Monday, June 27, 2011

Of Chemicals and Radiation

Man, have I been lied to! Every movie these days seems to be about irradiated and chemically doused dudes becoming superheroes. Well, I'm here to tell you it's a load of crap! So far anyway.

I spent four hours hooked up to chemical waste and 5 minutes being irradiated and nothing! I'm still a boring out of work graphic artist painting stuff that mostly hangs only on my own walls. If modern culture is to be believed, I should be able to read your minds or at least make things move by thought.

Oh well. The day started out fine. Woke up and the parents drove me to Ironwood Research for my first day of chemo and radiation. I like the place, even though it's entirely too full of people with cancer. And it's only one of at least 15 centers in the Phoenix area. Today had less people in the chemo sun room than the day I came for teaching, but it was still disturbing to see so many people getting treated.

After about a half hour (there were only two women doing the duties and some of my meds hadn't been delivered yet), I was sat down and equipped with an IV. I hate needles more than anything but was glad to not be getting a port installed in my chest like the woman at the end of the row. I know it must be painful and the look on her face confirmed that. My ordeal was much less painful but still no fun. No amount of 'immersion therapy' will relieve me of my phobia for needles. The pain is never as bad as my fears make them seem and I know this both before and after the deed is done, but it still doesn't make the sweats go away. On the plus side, she let me keep the IV in overnight so I don't have to get poked again tomorrow.

After the nasty needle (it's really a small flexible hose that stays in after the needle is removed), I got a big bag of fluids and the big bag of Cisplatin, the chemo drug. When I say big I mean big. Looked like a flexible two liter. Just before this I was given three magnesium pills and one horse pill of Emend. The Emend is for nausea, specifically for late onset nausea, magnesium is to alleviate the loss of said mineral from the chemo. In the IV fluid bag I also get potassium for the same reason, and Mannitol to help prevent damage to my kidneys. Lasix is added to the IV about halfway through to help flush the kidneys. The tech called it Vitamin P because that's what it makes you do. A lot.

The chemo treatment takes about four hours. I was surprised the time went by so fast. It was helped by the odd but sweet lady next to me receiving her treatment for squamous cell carcinoma which, though in her throat and cleared in 2007 is now returned in the bone of her skull. The good news is that it's not the worst kind of cancer you can get up there, but it's still in her head and still f-ing cancer. She had a great attitude even though she was clearly weakened and I suspect a little slow or slightly confused at times. She admits her balance is messed up and she did kinda sway a little when she stood to leave, but I don't know how much of all of that is due to her cancer or her age. She looked to be about 65 or 70, but as she had no hair and had some weight on her, diminishing any wrinkles, it's hard to say with any certainty. Her name is Nancy, but I don't think our schedules will sync up and I doubt I'll see her again unless it's during my radiation treatments which take place every day but weekends and holidays.

I didn't feel any nausea during the treatment or since I returned home. The parents rented a house nearby (great rates as no one comes to Phoenix in summer, especially since today's 118 degree heat is high but not atypical), and no longer have to endure our decidedly sloppy bachelor pad. The only thing I have to complain about is a headache that's more due to having no more Percocet than anything else. My surgery pain has all but gone, except for some soreness in my jaw and lingering nerve damage in my mouth. Some of my surgery scars feel like the nerves are repairing themselves and they are starting to smart a bit. Hopefully the repair work is slow enough to keep that pain down, but I've been promised I'll need some strong, long-lasting pain meds in a couple of weeks, so whatever.

My chemo treatment ended around 4:00 and my radiation was scheduled for 5:00. Fortunately they were able to take me early and I was called in to get weighed again and wait for the Dr. Woo (I keep thinking of the Steely Dan song, though it's spelled Wu). He breezed in as quickly as ever and went over the plan again, briefly. He asked if we had any questions (my parents came in with me) and he answered them as best he could. My father even asked about cell phones and the recent reports that they may be causing cancer. He shot that down without hesitation and explained a little bit of why. I'm still not entirely convinced and I don't think my dad was either, but only because recent history is full of pronouncements that have proven wrong in both directions.

Eventually they brought us to the treatment room and explained the procedure. They took a picture of me for the records and then strapped me down with "the mask". My parents had to leave, just as the techs had to as well, since the room would be exposed to high energy photons. The procedure should have taken about 3 minutes, but of course I was the patient the computer crashed for, resulting in a needed reboot and resumption of treatment. Still, it wasn't a long procedure by any means, even though I fell asleep a couple of times. That's how not-uncomfortable it was. And then it was over and we left. Peace of cake.

Still not feeling any side effects though I'm not thrilled that the burns I'm going to get from the radiation may be in the same places as some of my surgery scars, but the good thing is that Dr. Woo confirmed that the hair in my throat will indeed be eradicated by the radiation and never grow back. Still feels strange to root for side effects.


Alix said...

You're really brave! One down :)

Guy said...

Thanks Alix. I don't feel especially brave, but I'm also not really scared. I don't feel like I have been scared much at all during the whole thing. The only thing that really scares me is when I think of not seeing Kaia again. That's the only reason I asked for anxiety meds. The rest just feels like stuff I have to do, like going to work or eating. Sometimes it actually feels...interesting? Like a screwed up adventure or something. I can't really explain it, but I guess the whole thing feels like stuff that just needs to be done so I can get back to doing other stuff.

Sue said...

Just checking in to see how it went, I'd call it brave having such a positive attitude! Hope your family is coping well and I'm sure Kaia is feeling the same way about you too.