So Far, So Chemo
12/02/05

There I was, O Best Beloveds, eating a Krispy Kreme and having a lucid discussion of the death penalty with Steve, neither in and of themselves remarkable, except that this was taking place twenty minutes after chemo.

To properly put this in perspective, let's have a quick overview of Chemo Rituals Gone By:

1) My first go-around, I had the dreaded A/C combo, which was delivered in a rather fast (twenty minutes, I think) injection, and accompanied by all sorts of anti-nausea shots and other things. This happened late-ish in the day, so I could go home and go right to bed and sleep through the worst of the immediate effects. I never did get sick, though I got, not precisely queasy, but certainly a strange relation to food. (I mean, stranger than my usual obsession with it.) I kind of had to snack all the time, or my tummy felt funny. (Suzanne noted that it was similar to pregnancy morning sickness, though from something biologically destructive rather than creative.) My tastes retreated for the first few days to childhood favorites--simple simple things, like hot dogs and bland tuna sandwiches--though each time I went through a certain kind of food, for the next chemo go-around I would get revolted at the thought of it, thus narrowing the choice of what I COULD eat in an anxiety-producing way. I spent a lot of time fretting about it. ("Need to eat so I won't feel sick, but everything I think of eating makes me feel sick.") This went on for five or so days, and included the famous "chemo brain," a phenomena wherein I didn't want to/couldn't really do anything (read, watch TV) other than stare at the wall, but I was unfortunately aware of this and bored out of my mind. It's a level of frustration I don't wish to experience again. Further, my whole body felt like pieces of normal all put together like jigsaw puzzle where the player decided that pieces didn't have to fit exactly, but you could pound that overly large circle piece into that too small hole and make it work anyhow. So again, not bad, even tantalizingly close to "right" and yet not right at all. That went on for about a week, then I had two weeks of feeling increasingly better and okay, and then I went in to do it all over again, with more reluctance each time.

2) Chemo last time, the taxitere/xeloda combo was also done late-ish in the day, and took about an hour to infuse, and I have no memory whatsoever of ever having it, because each time they loaded me up with so many anti-nausea drugs and anti-anxiety drugs that I fell asleep five minutes after the thing started and woke up the next day. That's not strictly accurate, or so Steve and Deb tell me; apparently, under these state of affairs, I often had lengthy conversations, and even went to the next door neighbor's sixth birthday party and faked all kinds of people into believing me a totally functioning person. Again, I don't remember even once leaving the hospital, waiting for the car, coming home, talking, putting on my pajamas or requesting (as I did every time) half a Cuban sandwich from Cafe Tropical. (I can't explain it. I was unconcious.) The next day was often a bit fuzzy, too. This time, food was sometimes weird--we all recall the White Food Days--but over all, fine. The first few rounds found the first immediate days a bit woogy, but as the chemo rounds went on, those became less of an issue. Lots of other grotty side effects, sure, but overall, a better experience, head and stomach wise, which is really all I care about. (Falling off fingernails! Feh! I can gross Steve out! Body aches! There are all kinds of things, as Patricia reminds us, that end with "--Odin" to make me not care! Okay, fuzzy mouth so I didn't like to eat and was always, always aware of my mouth, and the limping Quasimodo gait, but still, fine!)

So that brings us to my new chemical buddies, which are called--nope, still can't remember. Is it possible for a level of apathy to be astonishing? Anyway, we scheduled chemo for midday, since it's supposed to take about an hour, hoping to miss the worst of the traffic before and after. Good planning; we got down there in about 40 minutes. But then Lisa, my new chemo nurse, says that she's doing the infusions--I get both kinds of goop on weeks 1 and 3, and only the non-chemo goop on week 2--very very slowly, this first time around, plus pre-meds, so settle in for three plus hours. I start to panic--I only brought ONE Hello! magazine! Sure, it has an article about Posh in there, but I can't stretch it that long! Steve saves the day by finding some NYer's I haven't read. I settle into the barcolounger, and Lisa starts the vein hunt, and becomes my favorite person of the moment by telling me she doesn't think I'm going to need a port or a pic or anything, and that she can always find veins. And she finds a new, skinny one and the stick doesn't hurt a bit. She goes over the side effects again, which are--wait, are there any? I asked by the time she went through it. "Not that much when you do it this slowly [as in, once a week,rather than a big blast once every three, see above]," she said. They haven't had any nausea problems (though I'm sure the weird stomach things will happen to some degree), my hair may not fall out entirely but it will get very very very thin (Craig, at some point I should probably cut my hair shorter, so that it doesn't look too bad while this is going on, so expect a call), I might even retain my brows (or something like them) this time around. And "you should be able to work, study, go to the gym maybe even, pretty much do normal things." Oh, and what about weight gain? "Not on this. That's a big problem with Taxitere, but we don't have those problems with this." (Part of the it is the chemo itself; a lot of it is the massive steroids one has to take with it. I will be having only minimal steroids on this regime.) And thus she became my Favorite Person Ever.

