….. as cool and calm as my exterior may be – my nerves are shot and my anxiety is rising like the temperature on the thermometer in my mouth. It looks like my jaunt near the river with the waving golden rod has erupted into a sinus headache and I can feel the tickle of a possible infection starting – not good timing. I fold the laundry in the two baskets beckoning to me and I delve in grateful for the momentary distraction……
Max pulls into the driveway. He will not be sitting with me through my first Chemo appointment as he is on his way to the college to teach a course. We are all about priorities in our household and you can see the guilt written all over his face, along with a good helping of worry. I have applied some make-up to lift my spirits and take some pictures to photo document my journey – I do this mainly for my children but not to remind them of a terrible disease as much as it is to show that I have accepted my journey and see the positives in the experiences along the way. He smiles at me and gently touches my lips with his. He pulls away to look into my eyes and to ask me how I am? What other answer is there – “yah, we’re good”, I say and smile back at him. He loves the new pink lipstick I got in my Braz swag bag.
I can feel the angst in the pit of my stomach but manage to smile at Max again as he pulls up to the Regional Cancer Unit. We lock eyes and I can sense the worry behind them. I tell him not to worry and step out of the vehicle. I do not look back but breeze through the automatic doors that are now familiar to me. I know that he has waited until he cannot see me anymore before he pulls away. The place is already humming with visitors and patients alike as I make my way over to the Tim Horton’s after picking up my pager at the Chemo kiosk. I am not hungry but choose a bran raisin muffin and a coffee and wander over to a seat near a woman wearing a headscarf. She catches my eye and I smile back…. She quietly asks me if I am there for breast cancer and I nod yes – she opens up and begins to talk about her journey and where in it she is. We are sitting outside of the Radiation suites and that is where she will go when her pager goes off. She wishes me luck when it does but not before complimenting me on my hairdo. I am feeling pretty good and am liking my new temporary look. I head upstairs with my pager neatly tucked into my back pocket and head over to the pharmacy located adjacent to the Chemo suites.
I am submitting my script to the pharmacist and she inquires as to whether or not I have had a predetermination for the cost of the Neulasta injection? This is a critical component in the treatment process that boosts the immune system which ordinarily would take a tremendous hit as all fast growing cells will be destroyed – I have been told that it is a life saver. It is a very expensive injection and I will require one 24 hours after each chemo treatment. I let her know that I have and hand over my employee benefit card. Oh, I just remembered that the insurance company changes benefit structure and that they will only be covering 75% of the medication until I reach an out-of-pocket expense of $1000 dollars and then they will cover 90% after that but for now until then end of the year, it will be covered %100. She understands and indicates that there are avenues of financial support, one of which she will give me their card with contact information that I can call to apply. She then asks if I would like my account to remain open today for any other medications that I may need for treatment at home. Yes. I will return after my therapy to pick up all meds but for now, I make my way over to the waiting room seats. The lady sitting next to me shares the fact that her husband is no longer a cancer patient but is having a pint of blood removed due to too many red blood cells which apparently become sticky and form clumps that do not transfer oxygen when they get to the lungs – it is causing him to have a shortness of breath and creates hardships for the heart and veins. I smile and listen intently until my pager goes off. Good luck dear she says and does a tiny wave as I get up to meet with the nurse waiting in the open doors.
