Chemo Clouds

On the morning of my first chemo session I was unpredictably calm. I mean, I am never calm, so for me to pick the first day of chemo to try that trait on for size was rather strange to me. The port was in (gross), and I was ready to face chemo head-on. It was scheduled for 10 a.m. and my mom, sister, and I showed up right on time. I packed a little bag with some magazines, my iPad, and snacks. You know, the essentials. I often wondered how I would react on the first day. I was pretty sure I would absolutely lose it and my mom would have to pull out a tranquilizer and then physically drag me into the office, but I was cool as a cucumber. Instead of dragging my feet, I actually sped my way from the parking lot into the Cancer Center. I figured I have to do this, and the sooner I get in there, the sooner I get out. I am one smart cookie.

Upon arrival, one of the oncology nurses led me back to the chemo room and told me I could select a seat. (As a side note, I have found that oncology nurses are the best people on the planet. It just has to be said.) I was the youngest person in the room by at least a decade, probably more. Without even a slight hesitation I chose a seat near a friendly looking lady. From the outside looking in, I looked like a pro. There were no indications that this was my first chemo session. The nurse wasted no time by taking my vitals and preparing my drugs. She popped a needle into my port (which surprisingly did not hurt at all) and gave me some anti-nausea medicine that may as well have been water because it didn’t help me one lick—we will get to that later. Then my oncologist came in the chemo room to speak with me, as I am sure he does with all first-timers, and told me he was glad I chose to get a port (anything for you, buddy). Relatively soon after that it was time.

The nurse brought out two tubes of red liquid. There it was…the “Red Devil.” That is what this particular chemo drug is referred to in the inner circle. How incredibly terrible is that?!!! The red devil just sounds, well, devilish. I didn’t blink. I sat there like a champion just chatting with my mom and sister like we were at the spa but instead of getting a seaweed wrap I was having chemicals pumped into my veins. Not a problem. The nurse told me that the entire session would take about two hours. I had been prepared for four, which is how long my friend who underwent this same chemo, took. The nurse told me that I get a smaller dose because I am smaller. How delightful!

By 12:30 I was home and by 1:30 I was hugging the toilet. The nurse said I would feel the effects of chemo a day or two later. WOW. SHE WAS JUST SO TERRIBLY WRONG. I was shaking. I felt hot. Then I felt cold. Sweat was pouring down all over my body. I would get shivers and then I would have to throw up. I couldn’t move. I literally could not move an inch. I was just too nauseated. If I moved a muscle it would send me into another dimension, so I just lay on the bathroom floor with my blanket and pillow and waited for the next round of heaving to commence. It is the absolute worst I have ever felt in my entire life. I knew chemo was going to be bad. I just didn’t know it was going to be this bad. That same terrible feeling continued for about 48 hours. There were moments when I was sure I was going to die. I couldn’t believe it. I really felt as though I was going to need to be hospitalized. I couldn’t eat anything and the Cancer Center was concerned I needed to get back there for some fluids because I was getting so dehydrated, but the thought of moving and getting back to the hospital was pretty much out of the question.

There was this brief moment the next day where I had a glimpse of what not feeling like absolute hell feels like. I will never forget that feeling as long as I live. It was like the clouds lifted and I was ok for a few precious minutes. I looked up to the heavens like God and I were having a full-on moment and just sobbed tears in utter jubilation that I felt decent. I realize that this may sound dramatic. Well, that is because it was. It was real dramatic. Things got intensely real. And I was feeling every inch of my body and the pain it was in. When I felt a brief sense of relief it was the most indescribable feeling. And then, as quickly as it came, it disappeared again.

I was able to get up and be semi-normal by Saturday for two hours. So, after four days of being completely flat-lined I had two hours where I felt kind of ok. By Sunday I had another two hours, and by Monday I had about four hours. Tuesday was when I finally felt like I could rejoin society—a full week after my first round of chemo. I realize that this may scare any readers that are preparing for chemo. However, I feel as though if I portrayed my experience as anything less than what it really was I would be in the wrong. But, I do have advice! Phenergan. Take one the moment you leave the oncologist’s office and for the following day as well. If you are asleep you can’t tell how bad you feel. That is going to be my approach from here on out.

