4. It Begins

All my preparation led to this: my first chemotherapy treatment. The session was to last six hours. So I packed a lot. Light meal. Snacks. Lots of water. And my iPad. My session began at 10 AM, Friday, May 6, at Loudoun Oncology. Fortunately, the oncology center is located within Loudoun Hospital, a 10-minute drive from my home. Since Kate's school was still in session, and she had precious few days off left, she had to carefully manage her time off to spend with me. So I drove myself to the session, and she joined me after lunchtime.

Once there, Dana, who did my Chemo 101 session, walked me back to the chemo room. It's a big, sunlit room, with floor-to-ceiling windows on the long side. Sitting in the room are roughly a dozen or so big, comfy chairs that recline. The chemo chairs. I saw other patients hooked up to IV bags. Some were old, some were young. Some had spouses with them. Others flew solo. Most looked fairly comfortable. Tending to the these patients were three other nurses -- Patience, Marla and Julie -- who I would get to know well over the next few months.

I finally settled in to a chair. My heart began to pound faster. Dana described what I would be going through: an initial blood test to set benchmarks for a variety of indicators, such as white blood counts, platelet levels, kidney function and more. Then fluids to flush my kidneys and steroids to lessen any nausea that might come; this would take a couple hours. The main drugs, Cisplatin and Gemzar, would follow for the next couple hours. Then back to fluids to flush my system and force me to use the bathroom; urinating would help reduce the toxicity in my body.

To great anxiety, the needle went in. Oddly, I didn't feel more than a pinch. To minimize discomfort, Dana had told me to prepare my port by applying lidocaine an hour before treatments. And the prepping worked. I was hooked up, with a long tube running from the IV bag to my mediport, which was embedded in my upper chest. I must have looked like a Borg from Star Trek. But I was pain-free. And that's what was important.

The rest of the session went smothly. A blood test set benchmarks. Fluids flushed me. And I spent much of the time drinking water, eating small snacks, and using my iPad. I also watched the other patients. An older man drifted in and out of sleep. His snoring was easily heard by all, which amused me. But the striking part: his wife never left his side. Not for a minute. What dedication!

Kate arrived, which brightened my mood. She is far more social than me, and so she gravitated to Dana and the other nurses. Once Kate settled into a chair next to me -- one that was less comfortable than mine -- Dana began to inject the main drugs into my system. Oh boy. Here it comes. Talking with Kate helped me take my mind off the fact that a healthy dose of poison was being injected into my body. Eric, my friend from work, also texted me frequently to see how I was doing. Time flew by, and then I was onto the final flushing stage. That's when I learned how to go to the bathroom with an IV on wheels. Oh, the skills you pick up in chemotherapy!

Time to remove the tube. Big hugs from Dana. Advice from her on when to call the doctor on call over the weekend. Great wishes from the other nurses. And nods of approval from the other patients. I could hear them thinking, "The rookie passed the first test." Driving home, I didn't feel much different. A little off, a little nervous, but good enough to drive. Maybe I'll be ok, I thought. A quick stop by Walgreens for post-treatment meds. And then home. I decided to relax on the couch. I waited a while before eating a proper meal. Then back to the couch, where I fell alseep.

Then it started.

I woke up around 8 o'clock, and things were far from normal. I was nauseous. My body was shaking. Visibly shaking. I tried to get up, but felt disoriented. Another attempt; up now, but shaking and swaying. It was 8 AM on Saturday, so Kate must be upstairs in bed. I called upstairs, but she wasn't there. Turns out that it was still Friday night, not Saturday morning, and she had gone grocery shopping for me. This sense of disorientation and loneliness only added to my panic.

To fight the nausea, I reached for the anti-nausea medicine that Dana had prescribed for me. I walked up and down the house, taking big breaths. I went out to our porch for fresh air. I told myself that everything was going to be ok. Kate then arrived back home, and helped me upstairs to our bed. My body continued to shake. My stomach felt like hell. And my mind couldn't process what Kate was telling me. One thought was all too clear, though.

What the hell was happening to me?

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