I have been wanting to take pictures of my experiences so that people can have a greater understanding of what we go through. After 17 treatments, it’s kind of “old hat” to me, but the majority of the world has no idea what getting chemo is like. So thanks to my mom, we have lots of pictures from Monday. Here we go.
When I arrive and check in, I am told which nurse I will have for the day. In this case, it was Jeanne. All of the nurses are awesome, but I love Jeanne especially. I know the procedure is the same no matter the nurse, but some seem to hurt less accessing the port which I think is different for each person. In any case, on the way back we get on the scale to be sure our meds are correct for our weight. Most people think you lose a bunch of weight when on chemo, but I – like most people, gained due to all the steroids. I can’t wait to get this extra weight off.
Next we sit down in our chair and get our vitals taken (temp, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, etc.) and get asked our 20 questions to make sure we aren’t having any issues that day. Then we access the port. The nurses have a kit of everything they need to access it, some of which is here:
The skin is then cleaned over the port – I have to look to the side for this part as I would contaminate the area if I breathe on it. You can see the horizontal scar from surgery – the port is directly under the scar.
You can file this one under “whimp” but I get the freezy spray. This is not always an option, but they have it in the infusion center. The spray reminds me of what you might use to clean your keyboard – just pretty much air in a can that comes out super cold. They spray it on the port and freeze the skin so it doesn’t hurt so much to insert the needle. Jeanne is holding the needle in this pic which is not small but doesn’t show up very well. It’s a one inch needle, rather thick, and has a slight bend towards the tip. Mary is hamming it up with the spray as we always have to get a non-sterile nurse to do the spray portion.
And in case I forgot to mention, yes it does hurt when your skin is frozen.
Next, the sterile nurse immediately comes in with the needle before the skin has a chance to thaw. I take a really deep breath and blow out while she inserts the needle.
At this time, there is just a short catheter attached which is immediately used to get blood return to verify the port is accessed correctly. During part of my treatment this was really hard and they would have to lay me down, have me turn my head sharply to the side and cough to get blood return. If they are unable to get blood return at all then the port would have to be replaced. Luckily mine is good right now and we get it right away.
Once we have verified the port is accessed correctly, we can secure the port with a Tegaderm patch and I can pretty much resume normal activity. Tubes of blood are drawn and sent to the lab. Once the port is accessed I can’t feel anything so my blood draws, meds, etc can all be done with normal activity levels on my part.
Once the blood is sent to the lab, I go see my oncologist. Being my last chemo, I brought flowers to the infusion center nurses as well as my doctor to celebrate. I thought it was a better gift than cake. We go over all of my side affects in great detail as well as my blood work and our future plans. In this case, my blood work is good enough to go ahead with treatment and I get to plan to have my port taken out since this is my last one. Then we go next door and she gives me a head-to-toe exam. Then I go back to get my chemo.
The nurses give me the pre-meds and then get all “smurfed up” for the chemo. They have to wear protective clothing when dispensing these meds and always have to get another nurse for a “double check” in the system before dispensing any drugs. In this case, Becky was my checker.
Other than that, it’s pretty much just hang out and wait for the meds. For me, chemo takes at least 4 hours but it will vary depending on the meds. I can get up and walk around to use the restroom or just get some exercise. I like to play games while I’m there to keep my mind occupied in a good way and make the time go by faster. It has never been a “sad” place like I’ve heard some people say – no crying for the most part. Every once in a while someone is throwing up while I’m there but generally everyone is fine. When you are getting chemo, you are usually at your “best” with the highest counts so you feel pretty good. When you have a really severe reaction, they will bring you back in for fluids and anti nausea or other meds as needed and I’m assuming these are the people I’ve heard throwing up. They also have some rooms with beds for when you’re really bad. I wish I could tell you I’ve never used them but that wouldn’t be true.
I have some awesome nurses and love them so much. They have made chemo so much easier because I know I’m going to a place that people care about me. I’ve often thought about people who only get 4 or 6 treatments and wonder how well they get to know their nurses, if even at all. I wouldn’t have asked for 17 treatments but you do get to know your team seeing them all the time. I’m so thankful for them. The staff is different on different days, but here is everyone who was working for my last treatment.
And finally, once all the fun is over – I get disconnected. The nurse flushes the port with saline and Heperin to keep blood clots at bay and then removes the port and I am free!
I was hoping this round would be easy on me, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. It kicked in on Tuesday and Wednesday was flat out horrible. I barely got out of the recliner all day and was throwing up a ton. Thursday was a little better – I had appointments that day so I didn’t have any option but to make myself look presentable and get out there. I think I faked it pretty well, but as my mom and kids can attest, I was literally throwing up in parking lots between appointments. Cancer is so glamorous. I told one of my friends on Wednesday that I just wanted to puke in peace and she said we should get that on a t-shirt. I think it would work. Anyway, I painted on some eyebrows and went to a parent teacher conference for Fletcher (I love his teacher and his school – and he got glowing reviews. He’s come so far and I’m so proud of him.). Then I went to see my general surgeon for a check up and to talk about my port. I just got scheduled for next Thursday to have it removed, pending blood work being good enough for surgery. I can’t tell you how excited I am to get this out!!!
Here I am in my paper shirt waiting to get examined at the surgeon’s office.
And getting my checkup – how could you not love this surgeon?