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.
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?