First Day of Treatments.

Posted on July 31, 2014

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20140721_082918Not often does one walk willingly and knowingly into the shadows of certain pain… cancer changed that for me.

When Monday morning finally came, Cass and I were a ball of contradiction-anxious, but nervous; excited but scared shitless. At 9:30, I was scheduled to meet with my oncology doctor and get my 24-hour chemotherapy drug pump. Once plugged in, I would head across the hallway to my first radiation treatment. Regardless of how much you read (I read a lot), and how much people tell you (I’ve listened a lot), this is something you are simply not prepared for.

There is a couple signs in the parking lot, next to the accessible parking spots that reads, “Parking for Cancer Center Patients Only.” We exchanged glances that said, “I guess this is where we park now,” took a deep breath and turned the car off. There was so much going through my head; a month’s worth of planning and worry, flying across the country visiting doctors, reading books upon books trying to decode the world and language of cancer, hours on the phone with insurance, figuring out how to continue my business through this, mentally preparing to willingly accept the impending side effects in my otherwise healthy body, and always there was the lingering void left in the wake of losing a friend.

We held hands and walked in. I’m sure “first timer” was written all over us.

Once I was called back the nurse took my vitals, weight, and proceeded through a script of questions she told me to get used to, as the list would become routine at every Monday appointment. Then I left Cass to go back to the chemo room. This is an oversized hallway with windows on one side. two rows of about 5 hospital-quality recliners lined the walls looking at each other. Between each chair was a bin of sharps and a contraption that looked to be a cross between an IV drip and one of those big 1980’s discman walkmans, which I gathered was used for people needing the hour-plus chemo infusions.

portI sat down and took off my shirt. I guess I assumed that was protocol to reach my port, until she jokingly said, “well… we don’t get this kind of eye candy around these parts.” From then on, I knew we’d be cool.

She brought out a package of items, containing more things than I expected, syringes, tape-like items, tubing, the needle contraption, some wipes, rubber rings, more tubing… excuse all these technical terms. Before she touched anything, she put on one of those Asian bird-flu masks. I asked if that was necessary (don’t ask this question if you’re ever in this situation), to which she replied something along the lines of, “I will be injecting stuff directly into your heart.” I thanked her for the stark reminder and sat back to let her do what she’s good at.

The poke into my port was barely noticeable and a few minutes later the hospital pharmacy released the chemo drugs and pump that I’d be carrying around with me every weekday for the next six weeks (apparently you just can’t pick that stuff up at CVS). They taped everything down, explained the pump, its buttons, then turned it on. It was one of those moments where you pause… waiting… wondering what was about to happen… Would I instantly get nauseous? Would my hair start falling out yet? Would the walls cave in and sky fall down?

Nothing. Well, not nothing. The pump beeped a couple times and made a quiet wrrrzzzzzzzzzztt sound. I officially started chemotherapy.

chemoIf chemo wasn’t all that bad, radiation is where I expected craziness.

Cass and I crossed the hallway and took a seat. The departments are joined together and work together more seamlessly than I ever thought. Cass waited as I was called back.

The rad techs were all set up for me, in the treatment room. The machine looks like some kind of mutant water faucet, whose arm extends over the table which I lay on and points directly at my pelvis region. Already on the table was the mold of my legs, to guarantee proper alignment, a handful of towels, and a pillow. I settled into the mold, the table raised me up and under the arm of the machine.

To get alignment, and we’re talking millimeters, green lasers shoot out of the walls to my left and right and match up with the small tattoos on my hips. The gals slip me one way or another until the lasers match and then they align the machine’s red laser with the tattoo just below my belly button. Each treatment starts with an X-Ray to double check boney anatomy against the radiation alignments.

20140731_095436Then the techs would leave to find refuge in their safe-area behind 9 feet of lead and concrete walls, shutting a massive two-foot thick leaden door behind them. This alone should be alarming, though mutually necessary. I was alone, laying face-to-face with the machine in the darkened room. A tropical beach scene covered a couple window openings above me, presumably to act as a calming influence when being shot with doses of high-energy particles.

I half expected light sabers to shoot out of the walls burning my privates; searing laser beams of excruciating pain, crotch-smoke filling the room turning what was thought to be treatment into a poor rendition of a Neil Diamond stage show (80’s Diamond, probably not the current Diamond). I laid totally still waiting for the machine to begin.

It moved and buzzed… I felt nothing. The arm rotated around me, pausing at designated positions. If it wasn’t for the noise of what I imagine are the photon beams or the machine’s gear systems, I would have no idea it was even working.

Thirteen minutes passed and the lights came back on. I sat up. Again, expecting to feel horrible, but not.

It hit me around dinner time, about six hours after treatments. In the course of one hour, I relived some of the worst college weekends in their entirety. I went from, “man, what’s all the chemo fuss about,” to feeling completely hammered. The kind of drunk that when you turn your head fast enough, your brain only recognizes a handful of snapshots along that path. That progressed to a debilitating case of the spins and the subsequent nausea.

Cass felt helpless, and thought a bowl of soup might at least settle my stomach. I didn’t know what else could offer relief beside the fetal position. Just before she brought the bowl into the living room, I sat up, and began spraying vomit all over the coffee table. Explosively. When it subsided I made it only to the kitchen before filling up half a sinkful of stomach contents. Looking back, it was quite impressive. …and ironic, as I cleaned puke off of several books written to help combat the side effects of chemo.

…and thus began my journey into the world of chemo/radiation.

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Posted in: Cancer