Yesterday I went in for my fortnightly chemo treatment. One of the questions I'm often asked is what is treatment like. So I thought that I would take some time to write about what that looks like for me. There are different types of chemo, as there are different types of cancer. You can take chemo drugs as tablets or as I do they can be directly administered to you.
Once the Doctors decided that I was going to have chemo in June 2016, I had a minor procedure to have a portacath installed. The Portacath is about the size of a ten cent piece and it has been placed under my skin near my shoulder. The advantage of the 'portacath' is that my veins can be accessed at anytime without needing to install a cannula and it can also be used to take some of my blood for testing if needed.
On any given treatment day, I go to the Northern Cancer Institute and when they are ready to see me,
I have a needle inserted into the Portacath to allow the drugs to enter my body.
The process of having the drugs takes about four hours. I receive the drugs to treat the cancer, drugs to treat symptoms (like nausea) and I receive drugs to boost the effectiveness of the other drugs. Coupled with the active drugs are periods of time where I receive a flush. The flush cleans the port to prepare for the next drug.
What do I do for the four hours I hear you ask. Not a whole lot really. I'm in a chair so I'm fairly comfortable. I generally use the time to read, to write, to listen to music, and occasionally sleep. The nurses and volunteers are wonderful, and will bring around snacks, and drinks. In my experience I have not talked a whole lot with other patients. Some people come by themselves, others will come with someone. While I usually come alone, I have appreciated having my brother and sister come at various times. It has enabled us to catch up and just chat with minimal distractions.
The last thing that happens is that I have a slow release pump attached - as one of the drugs is released over a period of 46 hours. I go home with the pump attached, and the pump is removed on Friday.
I have usually said that the treatment day was the easy part, just sitting and 'receiving' the drugs. Over the past few cycles, that hasn't really been the case and I've certainly felt hit by something as I've received the drugs. The impact of the drugs, typically is at its worst over the weekend, into early the following week, before easing back till I have treatment again. Basically they want to give you as much as they can, give you time to recover and then give you the drugs again.
The side-effects I usually experience are nausea, tiredness, it impacts my mood a little, changes in bowel habits and the drugs play havoc with my skin. At this stage my hair is thinning, and I might lose it over time, but we'll see. For most of these there is medication you can take that is relatively effective. The strangest side effect I experienced was the hiccups - eventually the Doctors determined that it was most likely due to one of the steroids I was given. So I no longer receive that, and so far so good on the hiccups front.
In a nutshell that is what a treatment day looks like for me.