Three weeks ago today, I had a chemotherapy infusion. That means that right now, right this moment, I should be getting hooked up to a bunch of bags filled with drugs whose names I can barely pronounce, preparing myself for another week spent in bed.
But I’m not doing that. Instead, I’m living my life, like any other 25-year-old. I’m building the new headboard I ordered for my bed, crying inside while I write my July rent check, going out for drinks at cool dive bars in the East Village with my friends, meeting with my boss to discuss all of my projects at work, trying falafel from that little place around the corner where the menu is all in Arabic, exploring my new neighborhood, and checking my head obsessively to see if any new hair is sprouting (not yet, but Hair Watch 2013 continues).
I try not to lose sight of how incredibly lucky I am to be where I am now. For many cancer patients, the chemo journey is much longer. Or it never ends. For me, it was just what my doctor promised: six shitty months.
Six shitty months that are behind me.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that my journey with cancer is over. Aside from lingering hot flashes and of course my ongoing alopecia problem, there’s still the matter of my Herceptin infusions, my Tamoxifen prescription and all manner of scans and tests and appointments designed to keep me cancer-free, hopefully FOREVER.
I had my first Herceptin infusion at Memorial Sloan Kettering last week, and let me tell you guys, it was pretty ridic. I really don’t have any complaints about USC’s infusion suite – the chairs were comfy, there was always room for my family, my nurses were great, I got free food, the TVs worked, so whatever, I was a happy camper – but MSKCC just takes chemotherapy to another level. If USC was Regal Entertainment Group, MSKCC is like the Arclight Cinemas of infusion centers in that it’s so luxurious it almost feels absurd, like Who could possibly need this level of comfort/pampering just to watch 6 Fast 6 Furious??? absurd. At MSKCC, everyone gets their own private, individual room complete with giant flatscreen TV, plus free food and drinks in a little kitchen area to snack on at any time. Honestly, I don’t need my own infusion room, but am I gonna complain? Hell no, y’all. Honestly, I was bummed out that my Herceptin infusion only lasted 30 minutes because I wanted to spend more time just relaxing alone in my little private area. In NYC, that’s as private as anything gets, ever. My little infusion room was larger than my bedroom. I wish I was kidding.
After my infusion, it was time for my cardiac scan. Herceptin, while it doesn’t cause hair loss or vomiting or bone pain or any of the other awful side effects that I got from the rest of my drug cocktail, does have a slightly alarming tendency to cause premature heart failure. Since my heart is kind of important to, you know, my continued survival, it needs to be monitored for any signs of damage or toxicity. A few months ago I had this done with an echocardiogram, but I found that procedure to be thoroughly unpleasant, so this time I went with a MUGA scan – a procedure that involves injecting a radioactive tracer into the bloodstream to assess the performance of the cardiac muscle.
Getting the MUGA scan was kind of like time travelling back to 1953. All of the medication required for it – which is by definition radioactive – has to be kept in extremely thick, heavy iron boxes, which are all sort of rusted and dingy and smattered with yellow “RADIOACTIVE” symbols, like how I imagine old, abandoned nuclear equipment in Chernobyl might look. The syringe used to inject the radioactive tracer is also covered in iron, leaving nothing visible but the needle itself and this dark, ominous-looking barometer used to measure the amount of liquid inside. It weighs a good five pounds or so and has to be first mixed with your blood (ick) and then agitated for ten minutes before it can be injected, which is done by strapping it to your arm with this device that honestly looks like it belongs in a medieval torture museum (but, I should add, is actually totally painless except for the muscle fatigue you get from having to flap your arm around like an idiot for ten minutes).
The whole time I was looking at this contraption/set-up like, Awesome, whatever’s in this syringe is so dangerous that it can’t even be stored in a closet without being incased in impregnable iron, but we’re going to inject it directly into my heart. Sounds safe.
Truthfully, though, once the
deadly radioactive nuclear waste completely harmless solution was reinjected back into my bloodstream, the whole thing was easier and simpler than I’d anticipated. All I had to do was lie in a giant, clunky machine for half an hour while it whirred around me and imaged my ventricles and arteries. Seriously, though, the machine was so comfortable and the whole thing so stress-free that I actually fell asleep during the scan and only woke up with the thing beeped to alert me that the procedure was over. Score.
Afterwards, I got this awesome card:
So basically, I expect to become one of the XMen at any moment.