A calendar shows a weekly appointment for chemo

Four Down, Two To Go

Nope… we are not talking about scoring a touchdown or a round of golf. We are talking about blood cancer diagnosis and treatment. If you have been there you understand it is a tough haul and almost everyone you meet has no idea of the many challenges, we often face in silence.

To date, I have completed four infusions for my blood cancer. The first treatment appeared to be a non-event. I sailed through it and said, “Is that all there is to chemotherapy?” Several days later reality hit on an ambulance ride to the hospital for what turned out to be a week-long stay.

Blood cancer lessons

Blood cancer lessons were being learned and I needed to make some changes. The proof came after my second infusion as only a few hours of emergency room care was needed before I got all clear to go back home. By treatment three and four, I began to understand how to how to prepare myself for the R-CHOP infusions.

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Here is a quick timeline:

  • July 4, 2020 – An out of town emergency room MD tells me your CAT scan shows you have metastasized pancreatic cancer. His advice: get your life in order. No stress over that one.
  • July 22, 2020 - An endoscopic biopsy shows I have a stage 2 non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • August 3-4, 2020 - Infusion port installed, and the first of six planned infusions begin.
  • August 11- 16, 2020 - Hospitalized for six days with a life-threatening blocked colon.
  • August 26, 2020 – The second infusion is given.
  • August 30, 2020 - Admitted to the emergency room no serious lockage detected.
  • September 16, 2020 - Infusion three, no issues following treatment.
  • October 7, 2020 - Infusion four, no issues following treatment.
  • October 28, 2020 - Infusion five: TBD
  • November 18, 2020 - Infusion six: TBD

Lessons learned

So, what is going on here and what did I learn? Following the first infusion, the next six days were spent in the hospital recovering in isolation. Not only did the treatment reduce my white blood count to zero it also caused significant blockage issues. During my extended stay, a nurse paid me a visit one evening and assured me that while I may be discouraged, it was her experience that patients learn how to handle chemo.

She noted that while a loss of taste is common there will be foods that I will like. Some examples she offered was one patient who only ate vegetable soup. Another only consumed oatmeal, apples, and chicken – for the entire duration of treatment. Not the best diet but by allowing yourself to relax and enjoy what tasted good these patients stopped losing weight. She stressed the importance of trying to eat healthy calorie foods and drinking large volumes of water to flush drugs from your system and to keep things moving in your body. While I was consuming larger volumes of water than normal it was not enough to combat the effects of the drugs.

The hands-on coaches

As a newly diagnosed patient, it is so easy to focus attention on the oncologist who is concentrating on the infusion drugs and the impact they will have on cancer. I discovered that conversations about diet, water consumption, the need for fiber, and how to adjust to treatments were better done with the nurses.

Being treated for cancer is a physical and mental challenge. As a patient, you need to adjust how you approach life on many levels. The following quote just appeared on a card in my room one evening as I slept. I have a guess as to who it was, and it has helped me on my journey and just perhaps it might help you as well.

There comes a time in life when you walk away from the drama and the people who create it. Begin by surrounding yourself with people who make you laugh.
Forget the bad and focus only on the good.
Love the people who treat you right and pray for those who don’t.
Life is too short to be anything but happy.
Falling is part of life, getting back up is living

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