Chemo 101: Intro to Infusions

Welcome to this week’s freshman level class in handling three popular chemotherapy drugs: Taxotere, Carboplatin and Herceptin. Today, we’ll be discussing infusion times, side effects, Michelle’s emotional state and the massive number of snacks she brought to the appointment. Pay attention, because there will be a quiz. On the snacks. I take cheese and crackers seriously.

I barely slept last night thanks to a combination of steroids, eating everything in the house (thanks to said steroids), and anxiety, and I woke up this morning feeling sick to my stomach at my impending day. I am happy, however, to report that the loss of my chemotherapy virginity was totally and completely uneventful. My medical team is amazing, because I don’t feel even the least bit under the weather…for now. The side effects usually strike on days 2, 3 and 4, and generally include nausea, fatigue, stomach upset and taste changes. It’s anybody’s guess how many of those I’ll get, how severe they’ll be, or if I’ll get some super weird side effect no one’s ever heard of, but if how I feel now is any indication, I think I’m going to be okay.

So let me back up and start at the beginning. I started off the day with some eggs, a muffin, a banana, two dexamethasone pills, an Ativan and an hour in Los Angeles traffic trying to get to USC. I wasn’t stressed, because Ativan truly does what it says on the box. I was still relaxed even as the nurse let me pick out my recliner, applied a tourniquet to my elbow and punctured one of the veins on the side of my forearm. She really kind of dissed my veins, which no one’s ever done before, and scolded me a bit for opting not to get the PortaCath (which I forwent after the double mastectomy and egg retrieval surgery proved to be enough anesthesia for me). Considering that I only have the one arm now that Lefty’s off-limits with a compromised lymph system, she’s probably right that I should spare my veins – even if I refuse to believe they’re as horrible as she says, because seriously, I’m offended on my veins’ behalves – so I guess we’re revisiting the option of the PortaCath.

Despite the nurse’s irrational hatred for my veins, she was able to place the IV with just one poke, and the set-up was actually quite comfortable for me. The morning started off with my pre-med combination – Benadryl, IV Pepcid and an anti-nausea medication called Kytril – which took about half an hour to infuse.

Then, two other nurses came over to begin administering the actual chemotherapy. First off, did you know that chemotherapy was actually discovered accidentally during World War I, when soldiers exposed to mustard gas suffered serious damage to their bone marrow? Modern chemotherapy was literally inspired by poisonous military weaponry, when some doctors realized that specific doses of the gas targeted fast-growing cells while leaving normal cells untouched. When they didn’t, you know, kill people. So, yeah, I was super excited about getting this stuff injected directly into my bloodstream, especially when the nurses donned full-body suits and latex gloves before so much as handling the baggies.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover, however, that the infusions were completely painless. There was no tingling or burning, no nausea and no discomfort throughout the entire six-hour ordeal, including the IV set-up – not with the Taxotere (which took an hour and a half to infuse), not with the Carboplatin (an hour) and not with the Herceptin (two hours). I didn’t really mind the whole afternoon at all, actually. I spent some of it listening to Pandora on my phone, reading a new book and chatting with my parents, before I turned on the TV and realized that there was actually a Law & Order: SVU marathon on. Seriously? SERIOUSLY? I must have a guardian angel over at the USA Network.

It’s been about three hours since I left the infusion suite, and I’m still feeling more or less normal. So far, the worst side effect I’m experiencing is a little bit of facial flushing. I know the other shoe will drop, but for now, I’m going to stuff my face with the cupcakes my mom and dad picked up for me to celebrate my first day of chemo. CUPCAKEEESSSSSS.

Okay, POP QUIZ TIME. What, you thought I was kidding?

1. What’s the scariest part of chemotherapy?

A) Its historical relationship with deadly military gasses

B) Having to wait to find out which side effects you’re going to get

C) Needing to take steroids, and then needing to eat EVERYTHING IN SIGHT (MORE CUPCAKEEESSSSS)

D) All of the above

2. What’s the best part of chemotherapy?

A) Snacks!

