Chemo – Part 1 (Chemo chemo chemo chemo chemo chameleon)

by shaysemmens

On November the 12th in a meeting with my Oncologist, I was told that, according to test results, the cancer had progressed slightly, so there would be no more delaying the treatment. I was going to receive a call some time on either that day (a Wednesday), the following day, or Friday, whenever a bed become available.

I had chemo 5 years ago, so I thought I knew what to expect. However, this first session involved a hospital stay, which was something new, as all 4 treatments last time were just day procedures and never involved me having to stay in the hospital overnight.

I received a call the following morning (as I was on my way to get a haircut – which I’ll go into more in a future blog post I intend to dedicate to hair loss) asking me to come in around lunch time. I did so, and was (eventually) shown to my bed. It was a pretty fancy bed, which sadly took me way too long to work out (the ON button doesn’t necessary work the way you think it will):-
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I then proceded to IMMEDIATELY hit my head on this thing:-
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On the plus side, the view from my window was pretty good and when I arrived they were already playing my jams:-
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A nurse then put a cannula in my arm (as you can probably imagine from the previous blog posts, this is something I’ve grown quite accustomed to):-
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And don’t I just look thrilled about it?
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It was now that the wait began. I was told I would be in the hospital for 1 or 2 days, but by the time everything was sorted, it ended up being too late to actually perform the chemo, which meant I had to wait overnight in the hospital for basically no reason. As you can imagine, this wasn’t thrilling news, but fortunately I’d stocked my Galaxy Tab with TV shows and came well prepared.

Early next morning, the chemo actually began. There were 4 different drugs involved. The combination/type of chemo is called RCHOP, different from the type I had 5 years ago (ABVD) so I didn’t know exactly what to expect. In both cases, one of the drugs was orange coloured (it may be the same drug, I’m not sure). This goes through you pretty quickly, and – I feel I should warn you – is the same colour coming out as it is going in.

The orange one:-
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Some other random one, hooked up to the… pole… thing:-
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The process of having chemotherapy done to you doesn’t really hurt at all. That’s not what everyone fears with chemo. I did have it through my hand 5 years ago, and one of the drugs, if pushed through too quickly, could hurt a little, but this time around, through the arm, I could barely feel it. It’s not the process of inserting the chemotheraphy that’s difficult, but the aftermath. The days and weeks following this, even when the drugs have been totally flushed from your system, is the real struggle. Chemo targets cancer cells, but chemotheraphy is quite far from a perfect science. As such, it takes a whole heap of cells you actually want down with the cancer cells – particularily the fast growing cells – such as your skin cells among others (this is also why it’s common for people’s hair to fall out, but as I’ve said, I’ll go into that more in a future blog).

What this means, though, is that immediately following the treatment, I felt perfectly fine. I had to stay in overnight for observation, and by the following day I started getting pretty anxious when it looked like I might have to stay in yet another night. It’s one thing to stay in hospital when you feel sick, but when you actually feel healthy, it’s quite another. On the plus side, the food at the Austin actually wasn’t too bad! I’m not sure if that’s just for the cancer ward for if it’s the same menu across the whole hospital, but it was fairly decent food (as below):-
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The only other real positive was that I was labelled ‘ridiculously photogenic hospital guy’, following this photo of myself being posted online:-
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Fortunately though, I was released on Saturday after only a 2 night stay.

The side effects have so far been rather kind to me. I didn’t really suffer from any nausea (one of the most common symptoms, though I didn’t experience any during the course of my treatment 5 years ago either), however I did have some pretty bad heartburn/indigestion for about a week after (I have since been given some meds to help with this after the next chemo session, which is actually tomorrow). There were a couple of days when I felt particularly out of it, and there are obviously some expected side effects of fatigue and a general feeling of weakness, but so far nothing that was too extreme.

I know that last time I had chemo (the ABVD type) my body just felt wrong all over. It basically felt like what it is – poison running through your veins. However, so far I haven’t felt that to the same degree. Whether or not that’s just because I’ve only had the one dose, I’m not sure. Like I said, there were a few days where I simply NEEDED to sleep in the middle of the day and collapsed on the couch, and couldn’t even fathom the idea of walking 100 metres down the street, but all in all I’ve managed to get through these first few weeks pretty easily. In fact, I managed to play a few games of mini golf (winning all three, citing ‘chemo power!’ as the key to my victory).

While I’ve coped fairly well so far, I’m not being so naive to think that this is the way my body will react for the next 5 treatments. Maybe I’ll get through this in a similar fashion, but I know things could, and likely will, start getting harder. In fact, I have been told that after a couple more doses of this chemo, they’re going to amp the dosage up a fair bit following a stem cell collection. The dosage will be so high that my body physically won’t be able to cure itself, so the stem cells they’ve collected from earlier will need to be given back to me to boost my body’s own healing. That sounds like fun.

So tomorrow I’m going in again, and assuming my white cell counts are okay (they were a bit low earlier in the week but I had another blood test today to see if they’re up to an appropriate level to allow me to have another dose), I’ll have my second dose. Wish me luck.

Oh, and after the last session (immediately after) I was told that if the cannula comes out of the vein or isn’t in properly, two out of the 4 drugs can cause my skin to DIE when they are going in, causing me to require skin grafts. So yeah, that’s good to know.