Friday, May 1, 2009

The Fat Lady Sings for Chemo (Part 1)

It's over. But I'm not really the fat lady. Turns out between chemo one and chemo four (last, final, done, never again chemo) I gained a whopping 1 1/2 pounds. Not too bad considering how I ate. Yeah, I wanted to be one of those people who lost 15 or 20 pounds on chemo--but since I didn't want to be and wasn't one of those people who were nauseous and vomiting all through treatment, that was probably unrealistic. Of all the things that happened to me on chemo, nausea and vomiting weren't on the list. (Aren't you happy to read that? I hope you aren't at your desk having lunch or some such; if you are, so sorry.) Oh, and "knock on wood" since technically, I have 2 to 3 more weeks of potential side effects.

So, fourth and final chemo is over. That's the traditional Seamus "good luck" photo. Outfit was chosen by the gifts received--mocha wrap from JIM and TRUDI KERN (these are absolutely perfect for chemo--one can adjust for arctic blast air conditioning, crazy unexpected hot flashes, uncomfortable chairs, and just about anything else without having to worry about sleeves disrupting the tubes and needles. I may have to add this to my helpful tips list); the head wrap was from GARY BERG and RICH GOLD, and I love it; there was also plenty of Biotene gum on hand now thanks to STACEY ALDSTADT and then recently JOHN VINEYARD! Nice surprises guys! And of course, lunch was packed by CHRIS KERN (my usual pbj sandwich, a banana, pretzels and chips, mixed nuts, a banana cream pudding, and fig newtons, along with a Gatorade. No, I didn't eat it all. This was an "emergency preparedness" package. We never know how long we are going to be there.).

So, prepare yourself for a long posting. This was an interesting day all in all. First, we were an hour late to my appointment. Yeah, an hour. Ooops. the first 1/2 hour of lateness was because I absolutely could not sleep the night before, so when I finally fell asleep the last thing I wanted to do was wake up and get out of bed. I kept pushing it figuring I could get ready in 45 minutes, 30 minutes, 15 minutes....yeah, not so much. I can't even get coffee in 15 minutes. Then we raced out the door, took Seamus to Shawna D. and then I realized that in my rush I had forgotten to take the anti-nausea steroids. And those are, you know, kinda important. We had to turn around and go back home. This goes to Chris's point after chemo #2. At #1 we were like parents expecting a first child--we did absolutely everything they told us to do and then some. Perfect, model patients. By #4, I'm barely remembering to get my blood test, forgeting vitamins and anti-oxidants, not exercising, and then forgetting the medication! I don't know too many people with 4 kids, but I imagine you get more relaxed by the time the fourth one rolls around and it's an altogether different experience (Laura B. and Monica W.--feel free to chime in here! You may be the only people I know with 4 kids!!).

Being late meant we had plenty of time waiting around in the exam room, me in my paper vest and Chris with camera and notes ready. So now I can share with you the types of notices that are in the exam room. We've laughed at these each time, but never had the time to copy them down. Until now. So, in case you wondered what sort of support groups were available and why I didn't go, here's the only two that were advertised all during my treatments.

1. "I Can Cope" Cancer Support Group.
1st & 3rd Weds. each month 10a.m-12pm.
For Adult Cancer patients, friends and family
Enhance the skills needed for self care
Understanding feelings and relationships
Discovering resources and Celebrating Life.

2. "Sharing Support Group for Young Women with Cancer"
(for women under 40)
7 to 8:30 pm Mondays
This addresses the special needs of women under 40 diagnosed with cancer, such as dating, raising small children and working will be addressed.

You see my issues here? In the first class, apparently these are adults without jobs. They meet at 10a.m? On a Wednesday? Whereas in the second they meet in the evening--so I guess the retirement age for people with cancer is 40. Wish somebody had told me that before. And in the first--if we're enhancing our skills for self care, why are our family and friends there? And why are "discovering resources" and "celebrating life" connected? I don't even want to think about the exercises for celebrating life. I'm betting there was hugging. And crying.

As for number 2, really? Dating is going to be an issue during this? I'm not thinking bald, sick and exhausted is a time for dating. Especially if you are also taking care of children and working! And note, the over 40 doesn't address the "special needs" such as working.

But there you have it, the support that was available to, um, not me. Others.

Eventually Traci, the nice, competent nurse practitioner came in to see me. Note, not the doctor. We saw the doctor scurry down the hallway once, no doubt in an effort to avoid me and my annoying requests to actually speak to her. But that was the sole contact with her on my very last appointment with "her" (ever!!). So in one consultation and 4 chemo treatments, I saw the actual oncologist exactly twice. A grand total of, I'd say 30 minutes. And that's being generous, unlike the doctor herself.

My exam went fine and I was given the "all clear" to return to normal eating, drinking, jacuzzi'ing and other activities after three weeks. Hello, Memorial day weekend of debauchery!! I now switch to the radiation oncologist and all follow up care will be through Dr. Karam and Dr. Glaspy back at UCLA (home, sweet home!). So other than today's trip back for my Neulasta shot...I'm all done at Wilshire Oncology. The nurses and the nurse practitioner were great--and that's really who took care of me, so all in all I suppose it went well. The doctor however was so incredibly frustrating and cold and uncaring that it really made it a more difficult experience than was necessary. I can't say I'd recommend the place. Besides, she clearly has more patients than she can handle (which, I suppose explains why she doesn't handle them!). But here's a photo of me in the infusion room with the two wonderful nurses who did care for me and did a great job. That's Nancy on the left (2nd and 3rd chemo rounds--which means she's the one that got stuck with me for the allergic reaction/ closing down the place chemo; and she never lost her cool or her sense of humor) and Marilyn on the right (1st and 4th chemos; Marilyn is a breast cancer survivor herself and extremely kind and caring--she even called to check in on me after my first round!). Notice we were even color coordinated?

This is perhaps an even longer post than I expected (have I mentioned the steroid high I've been on?) . And I've got to get some lunch and Chris and I (and Seamus) have to head back to Rancho Cuc for the Neulasta bone shot. All of which means...this will be done in two parts. I'll finish this up later. Really, it'll be worth it. I haven't even got to the part where the "Top Ten Lessons from Cancer" were displayed in my chemo area. Or the part where Chris "entertained" fellow chemo recipients with swine flu jokes. See, I bet you can't wait. I'll get it posted later tonight.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, jumping in here... Kid #1 gets all the unnecessary medical attention, rushes to the ER for boogers, slight temp., or just plain crying "too much". Baby books are full of information. Tons of money spent on "studio photos". Kid #4 gets somewhat neglected that way. Home remedies are practiced and doctors office visits are pretty much the "routine" care, like shots and school physicals. Baby books are lucky to get family tree names and "first" photos. Pictures are taken by us, scanned and copied for family. And yes, there is WAY LESS packed on a trip anywhere, so the kitchen sink is allowed to stay home by kind #4. So glad you are done with chemo. I guess the "cancer" part will always be there in that you have to be tested, checked and monitored. But still... So relieved!


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