B) Law & Order: SVU marathons

C) Not changing out of my jammies all day long

D) All of the above

Hint: The answer is DD, because this blog is about boobies.

17 thoughts on “Chemo 101: Intro to Infusions

  1. beadstork says:

    I am literally on the edge of my seat, waiting to hear how you feel tomorrow. Hope you feel great! Looking forward to a Chemo Day 2 post!

  2. You are so uplifting! I would love your own opinion on my blog if you wouldn’t mind.

  3. I’m sending psychic anti-side-effect rays at you, so you should be fine 🙂

  4. CodeForConfession [Kristen] says:

    I’m glad things went alright! The pre-chemo meds are the same for my dad. He had to eventually also get Diflucan for mouth thrush and at home antiemetics (which he hasn’t had to use yet, thank goodness). He did get a PortaCath put in his chest and has to limit his hunting (he was bummed). The first day he feels fine but experiences insomnia for the whole night. Then again he takes a big nap after his treatment! Ha! My mom bought him his own special towels to use so we’re not exposed to his fluids and he finds that his taste is diminished for days two, three, and four. His drips only last about 2-3 hours though so kudos to you for finding something positive and fun to do. I hope things stay good for you and your symptoms are minimal. 🙂

  5. Glad it went ok and hope it keeps on in the same way. Thanks for the detailed account of the process – my MIL will be doing at least some of this, and it helps to know what to expect. All the best. Bx

  6. I am loving your humor in the face of this monster. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the side effects stay on the wayside! Best Wishes!

  7. Ann says:

    Let’s talk turkey here. What kinds of snacks does USC provide? Dana-Farber’s snacks were awful–potato chips, cello-wrapped muffins, sad-looking apples, managing to be both unhealthful and/or unappealing. They did have two adorable lunch ladies, well into their 70s, who came around with a cart and offered dry white-bread sandwiches and chips. They were so entertaining the food didn’t matter.

    Wishing you good snacks, an easy time of it, and fame and fortune from the brilliant writing career you will surely have.

    • Michelle says:

      I brought my own snacks – some crackers with cheese, lots of fresh fruit, trail mix and a big Gatorade. But USC did offer me some pretty good lunch options, and I had a cup of chicken noodle soup that really hit the spot! They also came around with gingerale and 7-Up to soothe anyone who had an upset stomach, which I fortunately didn’t. Here’s to hoping the smooth sailing continues. 🙂

  8. robindcole says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your humor and upbeat attitude about this process. Don’t know you personally, but I’m rooting for you. I wish you and your family the best. 🙂

  9. Hope the next few days are not too bad, your courage and humour at such a scary time is amazing. What you write is inspiring, don’t stop.

    Sending all sorts of healing energy from the other hemisphere.

  10. I wish I had you when I was first going through chemo. You lay it all out in a way I wish someone had done so for me before I started! I hope that your Taxotere trip is being is being kind to you… and you get more yummy cupcakes for your next round.

  11. Katherine says:

    Ill put in a vote for getting a port. Since we’ll be hanging with our chemo friends getting herceptin for a whole year, I think your veins will thank you. 🙂
    Leaving home at 6 am to get to the hospital wasn’t fun – but otherwise the procedure wasn’t too bad. You can’t lift anything heavy for a few days-and it will feel like you’ve been punched in the chest at first – but after a week or so you won’t even notice it. See if they can time it so its all healed before round two. 🙂

  12. annbeaton says:

    My two cents on the port question. I didn’t have one; my oncologist said they preferred to avoid using them where they could, which was OK with me. I had twelve weekly infusions of Taxol and Herceptin, and then however many more of Herceptin alone every three weeks to finish out the year. I had no problems during treatment and my veins have been fine since (nearly four years).

  13. xdanigirl says:

    You crack me up! I read your blog at work and it’s all I can do not to burst out laughing in the middle of the office.
    It’s also a great take on it. My cousin was diagnosed when he was younger (like 6 or 8) with childhood cancer but I never really got to hear about the chemo or anything. So this is really coold for me. Now I know kinda what he was going through. And on the port thing. He did have one. His was an adult size one, though, so the poor guy was in major pain after getting it.

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