Monday, July 25, 2011

Life-Saving Chemo Treatments Begin

(To my readers: This entry is about an event that took place in 2002. I am currently cancer free per my latest PET Scan. My blog entries chronicle my cancer journey that started in 2000.)
Chemotherapy began on June 21, 2002.  I spent an anxious evening prior to my first session wondering what it would be like.  (Go to
I arrived at an outpatient building, part of MD Anderson Cancer Center Orlando,  (MDACCO) on the campus of Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) for my chemo treatment. Everyone having chemotherapy was in the same room, seated in lounge-like chairs. Rows and rows of chairs lined the room along the window side of the building, while in a smaller section of the room, chairs were placed across from one another. Having been offered a seat, the nurse began what would become a routine in the weeks to follow.  She checked my blood pressure and temperature. She then inserted the needle into my port and drew some blood for labs. Afterwards, she prepared me for the actual treatment. 
She asked if I had had lunch, and following my response, brought me a boxed meal. I enjoyed a turkey sandwich on whole wheat, fruit cup, a bag of popcorn, cookies and a soda. Since some chemo treatments can cause fluctuations in body temperatures, she brought over a warm blanket. Later, she would bring me additional blankets as I grew colder. I was also given a pillow. 
For me, the most exciting part of the day was bumping into a coworker. Terry, who had left DRC for another area of Disney, was undergoing chemo treatments. I knew she had been diagnosed with lung cancer, but did not realize she was having treatments. Our session times, we would discover, overlapped. So, in the weeks to come, I would see her on a regular basis. As a “new-by” to chemo, Terry’s presence made me feel so much better. She was able to give me lots of pointers and basically, made me so much more comfortable in the hours that were my first day. 
It was wonderful having someone I knew to talk with especially since I was so anxious. My initial blood pressure was real high, per the nurse. So, after chatting with Terry for a while, my BP came down. I was there from 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.. for my session. Since it was my first one, the protocol called for the nursing staff to be much more vigilant in order to ensure that I did not have any type of negative reaction to the chemo. The staff proved to be amazing. I remained under the watchful eyes of my nurse for the entire time I was there. 
Chemo would take place on a weekly basis after this first session. Knowing that Terry would be there each week helped me tremendously. My anxiety level dropped thanks to her presence. At my second session, she brought me a gift. I had told her I was having difficulties sleeping at night. I could no longer sleep flat on a bed, but needed to sleep in a seated position. So, she brought me a pillow I could use in bed. It was perfect since it allowed me to sit up and yet still feel supported. From my second session onward, my actual time line for treatment was about an hour shorter than my first visit. Each subsequent visit got easier, too.  I realized now, why the port was a great device. Rather than having a nurse access an IV line into my arm each time, they simply went directly through my port. They used several agents to numb the area as well, so actual needle insertion was relatively painless. I became an advocate for the port. 
I could now add chemotherapy to my official list of cancer treatments ... the others being surgery and radiation. I had heard, like so many others, all these terrible stories about chemo and its awful side effects.  Go to:           As the months continued, I would find myself amongst the lucky ones. I never experienced any nausea. (I did take medication the first couple of times as prescribed, however, I never did get sick even without the meds.) I never went bald. (My hair thinned out a lot, and if I had undergone chemo for a longer period of time, I would have eventually needed a wig or head cover. I did have some very thinned out spots on my head but I still had hair. I was covered in hair everyday when I woke up and my bed sheets had lots of hair as did my shower floor.) I did have some problems with my fingernails, a pretty common side effect. They were turning yellowish, became quite brittle and developed ridges. I also experienced fatigue, an all too familiar side effect from my radiation days. 
Many of the side effects were not immediate. In fact, a number of the side effects I developed were not even present while undergoing treatment. They started weeks or even months after I was already done. Thus, the realization that chemotherapy attacked much more than just the cancer cells themselves. Chemo affected the entire body and its cells. Long lasting problems --- suffice it is to say I discovered that some chemo-related problems would last a lifetime.

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