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(Steely Dan reference)

I started chemotherapy again today. Last time was back in late 2005. Seems like almost immediately after the surgery that time. Battered and bruised physically and mentally, I headed straight into chemo and radiation. You know how I felt about the radiation.

Truth is, for whatever reason, that entire first trip through Cancerland was not a time for questioning for me, for whatever reason, and I can think of several (reasons, I mean, not questions). I think the most prominent is that they were going to have to do whatever it was they did, and I could ask all of the questions I wanted to ask, but it wouldn’t change the answers or the end results.

So I didn’t bother.

When I first ventured into the CSN Chat Room, in fact, people were asking me perfectly reasonable questions that I had absolutely no idea how to answer. I had no idea if I had non-small cell cancer, squamous cell cancer, this chemical or that, this dose of rads or that. It didn’t matter. It simply never mattered.

What mattered was living, or dying without pain. In between, it mattered, for sure, that I trusted my doctors from start to end and trusted the woman who selected them for me.

I spoke about the ENT guy I met my first night in the hospital, but it happens that upon my arrival at the big hospital, my ENT and surgeon from that point on was and is one of the top 100 in the entire country.

But I stray: I didn’t care then, but because of this place (CSN) I have since started to ask questions. The results are the same :). It doesn’t really matter what I ask, the answers do not change my results. They tell me where to sign, and that is where I sign, sometimes with a shaky hand, sometimes vigorously and with a flourish. But I do sign, and they do, largely, have their way.

So I was provided Cisplatin my first time through chemotherapy. Along with decadron, a steroid I did not get from Barry Bonds or his handlers (or from Roger Clemens or his trainers for that matter). I do not know why I was given decadron. I only know that I was given decadron along with the other goodies in my plastic baggies hanging above me like I was some MASH unit victim, and I know that the decadron is chief suspect in my ability on the day after chemotherapy to clean an entire house and ask what was next on the plate (I didn’t clean an entire house, I just had the ability to :)).

By day two following the chemicals, I was in a dark bedroom, windows shrouded, in a fetal position sucking my thumb and crying for my mommy. This lasted for about two days. No. It lasted for EXACTLY two days.

And it happened through the holidays. I had my surgery in October, and went through radiation and chemotherapy beginning in November and wending its way past New Year’s. It seemed that every time we had a major holiday (and there are at least three of them during that period) I was ill. In addition, they were eating, and my melon-sized head wasn’t up for that. So I had sufficient reasons to feel sorry for myself and took them.

But you must cut me at least a bit of slack here: imagine liking to eat (as I do and did) and imagine having all of your family together in the dining room, the clinking of silverware and glasses and pots and pans, the aromas wafting through the air, the snippets of conversation heard, the laughter and even the silence…while you are huddled up inside of blankets and quilts in a dark bedroom, trying to hold down what is virtually nothing in your stomach but compazine or fenergin and some water and/or sports drink (“You need the potassium!”). That can get rough, unless you don’t like your people.

I love mine.

I found out all of this was because I was taking cistplatin. So I have been told in recent times, as I finally begin to ask questions. What happens is that my medical professionals, my doctors and my nurses and my chemo adminstrators tell me that cistplatin is one helluva tough chemical. Carboplatin and taxol, the ones I will get now, in April of 2008, for precautionary purposes, I emphasize, are a piece of cake by comparison. On the other hand, some of my friends in Cancerland, who have been there and done that, are telling me that this combination is excruciatingly painful.

What to do? My choice is to ignore them all and see what happens.

It is good, it is great, to get information from other people, my friends, but their experiences will not be yours. The guy who stuck me twice today (I think he was nervous…I think he liked me :)), advised me that cistplatin was a b*tch but that even that one has been ameliorated by some new additives to the cocktail. He also advised that carbo and taxol are relatively easy unless you have a reaction to alcohol (taxol)…he said taxol isn’t readily soluble with water, so they include alcohol, and sometimes people have terrible reactions to it.

Alcohol? Allergy? I figured I was in GREAT shape!

He also told me, because I asked this time, that my cocktail this time would include not just carboplastin and taxol, but benedryl, zentac, and um, one that I forgot but which was really important…hmmm… It will come to me. It wasn’t beer…no pot in Virginia…saline solution? Maybe. If I think of something else I’ll let you know. Oh, of course…DECADRON!!! How could I forget my old friend!

What this means, of course, is that I’ve already survived the toughest of the typical chemicals, and that carbo and taxol will be nothing by comparison.

And you know what really bothered me? The danged injections. Yes, I had to give blood on the way in…and they can have it. But the stick! I am still regressing to my month in the hospital in February, and the stick sucks!