My appetite has finally come back but it is a strange one. Two of my favorite things—chocolate and coffee—make me gag, and I can’t even say the word “eggs” out loud. Even typing it is a problem. If my mom is making coffee in the house I have to hide under the covers in my bedroom with the door shut and just pray it ends. The aroma is just too much for me to handle. Coffee used to be my best friend, and I feel awful about this strain on our relationship, but for now we are on a break. There may be a happy ending, but it is way too soon to tell. Chocolate, another good friend of mine, just tastes weird. I know chemo changes your taste buds, but I thought it was a little soon for that. Regardless, I don’t like chocolate now.

So, what do I eat these days? Bean burritos from a fine establishment called Taco Bell and spaghetti. Ohhhh yeahhhh. I am one classy lady. These are currently the only items that sound good to me. I know what you are thinking. You are thinking these are the only things that ever sound good to you, aren’t you? Admit it. I realize these food choices are random, but so am I, so it works. I actually tried a little soup today and I was able to stomach it, but I have largely been eating spaghetti and getting to know the workers at Taco Bell (who are super nice by the way). They are really at the core of my social circle right now. But my favorite thing, my new obsession, is the love affair I am shamelessly embracing with Coke (the soft drink, not the drug…yet). It is the only thing that seems to work at settling my stomach and boy is it good. I have been in the dark my entire life drinking its super lame sister, Diet Coke. My life has changed, my priorities have shifted, Coke is delicious and the perfect start to my day. I realize I am supposed to be eating wholesome, nourishing foods, but you can judge me only after you have had chemo and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, so just take my word for it—I am doing the best that I can.

It has been a week and a day since my first chemo treatment and I feel ok. I keep wondering why I am so tired, why I get headaches, why I feel very cloudy and then I remind myself, oh, right, I had chemo. I am very fatigued most of the time and that makes me a little sad but I have a whole new appreciation for feeling just ok. Feeling ok is the best feeling in the world. I love feeling ok. One thing that has me semi-concerned is the cloudiness I cannot seem to shake. I have heard of it referred to as “chemo brain,” and unfortunately, for me, it is real. It is just this constant feeling of being a little off. A little fuzzy. Like I shouldn’t be allowed to operate heavy machinery or something. I am just stuck in this chemo cloud. It is a very odd feeling. I was reading an article today about how chemo brain becomes permanent in some people and that just is not going to fly with me. You can take my boobs, you can take my hair (But I still got it!! Woo!), but you cannot take my brain. It is just not an option. So I am doing a lot of brain puzzles to give my brain a little workout. Hey, I read it works! I am getting pretty good at Jeopardy as well. I may try and go on the show after all this cancer stuff is behind me. If physics is a category I would probably just quietly put my buzzer down and walk off stage, but otherwise I think I could do well.

I am taking my ok feeling and appreciating each day. I try very hard not to think about my next dose of chemo. For me, it just isn’t happening. Yes, denial, at times, is a good thing. I watch a lot of movies, do a lot of sleeping, take a lot of baths, and engage in an abnormal amount of Facebook stalking (I know what all of you are up to). I am appreciating mindless novels, moisturizing several times a day, reading the news with more intensity, developing informed views on presidential candidates, considering taking an improv class (who knows, it could be my true calling), and eagerly anticipating my visitors that are coming to see me this weekend. Two of my best girlfriends from college and my aunt and uncle are visiting to cheer me up. Good times will be had! Cancer will be thrown on the backburner where it belongs. Oh, and my favorite item IN LIFE is going to be purchased today—a Christmas tree. What else does a girl need?

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16 thoughts on “Chemo Clouds

  1. Oh Abby, I was hoping and praying your chemo reactions wouldn’t be so violent – but I read that it was. Sigh cancer is the pits (I prefer stronger words) there’s no doubt about it. I imagine they are giving you “the BIG guns” hitting those nasty cancer cells HARD to give you your BEST change of winning this battle. Your Faith is strong and God will get you through this. He will ALWAYS be right beside you, even when you’re not so sure. I used to imagine myself feeling His hand on my shoulder – I KNOW it was there! Hang in there and never give up – you WILL win your battle. You are such an inspiration to us all. Keep fighting. Strong prayers and gentle hugs.

  2. Congrats on finishing round one! 🙂 And what a great way to celebrate it – spending the weekend with friends and family AND getting a Christmas Tree!

    I can’t resist making a suggestion… Ask your oncologist for something called “Emend”. Its a godsend! Its 3 majorly expensive anti-nausea pills that you start taking the morning of Chemo till 2 days after. It worked wonders for me! Enjoy your weekend and post a pict of your tree!

