Treatment: We Band Of Brothers (& Sisters)

Longer Living Through Chemistry

A woman is sitting about seven feet away from me in a recliner, the twin of the chair I occupy. She’s wearing a wrap around her head, but it’s obvious she has no hair. She has no eyebrows either. She tells the nurse, “See my lipstick? I decided to put some on this morning, just for color. Even if I have no hair I can still try to look good.”

She’s now my sister.

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A hefty fellow, looks like a truck driver, sits in a room on my left. When I came in, he flashed me a wave. “Y’better watch out,” he warns, “these nurses’ll spike your bag.” He laughs. I laugh. He’s now my brother.

I’ve got about a half dozen kin in this room, the IU Health infusion center across 2nd St. from Bloomington Hospital. I’ve never seen any of them before now. We’re all hooked up to IV pumps spritzing chemotherapy drugs slowly, steadily, into our subclavian veins — big, thick vessels that carry rushes of blood, the better to dilute the potent elixirs flowing into them. The subclavian vein is about the width of your little finger, the Mississippi, say, among the body’s rivers. It flows into the superior vena cava (SVC), the “rapids” in the words of one of the nurses here who understood and immediately dove into my watercourse analogy. The SVC would be the body’s Amazon River.

The lot of us here have bags of poisons flowing into us through portacaths, little reservoirs surgically implanted just under our collarbones and connected to our veins by tiny hoses. These poisons are so noxious that the nurse who hooked up my bag of Cisplatin had to don a protective gown and double-glove before she handled the stuff. Cisplatin’s going to kick the hell out of me and, it is hoped, my olive pit, the cancerous tumor in my neck.

War is a dirty business. In the words of Gen. Buck Turgidson in the movie Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million people killed, tops. Depending on the breaks.”

That’s among the darkest and funniest lines from a darkly funny movie but it fits here, in this all-too real-life treatment center. Millions, billions — hell, gazillions — of my cells will be smashed, fried, tortured, and pretzled as a result of the three sessions of Cisplatin infusions I’m scheduled for, the first of which is happening as I type this. In the midst of all this mayhem, the fast-growing cells of my neck mass will be killed — fingers crossed. The end result — oh, let it be so! — should be me being declared cancer-free sometime in June.

Until then, as Sister Sledge sang back in 1979, “I got all my sisters with me.” Brothers, too.

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I Got All My Machines And Me

Nausea

The word itself is sickening. No, not the literary nausea that bedeviled Jean-Paul Sartre’s Roquentin, whose emesis is caused by excessive navel-gazing. I mean the actual urge to hork.

I don’t know about you but I’d prefer any torture on Earth to that of nausea. Just my luck, nausea is the single most common and…, well, sickening, side effect of chemotherapy. Because of that, the 250 milliliters of Cisplatin that’s being pumped into me is part of a hefty cocktail in which I’m practically swimming.

Before the Cisplatin bag was hooked up, I was given 1000ml of saline solution — producing a signature, overwhelming metallic taste in my mouth — to which had been added in succession two super-duper anti-emetic drugs, Aloxi and Emend, as well as the steroid Decadron, which helps them work. These medications ought to keep me nausea-free for the rest of the day but I’m advised to start taking ondansteron (generic for Zofran) before bed tonight and every eight hours thereafter. And should I sense the merest hint of “breakthrough” nausea, that is, a sensation so powerful that the drugs I’ve taken so far can’t control it, I’ll have to take a prochlorperazine (generic for Compazine) pill in addition to the ondansteron. That stuff I’m told, is so strong it may knock me out. The possibility of nausea may well last up to a week.

Again, I’m being poisoned. Let’s hope the poison is a hell of a lot more powerful than my olive pit.

Once the Cisplatin bag is emptied, I’ll be given another big bag of saline solution so by the time I get out of here, I’ll resemble an overfilled water balloon.

Here’s the weird thing: I’m told the nausea rarely leads to actual horking. Now that’s a bum deal — you get all the agony without any of the catharsis.

Lucky for me, I’ll only have to do chemotherapy twice more, again in three weeks and then two weeks after that. Anti-emetics will be my constant companions.

Give ‘Em A Raise!

My Radiation Therapists are now Pencillistas. They told me this morning when I went in for my second zapping session they’ve started reading my posts. They sounded excited about it but alerted me to a horrible error in yesterday’s post. RTs, they said, earn nothing near $80,000 a year here in Bloomington. “Where’d you get your figures?” one asked. From a number of RT job search sites as well as professional association pages, I said.

“Hrrmph. They tell us our salaries are determined by local cost of living figures. Bloomington’s COL,” she continued, “is low. That’s a laugh!”

A few of her colleagues buzzed about that $80,000 salary. From what I could glean, half that would be a handsome yearly take for a Bloomington-area RT.

As far as I’m concerned, my RTs are worth a million apiece.

One thought on “Treatment: We Band Of Brothers (& Sisters)

  1. Barbara says:

    This certainly put me back into the room with my mother who had B cell non-Hoskins lymphoma in 2001-02. Hers in in remission and she has her 97th birthday coming up February 12. I wish every cancer patient would have her outcome. I also lost my younger sister to colon cancer. Excellent post.

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