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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chemo Q & A

In a way, chemotherapy seems to be more scary than Cancer itself. All we hear is how sick it makes people, how miserable and feeble and bald it makes people, how it brings them within an inch of death, just so they can have a chance at life.

I don't want to be naive about it, but I'm trying to keep all that from being a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm not just going to lay trembling in my bed, waiting for the awful to set in. I'm just going to keep getting up, getting out—like, around the block and back—and being Kia.

So, here's what I can now tell you about my chemotherapy expectations:

Q. What is it like to be in the chemo-treatment-place?
A. So far, so good. The chemo unit is built in a half-circle, and all the patients sit in recliners in their own little areas (separated by curtains), looking out the window, watching TV, reading, or hanging out with a companion.
I would not describe the atmosphere as morbid, depressing or even sad. The nurses are upbeat, and, from what I saw my first day, all the other patients seem comfortable. The vibe is even a little cheerful. I think most of the patients are grateful for their nurses and the care they're receiving.

Q. Is it painful?
A. No. The only pain is the little stick of the needle when they put the IV in. The rest of the time they just drip the drugs in through the IV, which I don't feel at all.

Q. What chemo drugs am I taking?
A. The actual drugs that do the cancer-fighting are Vincristine, Cytoxan, Adriamycin (looks like kool-aid and is probably the most caustic) and Rituxan. Before they give me those, though, I get two anti-nausea drugs, Emend and Aloxi, and Zantac to prevent acid reflux. 24 hours after the big chemo infusion, I get a shot of Neulasta, which helps my body increase white blood cells and maintain necessary immunity so I don't have to become a real bubble-boy.

Q. What side effects might they cause?
A. A billion. The relevant ones are nausea and fatigue.
I've also been prescribed Compazine and Ativan to battle the nasuea at home, and have also been gifted with some herbal anti-nausea therapy that I am ever so thankful for. It works wonders ;)
Not so much I can do about the fatigue, except rest.

Q. Am I going to lose my hair?
A. Yes, that is another likely side effect. As I'd rather not re-enact that cliche cancer moment seen on so many TV shows lately—I'm talking to you, Sex & The City, Brothers & Sisters, and Grey's Anatomy—I think I'm going to get out Shahab's electric razor and do the job myself in a couple days.
As many of you know, I had a major encounter with lice while studying abroad in France my junior year of college. I arrived in early October with waist-length hair, contracted les poux within three weeks (it's pronounced poo) and, after so many struggles with toxic shampoos and sleepless nights on the concrete floor of my dorm trying not to re-infect myself, I ended up shaving my head on New Year's day.
It was a major Identity Crisis at the time, but I did have a little epiphany between nit-combing where I realized that, if my hair was that important to me, I should probably just cut it all off anyway. A character building thing. An anti-vanity thing. Once it was over, of course, I realized I'd never felt so free.
All this is to say that I've grappled with the head-shaving thing before. Been there, done that. So now, it just aint no thang.

Q. Am I going to seek any other alternative/complementary therapies to help my body undergo this intense process?
A. Yes! A few of you had asked in the past if I was considering alternative treatment, and I am. I like to use the term "complementary," because it is more inclusive and implies that I will seek out several healing modalities during this journey.
My former herbalist and boss recommended I have a consultation with the folks at the Mederi Foundation in Ashland, Oregon. (I can do it by phone). My understanding is that they will look at all the materials my current doctors have collected (blood tests, lab reports etc) and go over the list of all the medications I've been prescribed. With that information, they will design a herbal protocol and diet plan specifically for me, as well as introduce a spiritual component that I can practice during my healing time.
Skeptics, be calmed. This avenue has been hotly debated within the immediate family zone and I have promised to cross-reference all their suggestions and be savvy enough to make sure they're not selling me snake oil.

Q. What will I be able to eat while I'm on chemotherapy?
A. Am hoping the Oregon peeps will come through with a diet plan that's perfectly nourishing and easy to prepare. In the meantime, Chemo Nurse Anna wisely counseled me to avoid eating my favorite things during the onset of this medicine. Simply because, were I to become violently ill in the next few weeks, I would never ever want to eat any of those things again in my life! Smart cookie.
Also though, I know it's only been like 36 hours, but I think I can already tell that Mega-Spleen took a hit with the first round of the Chemo. That terrible pressure on my stomach—the feeling of organs pushing up against ribs—I swear, it's diminishing! Soon I will be able to eat like I was meant to eat! Did someone say Fourth Meal?

Q. How important is drinking water?
So important. Anna said that people who like drinking water and know how to stay hydrated respond infinitely better to the chemotherapy and feel less harsh side effects. Makes sense to me—so many dead cells left behind that need to be washed away! I have always been a fan of water, but now I have to give another shout-out to Abby Riley, who introduced me to the "adult sippy cup" I've been toting around since my first trip to Target. (see photo). I can drink while laying down and not spilling all over myself! Love. It.

