My Experience During Chemotherapy
The experience of a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Initially, my oncologist recommended a “watch and wait” approach as this was the standard of care for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Unfortunately, my lymph nodes continued to enlarge and after ten months, I needed to start my chemotherapy. The chemotherapy regimen was selected based on my type of follicular cancer and the recent results of research studies.
My expectations of treatment
As both an RN and a cancer patient, I needed to ask many questions to learn about possible side effects, medications, and potential reactions. Fortunately, both my oncologist and RN were patient and explained everything in detail. My first concern was the potential loss of my newly highlighted hair. Yes, I was vain about my hair. It was quite reassuring to learn that I would not lose my hair with the chemotherapeutic agent Bendamustine. I learned that I would be given medications prior to the treatment to prevent any allergic reactions as well as nausea and vomiting.
I strongly recommend that someone should accompany you to your appointments. At the time, my husband was out of work which really turned out to be a positive thing. He provided a tremendous amount of support and help during the most difficult time. He could drive me to repeat MD visits for follow-up, as well as prepare meals and be my “safety net” during this potential nightmare.
The day of my chemotherapy appointments
A light breakfast was helpful. I wore loose comfortable clothing and brought a light sweater in case I felt chilly. Reading material such as light romance or comedy on my tablet provided a diversion. My chemotherapy would be administered in the infusion center in my oncologist’s office. I felt very fortunate that I already knew the oncology RN. The session began with a quick physical exam and my blood pressure and vital signs were taken. An intravenous line was inserted in my arm. In subsequent treatment cycles, finding an IV site would become a challenge. In retrospect, I probably should have had an implantable IV port inserted. I had been reluctant when it was offered.
I was quite comfortable in a recliner chair. The pretreatment medications of steroids and Benadryl were administered to reduce any side effects. These medications initially made me drowsy and then later hungry. Snacks were available. I would also send my husband for lunch. I am probably the only person who never lost her appetite after chemotherapy and who never lost a pound.
The aftermath of my appointments
My husband would drive me home where I would immediately go to bed. There were times after treatment when I would literally crawl up the stairs to my bedroom. For me, the fatigue was overwhelming. I needed to rest to give my body a chance to recover from each treatment cycle.
Fluids are important to keep hydrated and help the drugs move through your system. It is important to avoid anyone with a cold or illness as chemotherapy reduces our immune system and our body’s ability to fight infection. I was instructed to report any symptoms such as fever, chills, or anything unusual. Since our white blood cells can be affected by the chemotherapy, my oncologist ordered an injection of Neupogen, an agent that supports the immune system. Rather than return to the oncologist’s office, as an RN, I was able to give myself the injection twenty-four hours after my chemotherapy treatment.
Fortunately, I was able to complete my six cycles of chemotherapy and immunotherapy with only two hurdles. After my first and second treatments, I developed a fever and symptoms of sepsis. Both required hospitalizations and a course of antibiotics.
Chemotherapy and recovery became my primary focus because of the influence of my faith, family, and friends.
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