  3. Hey Abbs! I was wondering how things went. Sounds super intense… I thought about being a chemo nurse at one point but the job didn’t work out:( I’m so sorry about chocolate and coffee. What a bummer… Your lucky coke was invented to save your life!:) Robert and I bought a real Christmas tree for the first time this year. It’s super great to open our bedroom door in the AM and smell the pine. Yummy! I’ll send you a pic:) Enjoy your weekend w/ friends and fam. Look forward to seeing you soon too:)
    Luv ya,
    Shells

  4. Abby, I’m SO SORRY you had such a terrible time after the chemo. I do hope they try something different to control nausea. Glad the Phenergan helped and hope it continues to. There are several drugs in the arsenal. You’re an amazing girl. Even after all that, I don’t hear any “poor me”. You have a fighting spirit. Here’s a hug for you and one for you Mom, too. I’m sure she can use one.

  5. I just went through a bout of stomach flu…it was not quite as bad, and only lasted a day. I cannot imagine this level of sick. But I love the way you are finding the good bits, and reveling in them. Chocolate will be your friend again.

  6. Sometimes they don’t start you out with the strongest and best anti nausea drugs because not everyone needs them and they are expensive. Next time beg for the strongest stuff they have. Also there is a little restaurant on Far Hills just north of Bill’s Donuts called The House of Kabab. They make a fresh ginger ale with tiny pieces of fresh ginger in it that is to die for. Ginger has been found to work about as well as Phenergan in controlling nausea and while I am not a big fan of regular ginger ale I love this stuff. Margaret Turner introduced us to this place. Don’t know if you like Middle Eastern food or not but the fresh ginger ale is worth the trip. Love and prayers for one very special young woman.

  7. It’s a tough road, but you have the right attitude going in…hang tough, Abby, and take it one day at a time just like you are! Enjoy your family, friends and Christmas tree this weekend! Hugs to you!

  8. I hope you don’t tire of being thought of as “hero” and “brave” and “inspiration”. You really ARE all of those things, and I won’t add any more. Your vocabulary arsenal exceeds mine, I suspect. Congratulations on survival of that first round as well as all you learned in English classes (and it’s still there, guaranteed). You can trust me on this one.

  9. O.k. that made me shudder and wonder how can a girl look so gorgeous after going through that. . . really?
    I vote for denial, drugs and sleep….and, if anything sounds good to you, let me know. We will find a way to make it. Hang in there girl!

  10. Abby, oh my. Thank you for being honest and sharing with all of us who care so much about you. Coca-Cola–I grew up with it being my family’s medicine of choice. (I am an Atlanta girl, after all.) A famous university medical school out west that your family and mine know well has the syrup in the pharmacy, or used to, but not the fizzy drink in the cafeteria! The first words out of my mouth after my mastectomy was a hoarse, “Coke,” I am told! It is truly a miracle drug! Chocolate and coffee can’t compare, so go for it. But I want to try Susan’s ginger ale on Far Hills. (I miss Far Hills and Susan.)

    I will continue praying for you. I will toast you with a Coke. And good luck when you are on Jeopardy–you’ll win big, just like you will with the Big C.

  11. I’m Heidi’s mom and I just want you to know that I pray for you every day. Keep writing! It’s got to be therapeutic. I am so sorry that you’re having to go through all of this. When Heidi was three years old (that’s twenty-five years ago now), her dad had to have chemo for six months. It was no fun! I thought they had better anti-nausea drugs now, but apparently they’re not working for you. I hope and pray that things will get better as your treatments progress. Please know that there are lots of prayers to God on your behalf. He is holding you in His hands — an image I love to picture in my mind. And twenty-five years from now this will all just seem like a blip on the radar screen. Stay strong and courageous!

  12. We have a friend in common and she has shared your news with me. You have been in my thoughts and prayers. I was diagnosed Dec 1, 2010 with breast cancer and started chemo one year ago. I am cancer free today. I just started reading your blogs and feel every feeling you have described from the hair feeling like needles on your scalp to the love of coke and spicey food. I quickly learned to give up all my favorite foods and eat foods I would typically not eat. I totally grossed out my children the day I opened a can of Vienna meat sticks! I also noticed someone mentioned the antinausea medicine Emend, It is wonderful! I took my first pill when my first bag of fluids started and then for the next 2 days. It was expensive, but well worth the money.

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