It’s 5:30 a.m. as I write this, having given up on sleeping at all during the night. I love to sleep and I’ve done a lot of it in the last week. Am I all sleeped out? Was it the coffee yesterday afternoon? Or the self-inflicted infusion of licorice all-sorts?
It was chemo day yesterday, Day 8 and the completion of what the doctors call, cycle one. Only 2 or 3 cycles to go… Depending on the tumour-shrinking success of the chemo.
The infusion starts with a bag of saline to ensure my tissues are hydrated. To prevent nausea, I take 8 grams of dexamethasone, a tiny pill that is cheap and effective. It’s a steroid so it tends to rev you up when you’d rather sleep.
I also take 8 mg of ondansetron, a larger tablet that costs $8 each. That’s not even the most expensive of the pre-meds that patients fill at a regular pharmacy. There’s another drug, Emend, considered a wonder drug by my ovarian cancer friends because of its powerful control of queasiness. Three pills are packaged in fancy trifold cardboard, as if to make up for its incredible cost of $111. Cancer is an expensive business. But I am lucky. My extended health plan from my employer pays 100% of my drug costs.
Soon a small bag of Gemcitabine drips in and in half an hour, it’s done. I’m encouraged not to suffer through nausea… to ask for help with coping. Mmmm… that’s tough for me. I’ve grown up believing I was independent, self-reliant and able to cope if I just followed the rules. More drugs are available if I need them. Living with cancer doesn’t mean suffering, they say. (At least not at this stage, I think to myself.)
I’m finished with the chemo castle for two weeks. The drugs do their job as cancer warfare rages in my belly. In two weeks I’ll take the early shift at the lab and share some blood. They’ll test it and see who is winning… cancer or me?
Two hours later I’ll see the doctor and she will have the test results. I prefer picking them up myself first but they’re not available so quickly. It gives me time to process the results privately. Hurrah or shit.
And then I prepare questions for the doctor.
- Is it working as you expected? If not, what’s the next plan?
- What’s my white cell count?
- Can we resume cycle two tomorrow?
- Will I qualify for the clinical trial?
- Is surgery an option?
Chemo kills off cancer cells but it also kills whatever other fast growing cells are in the body. That’s why chemo often attacks hair or the insides of your mouth and the bits in your blood that keep infection at bay. If the chemo kills off too many white blood cells the doctor might postpone the treatment. And that may interfere with my summer plans… camping, picnics, swimming.
The sun is up. Time for breakfast and more anti-nausea meds. And then to bed.