The Real Deal.

Posted on January 31, 2015

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20150107_084902On January 7th, I bared the bump on my upper-left chest to the oncology nurse, she pushed against my access port a few times and, once again, plunged the half-inch needle down to the clear plastic elbow. This marked the beginning of my reentry into the world of chemotherapy.

Just as we had on the eve of my first chemo treatments, we nervously scurried around the house, cleaning and arranging things in what we only assumed would be the optimal placement for a person incapable of caring for oneself. Busy work, sometimes, acts more as therapy keeping our minds off of what we knew was about to happen. Only this time, we had experience on our side-we felt more prepared.

Cass shopped and prepared the makings of a meal. Before work, she’d fill up the Crock-pot so I’d have a meal waiting for me when I came home from the hospital. We stocked up on the obligatory Ginger Ale, crackers, juices of all shapes and sizes… those time-tested remedies. While on chemo, drinking is ultra important as your kidneys process the drugs… and getting poison out of you as soon as it’s work is done quickly moves to the top of your priority list.

This follow-up treatment is planned as a four-month routine of the same 5-FU man-purse “administered” over 48 hours (rather than the week-long variety I previously had). It also includes a four-hour infusion of Leucovorin and Oxaliplatin… the daunting FOLFOX treatment. This regimen is standard colo-rectal cancer treatment and shown in studies to be effective (for whatever reasons, the Germans are interested in studying rectal cancers… good on ya, folks!).

20141105_054057I think when you’re in the throws of something like cancer, things tend to take on more meaning. The things that do hold meaning but perhaps get marginalized by the grind of life, they take on more significance. It’s why I purposely wore my Melissa shirt on the day of surgery and it’s why every time I pass through the doors of the cancer center for treatment, I have the afghan blanket my grams knitted for me in high school. Though neither of these two items hold weight in the prognosis, medically… they hold so much of power and strength and inspiration that is needed when you’re sitting next to a tower of five bags dripping a potion of chemicals into your heart.

The cancer center felt almost like a reunion. I gave hugs to the nurses I haven’t seen for a few months and made sure to tell the radiation staff that they saved my ass (my anus and rectum are a different stories, but they understood what I meant). People poked their heads in the doorway and waved to welcome me back as I was prepped for my port access. It felt like a homecoming-a strange homecoming, but one nonetheless- what I only hope every patient feels when they walk into their cancer center where ever that may be.

20150107_102327There was only one other older man in the room when I got there, and it filled up pretty quickly; some coming for only a few minutes to get unhooked, some for a few hours, some for the duration. We chatted, discussed our predicaments, complained about the weather, shared memories of growing up (as that was the ‘question of the day’ for the room). I settled in, covered my feet with my blanket, and, not unlike my father… opened up my computer and ended up designing some pretty cool logo drafts for the local running club (Papa Bear is notorious for squeezing work into the most non-work situations-just ask his dictation-machine thingamajig). Four hours later, my machine beeped, the nurses switched me from the IV to the pump, and I was on my way. It was rather pleasant; I could tell that something goofy was inside me, but all-in-all I left the hospital that day ready to hammer that dish Cass put together for me.

20150121_134716The two days on the pump continued similar to the previous bag-totting treatments months earlier. I was tiring quickly, laying down by mid-afternoon. I didn’t feel great, but didn’t feel bad either. It even led me to think that 4 months of this would only feel like 4 months, not ten years. Friday, I ran up to the hospital, they took my pump, along with half of my chest hair, and I was on my way. I believe the medical term is ‘Easy-Peasy.’

And then the hammer fell.

I woke up around 2 a.m. with the full weight of chemo side effects waging battle in my stomach. Nausea was in the red corner, and a new contender whom I was unfamiliar with, was standing in the blue corner… and they were both pissed.

With my new stoma, I’m still experiencing feelings I’ve never had before…this was one of those feelings. A deep pressure… less cramping, not quite gas pains, but more toward what I only concluded constipation now felt like. I had some little rabbit pellets in my bag but I was still passing them without thought; perhaps it all caught up to me.

I would describe this as one of those perpetual wave machines you typically see in doctor’s offices. The two different colored liquids slosh back and forth with nowhere to go but to fend off the opposite color. Just as one liquid overtakes the other at one end, the display tilts and triggers the battle for the other side. Deep in my core, whatever ‘it’ is, wanted supremacy over nausea… neither relinquishing.

Fetal positioned and groaning was my only escape. Soon, Cass made a middle of the night Wal-mart run for some laxatives. I slammed down the gritty Gatorade mixture hoping for some relief. Minutes later my head was in the familiar blue bucket. Fail.

Even in the midst of something like this came clarity. I had this strange self-awareness that I was within one of those moments when a cancer patient has to fight. These side effects aren’t unusual… cancer is often a life and death circumstance… and chemotherapy is the real deal. This is one of those times that forge the bonds between whatever color ribbon you wear; the times you remember when you are able to either help someone or something surrounding cancer. It’s the reason why we get angry and the reason why we love stronger.

I didn’t sleep much that night, but Cass and I got through this first round-certainly a journey of discovery. A learning experience in which I succumbed to whatever that had to happen, so that we can adjust and overcome.

Because every two weeks for the next few months, I’ll be right back on the sauce.

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Posted in: Cancer