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What's Chemotherapy like?

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You may or may not know that 2 years ago I was diagnosed with Colon Cancer.  During our KTTS St Jude Radiothon, I'd like to share with you what some of these kids we're trying to save are going thru....

I'm not sharing this because I'm looking for sympathy.  I feel lucky to be alive.   However when you hear the word chemotherapy, it's easy to discount what the experience is really like.

After I had a couple inches of my colon removed along with 23 lymph nodes around the area of the tumor, tests showed that 4 of the lymph nodes had cancer cells.  My awesome oncologist told me that I need chemotherapy to try and kill any rogue cancer cells that might be floating around my body.

Chemotherapy treatments are different for each type of cancer.  For me, it was a trip to the Chub O'Reilly Cancer Center every 2 weeks.   And it was a long day each time.

First I had to have a port inserted in my body.  The simplest way I can explain a "port" is that it's a like a pad with a long tube put in your upper chest.  The tube is connected to an artery.   The reason I had to have a port put in is because they would be sticking me with a big needle many, many times.  If they inserted a big needle into a vein that many times, there is a chance the vein would collapse.

Side note,....I had THREE ports inserted.  Three different surgeries.  The first two ports failed after one chemotherapy treatment.  In each failed port, the tube connecting to the artery got tangled up inside my body and kinked.  Kind of like a garden hose that kinks up and the water can't thru the hose.

Before I go any further, I'd like to say all the people at the Infusion Center are awesome.  They are wonderful, positive people who made me feel special every time I went there.  Having said that, chemotherapy still is a scary and not fun experience.

First thing they do is blood work.  Then it's sitting around for an hour while the blood work is completed.  Then it's a meeting with the oncologist to see if everything looks fine.   For instance, If my platelets are too low I can't have chemo that day.

After the visit with the oncologist and I'm told my blood work is satisfactory I head to the Infusion Center.  Again, the staff is awesome.  The procedures to follow, not so awesome.

The nurse sticks me with a huge needle that I swear is thicker than an ice pick.   Even though I'm kinda used to needles by now, it still hurts like anything when they jab a thick needle thru my chest to reach the port.  Tears fill my eyes when they jab that needle into me.   It is incredibly painful to have something that large stuck thru your skin and muscle.

Once the needle is inserted, they flush it with a saline solution.  This is almost the worst part of the ordeal.  I can literally taste this awful tasting stuff in my mouth.  I don't know why I can taste the flush, but I can.  And everytime it makes me want to throw up.   Quite frankly for me, the flush is almost the worst part of the entire process.

Once the nurses decide my port is working, I pick out a chair.   For the next 4 hours it's my home.  i recognize many people.  Many regulars who are familair to me.  People of all ages.  We share a common bond, but to be honest, I'd rather share a different kind of bond.  Certainly not having cancer and having to have chemo.

There's an older man who always has a smile on his face.  There's the young woman who's lost her hair from her chemotherapy drugs.  She's brave and inspiring.

There's the 40-something guy sitting next to me who has stage 4 colon cancer.  That means the cancer has spread to his liver.  He's fighting for his life and he knows it.  I hope I see him the next time I come for chemo.

They hook me up to an IV machine.  All sorts of liquids are being pumped into my body.  Saline, Benadryl, and poison.

Chemo drugs are poison.  There is no other way to describe them.  Poison that trys to find cancer and kill it.

Chemo drugs are hard on the body.  I'm convinced that the reason they gave me benadryl is so I would fall asleep for a big chunk of the process.

Once all the poison is done administered while I'm in the chair, someone from Home Health comes and hooks me up to a portable device.   For the next 48 hours I have to wear my  "man bag".  It's a portable device that pumps a different kind of poison into my body.

I timed the chemo treatments for Wednesday so that the worst to come would be on the weekend.

Keep in mind that the actual chemo day on Wednesday is exhausting.  It's 6 hours long.  It's tough for your body to take all this poison.  I'm tired.  I don't have alot of energy.  I feel nauseous all the time.  I don't feel like eating.  Although I know I have to eat something so that my stomach has something in it to absorb some of the chemicals. 

I take anti-nausea pills.  They kinda help.  But I have a sick feeling all the time. 

The poison is not only trying to kill cancer cells, but it's also making my tastebuds go dormant.  Foods I used to love, now they don't taste very good.

Friday, my "man bag" comes off.  Now the real fun starts.   Friday night, all day Saturday, and Sunday are the worst.  The nausea is really bad.  I'm so tired I can barely stay awake.  My body is trying to recover, but it's taking so much out of me that I can barely function.  Saturday is the worst day for nausea.  I have to eat, but I don't want to because it always feels like I'm going to throw up. 

Sometimes I do throw up.  Some times dry heaves.   Your body doesn't like the poison.  It's trying to get rid of it.

By Monday, I'm starting to feel a little bit better.  I can at least function.  But I'm still tired.  My body never totally recovers by the time I have to repeat the process.

9 months of this.  That's what I went thru.

I actually had stage 4 Colon Cancer, because 18 months after diagnosis, one rogue cancer cell settled into my lung.  I had to have the smallest lobe in my left lung removed.  But that's another story.

I'm an adult.  I can understand what my oncologist was telling me.  I can understand what my body was telling me.  I don't like it, but at least I can understand.

I can't imagine going thru this process at 2 years old.   I can't imagine the thoughts going thru a young child's mind when they have to go thru this awful process of having poison pumped thru their bodies or operations to put in ports or remove parts of their body or transfusions, or marrow transplants.

These kids are heros.  The doctor's at St Jude Children's Hospital are performing miracles every day.  We are so close to curing some of these awful cancers. 

But it takes money for research and treatment. 

It takes you to step up and make your donation to St Jude Children's Research Hospital.  Call it your insurance policy for your kids.  So your kids or your grandkids or your neighbor's kids can live long, healthy lives.

Please support St Jude Children's Research Hospital.   Call and become a Partner In Hope.  You can go to bed tonight knowing you made a difference. 

 

 

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