Q. What about alcohol use and sexuality?
A. I add that question as an excuse to copy word-for-word what's written in the little pamphlet they gave me.

Alcohol Use:
Please do not use alcohol on the day of your treatment. Occasional alcohol may be ok.

Chemotherapy will not harm your sexual partner. No one can contract cancer from you. It is ok to carry on with sexual relations. The only time you will be asked to refrain from sexual relations is if your blood counts are low.

Any more questions?


  1. As you may know, Aaryn linked to you the other day so I've been lurking ever since. You can g'head and blame her preemptively for anything I may say in the future ;-)

    I'm reading you from the nation's capital and as a chemo nurse (with a prolific family history of cancer), I'm cheering you on!

    Not only am I here to tell you to keep your positive spirit up and your fighting gloves on, I really came to comment on the term 'sexual relations'. That term is so f*cking hilarious and I hope it made you chuckle too. Hahaha

  2. This is like waiting for the latest DTWS or Idol results or Charlie Sheen rant... Just kidding... gotta keep you laughing. Good idea to go on your own journey, not someone else's. Visualize how you want to be.... a whole NEW life, even better than the one you were leading. Whole and complete. :) Hmmmm I like the idea of eating things that I love, like chocolate, ice cream and popcorn, and that then I would NEVER want to eat them again. I wish!!!! So how was nurse Barbie... did she give a mean shot? Nurses are always better at shots than doctors, but I bet Dr. Dad could do a mean shave....

  3. Hey Kia!! Hoping that you have finally broken the spell and this will get through. I can't tell you how much I have enjoyed reading your very eloquent posts. I'm inspired by your bravery. I think your wonderful sense of humor and irony will get you through. That and using all means necessary to fight this. I hope the good people of Oregon come up with something both nourishing for the body and soul.
    I hope you can feel all the good thoughts and wishes I'm sending your way.
    Love you, Sandy
    I hoped you enjoyed the Chromeo song! Cool AND timely!!! hahaha

  4. no sobbing in the shower as you pull out chunks of hair? ah, you really are taking the higher road here and I commend you for it. could make for a great short film targeted at a demented audience on youtube though... anyways. Take all the meds, love, radiation, snake oil, herbs, and comments you can get!
    guess who

  5. Just want you to know, as a gesture of solidarity, tonight I fixed Kale. I can honestly say I have never eaten Kale, let alone cooked it. I'm not sure it was done, but it was dark green...and acc'd to the directions that means done. I sauteed it in garlic and apparently too much soy sauce. Not too bad ! I felt instantly healthy. I have a bushel of Kale left so will attempt another variation. So, here's to Kia and Kale !

  6. Yes! Mega Spleen diminishing. Mega Spleen is no match for Kia. Planning a visit it May. In the meantime, expect mail. Love you.

  7. I'm just another bandwagon-jumper coming out of the woodwork after I found out from a friend of a friend of a friend about your battle for Middle Earth. I've always been impressed with your spark, your wit, your intellect, your humor, and your writing ability, and that has not changed. Keep on channeling life and energy, and that damn spleen is no match for you, Nick Twisp. You will prevail. Keep those receptors open, 'cause I'll be sending encouragement across the airwaves.

    -An old friend.

  8. I check your blog daily and i'm so impressed by who you are...keep on kicking ass...our prayers and love are with you.

  9. Do you plan to wear comically large earrings to balance out the cueball?


  10. Hello My Dear, I am so impressed by YOU and your bravery, humor and trying to understand the unjustness of life. You are one of the most beautiful, compassionate, filled with humor (and we both know how important that is!), positive (and there is No reason not to be, YOU have YOUTH, while some of us only have youthful minds!) visions for yourself, as do I and all of us who love and you. I sooooo miss your "I'll be there in 5 minutes!' calls! Thinking of you and sending positive vibes, hugs and kisses your way! I love you!

  11. Thinking of you daily, Kia. It's been a long time, but you tell stories just the same.. still as enjoyable as ever to hear your humor and wit. I wish we could have a camp Montazi reunion for this (although that would just be wrong). I miss you. Eileen said you are driving that Super Trooper around V-town.. what a trip. I don't think I would believe my eyes if I saw it. I am inspired by your bravery and grace in this all!!!! You are amazing. I love you.

  12. Hi Kia,
    I found your blog via Aaryn's. I have read every post & am rooting for you :)
    All the best & heel veel sterkte (much strength to you, in Dutch)

  13. Geune Homme! I am thinking of you constantly. I remember the lice saga and also how great you looked with no hair. You have a beautiful head. We can get you a pink headband with a bow to keep your gender obvious.

    I am proud of you my friend. I am so grateful for this blog so I can stay updated without pestering you.

    I hope you can eat some Colima soon.

    Love you!

  14. If you have to eat something and you know you will be sick later, make it oatmeal... it looks the same going down as it does coming up!