If everything goes okay at my oncology appointment (i.e. my blood levels are high enough for chemo), I go to the chemo clinic the next day.
I had chemo number four yesterday (out of six total chemotherapy treatments that I’m scheduled to have), and because I was starting a new drug, the routine was a little different, but most of my visit was typical.
I arrived and checked in at the appointed time, and then settled down in the waiting area with a pager, to wait. Depending on the time of day, I’ve waited between and hour and an hour-an-a-half to be called into the chemo clinic. Yesterday morning I waited an hour. This isn’t unusual or cruel on their part; they need to prepare your chemotherapy prescription only after it’s confirmed that you’ve arrived, and then they have to wait for a chemotherapy station and staff to be ready for you.
This time I brought some knitting to work on while I waited, and I decided that this is my favourite way to pass the time. In the past I’ve tried to read, but could never concentrate well enough to enjoy it.
I also picked a new place to sit while I waited, that has more natural light than most places in the waiting area. I find the second level of the London Regional Cancer Program is very dimly lit, and personally find it depressing. Give me natural light any day.
I had an urge to walk at one point, and so I went up to third level and did a few circuits of the mezzanine.
When they call you in for chemo, you pick a chair or a bed (I always take a chair – they recline), and they offer you a heated blanket because the chemo area is kept cool. (I’ve heard this is because the nurses have to wear heavy lab coats and sometimes PPE outfits, and the cooler temperature keeps them from being too hot.) I never need a blanket because I use the beautiful lap quilt that you can see in the photo at the beginning of this post, gifted to me by Victoria’s Quilts Canada – a charity out of Ottawa that makes lap quilts for people going through cancer.
The first order of business is getting an IV line started in your arm. I was told by the technician when I had surgery that my veins were difficult, and this has been true at each chemo.
Basically, my lower arm veins are difficult to find, and when they do find one, they’re difficult to get the needle in because the veins collapse and disappear.
Tricks the chemo nurses have asked me to try include drinking lots of fluids for 24 hours before my chemo. I had 3L of fluids on Tuesday, and 2L of fluids the morning of my chemo (by 9:30 a.m.). The fluids don’t seem to help much, though.
They were training a new nurse yesterday morning, and she lucked out (!?) and got me as a patient. She made two attempts at trying to get a line into my arms (one each) before asking the other nurses for help (thank goodness). One of the experienced nurses got the line in. This is par for the course for me – I think the only time they got a line in on the first try was my very first chemo. Ever since, they’ve had to try a couple of different places at least.
DOCEtaxel, my new chemo drug, can cause an allergic reaction in some patients, so they gave me a Benadryl drip first, which took 15 minutes, and then I had to wait half an hour for it to take effect before they started the DOCEtaxel. The Benadryl made me pretty drowsy.
Then they started the DOCEtaxel at a slow drip, and took my vitals every 15 minutes for the first hour, to monitor me for any reactions (like increased blood pressure and pulse) before increasing the speed of the drip in increments. Once they determined that I wasn’t reacting badly to the drug, they increased the drip to full speed, and it took about another half hour to finish the D. When it was done they put in a short saline drip to flush the vein, and then I could leave. I pick up any other prescriptions that I need for each treatment from the cancer program pharmacy on my way out.
Because the D can cause nerve damage to the extremities, they offer you cold packs for your hands and feet, to slow the circulation of the drug to your fingers and toes. The cold packs were like slippers and oven mitts made out of neoprene with gel stuffing, that they keep in the freezer until use. They were flipping cold.
The nurses cautioned me not to get frostbite, but use the cold packs only as long as I could tolerate them. The feet ones were fine, because I kept my wool socks on, but I ended up shifting my hands around in the mitts a lot, curling my fingers when they got to0 cold, or taking my hands out of them periodically. In the photo at the beginning of this post I’ve got my fingers near the opening of the mitts, where the cold wasn’t quite as intense.
I had to get up to pee a couple of times during the chemo infusion, which was a first for me. Not easy to pull your pants up and down with the use of only one arm. I brought Mom into the bathroom with me the second time, for pant duty.
A volunteer brought around cookies and Lindt chocolate truffles a couple of times while I was being infused. The chocolate was welcome.
I don’t find chemo infusion at all difficult, apart from getting the line in. In the past I’ve chatted with the nurses attending me, and read during my chemo. This time, without the use of my hands, I listened to music on my iPhone.
Normally I’ve walked to and from my chemo treatments because I live near the hospital, but this time I asked Mom to drive us because the weather has been quite cold. Plus I wasn’t sure how drowsy I’d be from the Benadryl.
I had a nap in the afternoon, but felt perfectly fine in the evening. Nice change from chemos 1 and 3, when I had my period, bad migraines, and nausea.