pump and turns it on. She explains that a container has been attached to the bottom edge of the pump, with 100 milliliters of 5-FU liquid (5-Fluorouracil) for continuous, intravenous flow during the next 3 weeks. (See this link for more detail.)
My pump has been adjusted for about 14 milliliters per day and the LCD readout at the top of the pump shows how much liquid is left. I’ll go in each Friday for the next two weeks for container refills. I asked, “Do I get a nickle for returning my empties?” She said, “No, but I’m old enough to remember when we could earn money by returning empty pop bottles.”
The nurse goes on to explain that if my new techie friend stops working, or an alarm goes off, that I can call, day or night, to get help. She then reviews what to expect by way of side-effects because the 5-FU chemical is designed to kill fast-growing cells in the body. Along with cancer cells, mucous membrane cells — like in my mouth — and hair cells, perhaps including my bushy eyebrows (which I explain were inherited from my Grandpa Powell), will also be killed as this chemical sweeps in a low-volume, continuous flow throughout my entire system for the next 3 weeks.
As my wife and I prepare to leave, I ask the nurse how chemotherapy has changed in the last 10 or 15 years. She explains that there were only about 3 types of chemo to work with then, but now there are over 200 to choose from. Personalized medicine is developing. And hopefully there will be techniques to target only the cancer cells in the near future, but until then my cancer helpers have to “burn the village to save it,” which is my phrase, not the nurse’s. It seems that this is the unwanted, collateral damage that is inevitable in any war.
I adjust the fanny pack around my waist and my wife and I walk out into the sunshine of a beautiful September afternoon, as our daughter arrives to pick us up. I say in my mind, “Let’s go home, my new friend, and see if we can develop a Zone 4 relationship during the next three weeks. I really do want to go ‘toward and with’ what you have to offer me!”
[GTG-6.3 Support Pathfinder]
Here’s a partial Support Pathfinder Map to show how today’s session has increased my Capacity to do well, through Self Support, System Support, and People Support coming together.