Just thought I would tell you a bit about my life as a chemo chick.
Since October 2012, I have been to the local hospital every Monday. On average, the process of getting my chemotherapy takes about 4 and a half hours. I know the oncology part of the hospital pretty well now.
I present to the desk, then take a seat in the waiting room. the magazines are usually pretty old and wel used, but help to pass the time – there is always a bit of waiting to do. The nurse collects me, and we go into a clinic room where she proceeds to take two tubes of blood. Chemo can’t proceed until blood resuts show that my neutrophils are adequate to keep up the body’s fight for the immune system. They generally take a beating from the chemo, and must be above 1.5 for the drugs to be given. Normal is 2, and mine have been down to zero before, but are currently doing pretty well. Other numbers they look at are red blood cells and kidney function.
Because chemo can damage the veins, making blood tests and inserting cannulas difficult, I have a PICC line. That is a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter. This is a very fine tube that is inserted ( using ultrasound guidance) into a vein in the upper arm, and fed through the veins for 40cm until it sits in the bigger, tougher vein just above the heart. I had it put in back in October, after my veins gave up. It is great and saves me at least two needles a week, but must be kept dry – I use a lot of gladwrap and rubber bands – and dressed every week. So once the bloods are taken, the nurse cleans and flushes the PICC line. This is a sterile procedure, so takes a little while.
Then, back to the waiting room until the blood test results are back. Once these are in, we proceed to the treatment room and are made comfortable in a day bed. Weight, blood pressure, pulse, temperature are all recorded. The questions are the same every week, and asked first by a nurse, then a doctor. Any nausea? vomiting? diarrhoea? mouth ulcers? rashes? fevers? numbness? problems? When the doctor has determined we and our blood results are in a fit state to go ahead, the chemo is ordered. While waiting for this, IV lines are set up and connected to the PICC. Then the premedications commence. As I have not had any major reactions to the drug I am getting ( paclitaxol), I requested that we drop some of the premeds. The IV steroids had the effect of jangling my nerves in a very unpleasant way, and the IV phenergan used to knock me out for the rest of the day. I am so pleased my oncologist was happy for me to no longer have these. I still have two pre meds, but they are fine.
Once the premeds are in, the nurse caring for me gowns up. For her own protection she must wear gown, mask, goggles and gloves whenever she handles the cytotoxic meds. She connects it all up, and away we go. It takes an hour to go through, then another flush with saline and I can be disconnected. Yaah! I can go home now.
I generally feel pretty flat the following day, but am happy that the side effects are minimal, and at the moment, the paclitaxol is doing a good job. It is palliative, and not curative, but is keepng things under control. As well as the routine blood tests, every three weeks my tumour markers are measured ( these measure the activity of the tumours), and every two months I have CT of the chest, abdomen and pelvis to monitor the situation. I see my oncologist every three weeks. She is a lovely lady – very calm and quiet and clever. The nurses in the unit are also very caring and kind and take good care of us all.
I am grateful.