Now, I don't want to be ungrateful, I said, but, um, is this stuff going to work? I mean, if it's this, relatively, gentle? Yes, apparently so. Apparently the chemo science, at least in the breast cancer world, is getting more and more precise. This doesn't mean everyone is going to take this particular goop; indeed, towards the end of my stay, a woman left the chemo area having just had her first round of A/C. (I gave her survival tips.) Still, I felt like a lottery winner, which is pretty odd in context.

All right, settle back, some afghans and my nice Italian pashmina to keep me warm, and the drip starts with a combo of benedryl (there can be an allergic reaction to the goop)--I warned her that my legs start to thrash on that, and she said she would do it slowly and keep an eye on it--and some anti-nausea stuff (mostly there to humor me: I've asked her to do it each time, to be on the safe side), and then when my legs felt a bit funny, she added some Ativan, and by the time the chemos started to drip, I had nodded off to sleep, because I am a notorious lightweight. I woke up in enough time to finish reading Hello! (so much for needing extra reading matter) and then it was time to go. And sure, it's now 5pm and that means we are going to hit traffic, but it also means the "hot donuts" sign would be flashing at the Krispy Kreme next door (speaking of being worried about weight gain; did I mention I will be in these here parts every week? Fortunately, the "hot donuts" sign is off between 11am and 5pm, when I will usually be there, and I am picky about my Krispy Kremes), and I had two (oh, c'mon; like anyone ever just has one), and then Steve and I visited on the traffic-heavy drive home, which wasn't that long or bad, but by the end I was fairly well tired of it and my legs had started to hurt. This could be chemo side effects--joint and muscle pain are the most likely culprits for side effects--but then again, earlier yesterday morning, I didn't have time for a good walk or a gym visit (I wanted one last bit of pre-chemo exercise), so I took Hayley up and down the Butt Busting stairs (all over old hilly parts of Los Angeles, there are public access stairs to let people get from one residential street to another, because the older streets were constructed with very long blocks, as a shortest-distance-between-two-points alternative; these stairs tend to be very steep and long, and a free and effective way to tone your legs) and it is not out of the question I was simply feeling those effects. Or both. But even though we were eager to get home, we stopped at our local pharmacy (we were driving right past it) to fill a prescription for me and pick up my traditional half Cuban sandwich (hey, I was hungry) which, by some odd mistake, ended up being something that was either pastrami (per Steve) or wide strips of bacon (me--well, it looked and tasted like pork, not pastrami, but what do I know--I'm on drugs), which was disappointing only in that I had wanted the other kind, but it was delicious. And I took something that ended with "--Odin" for my increasing leg pain, and read some Vanity Fair, and watched the Apprentice and the Daily Show, and then it was morning and now I'm writing this to you.

This is weird.

Now, there's all kinds of things I don't know about ahead; I don't know how "no-nausea" really translates in terms of "what other kinds of weird things my stomach will do and my relation to food" (right now, I'm having the "I don't feel interested in food but my stomach needs something in it" usual morning-sickness related type thing, so I'm eating a banana). I don't know about body aches. I really don't know what effect repetition (I've only got 17 more to go!) will have. But right now, I couldn't be more pleased. Well, I will be MORE pleased when we get proof the stuff is working. And even still more pleased when it's June. But I mean for the nonce. I'm taking the day easy--the expected rain will make that even more pleasurable---which to the naked eye may lok like any other day in the life of a freelancer who works in her pajamas.

But overall, I mean, it's not like I'm recommending it, not over, say, a stay in one of those hotels in the Maldives or Fiji or Tahiti that has rooms as huts built on stilts right over the clear blue water with the pretty fish swimming beneath you (sorry, bit of daydreaming there), but right now, I'm not complaining.

I still think it was pork, though,

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