First let me tell you that I’m writing this post on my iPad, one of my least favorite things to do on this otherwise magical box. But when I returned home at eight o’clock tonight from this first marathon chemo day, there wasn’t any Internet connectivity in my apartment. My wireless connection is working fine, but I can’t get online. Too tired to try further diagnostics, especially after experiencing connections problems today at Sloan-Kettering in the “Chemotherapy Suite,” I decided to use the iPad.
The reasons I don’t like to do blog posts on my iPad begin with the popup keyboard, which is not designed for any sort of power typing. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who learned touch typing in school and who now feels a bit grumpy at being forced to use two fingers on the iPad keyboard. But this isn’t the only problem for me with respect to my blog posts. I like to put phrases in Bold to help blog readers skim the key elements of the post, and I also like to use Italics for emphasis. I’m sure there’s some way to do those things with the iPad, but I don’t know how yet because I assiduously avoid using the iPad for blogging–except on days like today when I promised a post and have no other equipment choice. (Thank goodness for 3G!)
At any rate … Today was long but incredibly uneventful. And given the history of the past seventeen months, “uneventful” was a happy surprise. My daughter and I arrived at Sloan-Kettering a little before eleven o’clock this morning (Thursday the 13th), and she brought me home at 8:00 tonight. The first three hours involved a mixture of tasks–vital signs, a lengthy consultation with my oncologist, then the IV insertion, which took place after Melissa and I had been led into my “private room,” an upscale and well-appointed version of a room in an ER.
The first thing that was delivered through the IV was a 15-minute infusion of Benadryl. This was on top of the five steroid pills I had to take on Wednesday night and the other five I took at 11:15 this morning. This is all designed to avoid, as much as possible, any chance of an allergic reaction to the chemo drugs.
The next infusion was a 45-minute bag of an anti-nausea drug, which was on top of the anti-nausea pill I took at 9:30 this morning. The purpose for all of that is self-explanatory and also deeply appreciated!
Bags of saline were periodically dripping through a separate tube throughout this whole preparatory process.
Once the preliminary infusions were complete, the first chemo drug (called carboplatin) was started. This is the drug that attacks and obliterates the DNA in any lingering cancer cells, and the infusion is very slow, over almost four hours. For the first hour of that drip, I was still a bit stupid and slurry from the Benadryl. But as those effects wore off, I was able to enjoy the lunch that Melissa and I ordered for delivery. We didn’t eat until almost four o’clock, and now we know that, in the future, we need to order when we first get into the chemo suite. (Novelists learn lessons similar to this as well when they do things like introduce a new character well into the story, only to realize that the rest of the entire book–and possibly some of the earlier chapters as well–needs to be reworked or even rewritten to accommodate the new character.)
Finally, about six o’clock, the carboplatin bag was empty. But before I could start the second chemo drug called taxol, which basically destroys the tubular structures within each lingering cancer cell–a structure that facilitates the cells’ uncontrollable, unchecked division and reproduction–I had to take three more steroid pills that guard further against allergic reactions. The taxol renders the cancer cells’ internal structure totally broken, destroyed, and useless–forever. And the infusion is very fast–six times faster than the carboplatin! The entire bag was empty in half an hour.
Then one nurse gave me a bunch of instructions for stuff to do at home, along with filled prescriptions for additional nausea pills. This nausea thing used to be a really big problem for chemo patients, so the medical community has worked incredibly hard to come up with solutions. And, so far, I feel great. But I also know what to do if I feel something unpleasant start up. Well, here’s the surprise lesson for the day: This is not a nausea caused by a flu bug or something, when eating is the last thing you’d want to do. Chemo nausea is caused by drugs. Consequently, eating a small amount of anything is supposed to make you feel better right away. If you don’t, you have pills at hand to help making riding the wave tolerable. This appears to be one of the greatest advances that helps chemo patients sustain their normal quality of life as much as possible during treatment. And, so far, I’m feeling great.
Another nurse then removed my IV (which had been inserted almost painlessly, by the way, by yet a different nurse at the start of the process), and Melissa and I were free to leave, with our five bags full of electronics equipment, reading material, my 26-day Write-A-Thon project, scarves, coats, etc. (Honestly, we looked like we were planning to stay until Sunday!) We walked the five short New York City blocks to the parking garage, and thanks to a small volume of fast-moving traffic, we were across the bridge at my place in New Jersey within half an hour.
Not much work was accomplished, I’m afraid, on my 26-day book project, although I think I remember trying to open the instruction book and operate a yellow push-button highlighter during my several goofy Benadryl hours. But now that I know the drill, I’ll be able to plan more effectively for the time that’s actually available during the five remaining 7+hour chemo stays.
AOver the next three weeks, I will learn how the cycle of the two chemo drugs will work on my body (and mind), and how I’m going to feel at the different stages within the three following the initial infusion. For example, there could be some leg aches and pains during days 4-6. Or there could be nothing. But if there is something, I have pills for that too. Then, in three weeks, I’ll return to Sloan on Thursday, November 3, for the second of six iinfusion marathon days.
By then, most of the unknowns that can be so scary will have be revealed. My current hair will be gon,e and the new variety will be rotated on my head, depending on my mood. Finally, the official start of my 26-Write-A-Thon will be at least three days behind me–and I’d sure better be hard at work.
Once again, the publishing and writing journeys are merging here, and all things imaginable remain possible. Writers and cancer patients must never stop believing in that imagination! We’ve all heard the saying paraphrased here, which invites us to believe that, if we can vividly visualize something happening, we can actually make that something happen. Plenty of hard work is required, though, because dreaming is the easy part.
Ah, but how sweet and magical are those dreams that inspire us, that light the fires beneath our passions, that carry us forward over and over again to publishing success–to cancer survival! And I’m here to report to new cancer patients, who might be a few steps behind me in the process, that I believe you’ll find the first chemo day not to be anywhere near as frightening as you’ve imagined, while you watch as many of those scary unknowns begin to fall away! I’m also here to tell new writers, who are circling around the start of their first books, that once you plant yourselves in a chair, I believe that the words will indeed begin to flow out of you. And different sorts of unknowns will begin to reveal themselves at an ever-increasing level of enjoyment for each of you.
In my next post, I’ll fill you in on one of the writing exercises in my Write-A-Thon’s “training period.” The exercise was obviously designed for writers. But today, as I was hooked up to infusion tubes for almost five hours, I saw how valuable the steps would be for cancer patients as well. So, stay tuned.
Meanwhile, have a wonderful fall weekend!