To top that off, the guy giving me my chemo, first thing he says is that if I am missing Nellie (who the h*ll is Nellie?) it’s because she is taking the week off for her birthday (I hear job interviews in there somewhere!) and suddenly Nellie is of much greater interest to me. Particularly when he jabs me twice in one nice vein and then wiggles it around so much over a five minute period that even my wife…a nurse and a protector of the neighborhood if you know what I mean and I think you do…is rolling her eyes and actually asking if I AM ALRIGHT!!!

Keep in mind that the only thing that bothers me are the sticks. I tell you, they stuck me so often during my stay in the hospital that my lower right arm developed the texture of cardboard and they finally went to a picc line (more on that later). And all of my fingers (except for my thumbs for some reason, probably related to Guantanamo Bay) were stuck multiple times each, sometimes twice in one day.

Finally I gave up my left arm/hand to him, where he had originally seen a large vein poking out and really seemed to have a thing for it. I’m just saying: saliva was dripping from his lip the first time he saw that baby blue fellow, trust me.

When he could not get the one in the right hand to work, I offered the left one, with the plump vein, and he was actually creepy in his acceptance: ‘Well, if you don’t mind?’

Just stick it dude!

Pardon me, the moment haunts me still.

He stuck it alright. Seven hours later my wife says it is a ‘blown vein’. There is a very obvious hole mark in a vein that is three times larger than it was when I woke up this morning. I’m not complaining. I’m just pointing out the facts, ma’am. I was glad that we were able to get things going to tell you the truth. As I mentioned to my wife when he left: ‘The sooner we get rolling, the sooner we are done.”

I tend to watch clocks and bag levels and things like that. Call me obsessive/compulsive and I wouldn’t care if I were not also passive/aggressive. So just call me someone who wants to get the job done and get on with life. If you don’t mind.

The chemo session went like chemo sessions do. People who have been there for awhile normally look like they have been there for awhile. This means they look like they already died and the staff is trying to revive them.

Okay, it’s not that bad. Only some people look like that.

The main thing is that new people like me (all of my nurses are long gone, obviously having taken their own ‘birthday weeks’ when they got the chance) are pretty much alone, with the possible exception of exceptional loved ones.

The old timers can be actually boisterous. Tuna sandwiches and chips make the rounds, people ask about children, there is laughter and nurses who haven’t figured out the white pants issue and so still wear them and seem provocative to me when they bend over to give someone some help, I don’t care how old they are, which probably indicates how old I am, or how perverted…your call.

Seriously…white pants and dark undies. I rest my case.

I’m not saying the place is a party, but we all have comfortable recliners, so we can sleep or listen to music or do crossword puzzles or read books or even study people. It’s not a party. But it isn’t hell either.

Back to the original subject, it should be noted that my chemo nurse came by early on, since I was a rookie in his eyes, and asked how I was doing. It may have had to do with the way my legs and feet were moving like crazy. I couldn’t keep them in one place, and I suspected it was the decadron, but he advised, ‘Oh, benadryl will do that to some people, you’re fine.”

I wasn’t fine, in a detailed sort of way, but, yes, he was correct, in a general way. I wasn’t dying. I was only annoyed with my feet and my legs. And frankly, they were annoyed with me. A small walk to the bathroom helped, and eventually, sitting in the recliner (it wouldn’t recline, too close to the wall behind it), I nodded off. Every time I did, nurse guy would come by to ask if I was okay.

He didn’t come by IMMEDIATELY when one bag ran out and another needed to be hooked up, as I wanted him to, oh, no. But every time I started to reach sleep, stage I, he would come by and ask me if I was doing okay.

I understand. I was a rookie with this mix. But geez, I WANTED to sleep through this crap!

Arriving at my home, I was tired and wobbly. That may have been to get out of afternoon chores, I’m still not sure on that issue even many hours later. Was I faking? Don’t ask me.

It worked.

Let me just tell you that, folks. It works. If you need to take a break, and if you have just had chemotherapy, I don’t care if you feel great, I’m telling you, put a little wobble in your walk, think of something sad, walk with a bit of that hip-pain sort of gait, and say you just want to rest for awhile and then hope your significant other (the boss) has to go get you prescriptions or something.

Am I giving away to much?

Seriously. That never happens.

But I did develop cramps right away. True. I decided to drink a beer to see if it would relieve those cramps, some distorted notion of drinking ginger ale as a kid when I was sick (and the chemo room ladies who offered the tuna and ham and chips also offering ginger ale, to be honest, and to blame someone other than myself, particularly elderly ladies trying to do good deeds with no reward beyond personal satisfaction and no way to sue me) and it did! It relieved the cramps.

Unfortunately, I later discovered blood in my stool. And I don’t mean the one I was sitting on. So that one is a wash 🙂

This is my story about chemotherapy. For now. Mixtures of boredom and interesting facts and unnecessary wounds and beer and blood.

Piece of cake. It is after 4AM now. I think it is the decadron. I really do 🙂