Nurse Hailey smiles and introduces herself with a handshake and asks me which I would prefer to sit in – my choices are bed or lazy boy and I choose the comfy looking lazy boys….well, as comfortable as it could be being vinyl covered. A few of the beds near by are inhabited with some elderly people. I am seated comfortably with a hot blanket across my knees and a pillow behind me for support. I am offered a glass of Ginger ale or juice to swallow the steroid pills (3) and the anti-nausea (1), which I gulp down with the Ginger ale. She cautions me to take all medicines as prescribed and to not miss taking any of them – I remember stories of horrible nausea and vomiting of which I am a fan of neither…. Mental note to self – do as instructed. She goes over some preliminary details of the chemo ward and mentions all the support offered by the unit in the form of social work, financial assistance and even mentions that the children could be offered a tour of the facilities after hours if we wanted to. She explains each of the steps in my treatment of FEC-D. There are 3 components to this treatment as she goes over the finer details of what side effects that I may or may not experience. She expertly inserts the IV as she talks to me about the first injection – a syringe with a unique docking tip that twist locks into its mate on the IV. This is then manually injected into the IV along with the next set of very large syringes – 3 in totally and sporting a brilliant red colour. The E is now manually injected one after another as Hailey once again explains each of the meds and what side effects they may exhibit. The third in the series – C – is an IV drip bag, which has the memorable side effect akin to that of a brain-freeze and I cringe at the thought of the possibility of an instant sharp pain through my already sore sinuses. She can alter the speed of the drip if in the event that that happens so just flag her or any of the umpteen RN’s flitting around from station to station. I have to pee – a consequence of drinking a gallon of water before coming to the unit – excessive fluids help to flush the system of the drugs faster. I am warned that it might look red….. again the dye in the syringe is red but really the pee is orange. I am back to my cozy chair and pull back just in time to witness the young man beside me vomit into the bowl that the nurse seemed to instinctively know was needed. They quickly closed his curtains for his privacy and our comfort and administered a quick shot into his IV….. they are on this so quickly that his nausea subsides almost immediately. Crisis over, they log everything on the computers mere steps away so that this does not happen again.
I am conversing with the newest patient and her daughter – they have seen my edema sleeve and are amazed by it… they are joined into the conversation by others around us. My dragon sleeve is once again a huge hit with both staff and patients. I proudly display it and tell them about the company that makes it. Tracy from LympheDIVAs had sent me an email wishing me luck on my first Chemo. As it was Tracey – all went well with no brain freeze. Thanks for supporting my and my family with your lovely well wishes. Nice to know I have some fans in Philadelphia!!!
As I am leaving the chemo suite I bump into Annie from the class the day before. She has the shakes and is slightly hunched over but smiles as she looks up at me when I call out her name. She is waiting her turn and you can see she is very nervous but fortunately she has brought a friend with her. I give her a gentle hug when we meet and when we part. Good luck and best wishes.
The pharmacist is waiting for me with all my meds, hands me the business card I will need to contact the financial aid and sets about explaining in detail when I need to take my meds. She hands me a special pill that I am to take the morning of my next Chemo and I tuck that into my change purse where it will be safe. She has given me an ice pack to keep the Neulasta cold until my ride comes to pick me up… that will be in a few short hours. I would discover later in filing the scripts that the injection costs $2,638 per one shot syringe and I need 6 of these!!!! Now that IS expensive.
I have a few more conversations with strangers in the waiting area… a woman waiting for her husband who has prostate cancer and a Portuguese woman with her daughter and friend to keep her company while she waits for her first visit. A yellow jacket is moving my way and the beautiful face that greets me with the wonderful hug is from Raye – our receptionist’s wife at the station. She is so lovely and sits to talk with me for a while. She tells me that I can call her anytime – she has found her calling helping out people when she can…. A truly beautiful soul. She lets me know that I can borrow wigs at their volunteer office and goes over some of the services provide besides the cookies and coffee offered while you wait. Hugs again and she is off helping someone else. I wave to the three ladies across from me and they indicate how nice it is to have met me – likewise, I say. Talking too much can have its merits it seems J
Brenda M. picks me up at the front of the Cancer Unit where I have stood in the shadow of the building with my warm pashmina scarf covering my head. She laughs when she sees me – she didn’t have her glasses on when we spoke earlier in the morning on the phones from our back decks and wants me to remove it so she can take in the glory of my shorn scalp. She laughs but recognizes that it was the best thing to do and I agree. She pulls up the driveway and asks if I need any help – just tired but no thanks. I wave as she drives off. The fatigue pulls at me but the steroids I took won’t let me sleep.
Homework with Lydia and private chats with each family members winds the day to a halt as I take my sinus medicine and nose spray that Max has picked up from the drug store. The relief to my sinuses is immediate and sleep soon follows.
Thanks to everyone for their incredible notes, comments, phone calls, text messages and support for my journey today. Even though I was in the chemo suite by myself – I took you all with me!! xoxoxo