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  • Writer's pictureJody Glynn Patrick

Chemo: What it's really like

Updated: Sep 21, 2023


Preparation for 1pm chemo session: 5 steroid pills at 1:00 a.m. the morning of, followed by 5 more steroid pills at 7:00 a.m. This is given to protect veins from toxins in chemo. Result: sweating session so bad that the dog jumped in bed and actually slid on the sheet! I had to get up for a bath towel and by morning it was drenched! It was insane, all night long with fan full on my face. I’ve never sweat that much in my life, but it was more like leaching fluid; no odor like sweat. Just wet from head to toe.

Then chemo for 4 hours on Monday. Our new dog is extremely attached to us and has abandonment issues like crazy. She is my SHADOW and actually mimics me (she pretends to brush her teeth by standing up to the counter on her front paws, looking in the mirror and bobbing her head in time to mine). When I put on shoes to go to the store, she tries to get her feet in Kevin’s shoes to go with me. She is hysterically funny and smart, this dog, but Maddie could never be left alone yet (she scratches our doors pretty bad and get really whiny when either of us leave). So our friend Buddy came over and sat with her for the entire time; what a godsend that was for me to be able to relax and for Kev to be able to stay with me. I can’t say how much it meant to us both, but we love you, Buddy.

I was weighed (lost more weight), BP good, etc., and sent to a private room with Kev. We noticed the crash cart -- a CPR bed in the room, and that was a bit sobering. The nurse gave me a Shasta ginger ale that tasted like crap, so I exchanged it for a Coke; she laughed and said it was the one good thing she could do for me that day. We had brought crustable sandwiches for lunch, so then I was all set and ready to go in a sturdy uncomfortable leather dentist like chair, and the nurse came in to insert the cap pin needle in the port (ouch). Now it's real.

OK, How does chemo work? Cancer cells grow faster than normal cells. This particular cancer also is REAL good at hiding. My white blood cells aren’t recognizing the threat or releasing enough hunters to find and kill it, so the cancer actually doubled last month, according to my labs. Chemo drugs seek out and kill fast growing cells, GREAT! But they can’t differentiate between cancer and normal faster growing cells: BAD! So it’s also toxic to the host body (me) and definitely will do collateral damage along the way.

Everything during a chemo session is done through that port in my chest with that tube threaded into my neck leading to a vein into my heart. First, a blood draw, then a saline (salt water) neutral flush to establish the line, followed by 2 strong anti-nausea and antihistamine drugs. Then more saline and then comes the strongest drug in a one-hour IV drip: Taxotere.

One possible side effect of Taxotere is actually listed as death – it’s truly a “napalm chemo.” I was offered ice for hand or foot pain, which can start immediately and will worsen greatly over time. I didn’t need ice but noticed stiffness. I can deal with that, but later I’ll need morphine for the pain – it’s my second lifetime experience with this chemotherapy and I well remember the first. I’m to take 5 days of Zyrtec and 2 steroid doses for two days after chemo to lessen this and other side effects.

After another saline flush to clear the line, I’m given the second drug, carboplatin, which also is a one-hour drip. This is also a very strong chemo agent with very similar side effects and potency to Taxotere. It could make me deaf, for instance. But I’ll worry about that unlikely side effect if it happens. More likely, it will make the ringing in my ears much worse, among its other equally irksome talents.

Another clearing saline flush, and then a 30-minute IV drip of Keytruda. This is different from chemo agents. It is a humanized antibody used in cancer immunotherapy. As my doc explained, it will literally teach my white blood cells how to recognize and attack the hiding cancer cells. BUT it can also mistakenly teach white cells to attack critical host cells, leading to death. It’s kind of a Hail Mary pass or a crapshoot; they’ll stop it if they see it attacking my lungs or liver, or other places it could spur self-attacks. But if it doesn’t and my cells respond as we hope, it’s considered a miracle for late-stage cancer patients and my best hope for extended time -- so here’s to Hail Mary! Bring it, I said.

Truth is, they gave me so many support drugs that I didn’t notice anything except feeling good for the first time in weeks. The steroids actually helped my lungs and so I wasn’t exhausted from trying to breath around a lung mass. I actually felt, well, normal!

Bonus: the dietician came and worked with us on a food plan. I can’t have any raw vegetables or fruits and no flowers and no gardening; that’s how low my immune system is at the moment. I can’t fight off normal spores, and my critical labs are too low. So she gave me a list of alternate foods. I’m not to eat regular big meals, but six times a day, small portions to always include protein.

Digestion (especially with an abdominal mass still growing) is going to be tricky to deal with as chemo kicks in, and I’m not to lose any more weight (I’ve lost quite a bit from no appetite). She’ll be checking my labs weekly, too, and will intervene if she sees some numbers going south. So that was a great visit, and we learned a lot about how to handle my nutritional needs and when to eat what based on lab numbers, which I also have access to and record.

Kev sat with me the whole time and we mostly talked about our expectations, how we REALLY were feeling, and how he is retiring this month to spend as much time as possible with me. He’s making it his mission to take over the house, cooking, and my care so that when I do have good days, I can spend them doing a project I love, not laundry. He’s giving me quality of life, and in doing that, will certainly extend my life. That’s what love is, folks.

The rest of the day was uneventful. We watched TV together, Kev and Maddie and me, and it was not a good day, it was a great day. So thank you for the prayers. I do believe in prayer and good energy, and you are my proof it worked. So here's a boatload of love and positive energy right back atcha!

More as the week unfolds and the support drugs wear off (LOL). Meanwhile, I've got a meeting with my port surgeon and another lab session first. Talk to you again on Friday. Thanks for listening!

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