When my oncologist told me that I would need eight chemo treatments I was actually kind of relieved. It seemed like most other Hodgkin’s Lymphoma patients that I had talked to needed at least twelve treatments, so I felt like I was getting off pretty easy. I didn’t know what to expect from chemotherapy. I had heard that it usually made people tired and nauseous and lose all their hair, but I didn’t know much more than that. For some reason I had it in my head that chemotherapy involved me laying in a machine for a few hours, when in actuality, I got to sit in a comfy recliner and watch multiple episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and various Paulie Shore movies.
I have always had a love/hate relationship with the internet, but at this moment in my life I was very much in love with the internet. I had searched #hodgkinslymphoma on Instagram and was amazed by how many other people from around the world I had discovered that were going through what I was going through. Allison was one of those people. She had finished her treatment only a few months before my initial diagnosis. She lived in California and happily answered all my annoying questions. She was the one that explained to me exactly how chemotherapy worked and that I would be sitting in a chair for several hours, most likely bored out of my mind. I was happy to learn that I didn’t have lay under some weird machine from outer space (I guess I somehow confused chemo with radiation, something I would find out six months later.)
My mother insisted on joining me for my first chemotherapy treatment. I figured it was probably a good idea to have some company while I was there. I’m sure most cancer patients would be incredibly nervous for their first day of chemotherapy, but since my chances of running into a cute boy at the oncology office were slim, I wasn’t nervous at all. My mom and I arrived at the ugly mauve colored office on a Wednesday morning around 10 o’clock. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long before we were whisked off into the back room to get my weight and blood counts checked. Great, time to get my finger pricked…
When I was younger I hated going to the doctor’s office. I absolutely hated getting shots. I hated them so much that in a fit of rage I accidentally kicked a pregnant nurse in her stomach (and yes, I still believe it was her fault.) But what I hated even more than getting shots was getting my finger pricked. I would stare at my finger intently while the nurse prepared her instruments. I still remember how it felt when she would graze my finger ever so slightly with the finger pricker (I’m not sure what that device is actually called, but I know you all know exactly what I’m talking about.) I would wince and feel my stomach drop as I prepared myself for the impending doom. Then, with one little click of a button what felt like 1,000 little knives went into my skin. As soon as it was over I finally remembered to breathe again and let out a huge sigh of relief.
It wasn’t until I was older that a nurse gave me some great advice on how to relax before getting a shot. “Focus on an object in the room that is in the opposite direction of where I’m standing” she said. “Focus on it and just breathe, don’t think about anything else” And just like that, I got over my fear of shots, a skill that proved to be very useful as I was about to turn into a human pin cushion during my cancer treatment.
Mary, the nurse that wore shirts three sizes too small for her so you could see her enormous stomach hang out, came to collect me from the weighing room and brought me to the chemo chairs. She said I could sit anywhere I wanted. There were two recliners in each room. I was hoping for some privacy but it was a full house that day. I found an open recliner and quickly settled in. My mom pulled up a chair alongside of me.
Mary introduced me Kim who was in the recliner next to me. While Mary was collecting all the chemo drugs that were about to be injected into me, my mother and I got to know Kim a little better. She was receiving treatment for stage one breast cancer. She said she had a tumor in her breast that was about the size of an eraser on a pencil. She handed me a mint Lifesaver and told me to eat it before Mary flushed my port. Apparently there could potentially be a metallic flavor in my mouth when that happened. Kim was nice enough, though as someone receiving their first chemo treatment she wasn’t exactly the best person to be sitting next to. She was very negative and down about her situation, complaining mostly about how she lost her long and beautiful hair.
Mary returned back a few moments later rolling a machine behind her which I soon found out is what would be administering my chemotherapy. I decided to name the machine Ricardo. He would be my hot Spanish boyfriend that kept me company during my treatment. Mary explained to me all the different bags she would be hooking up to Ricardo and in what order I would be receiving them. For my treatment I would be receiving what they call “ABVD”. Adriamycin, Bleomycin, Vinblastine, and Dacarbazine, with two bags of saline before the A and after the D. This was considered a relatively mild chemotherapy regimen, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. She took a giant cotton swab and rubbed a strange yellow dye over my skin where my port was. Then she looked at me and said “This might hurt” I looked at a painting that was hanging on the wall behind her. I remembered what the nurse from my childhood had told me and sat there concentrating on my breathing. I felt the needle stab into my skin and penetrate my port. It hurt, but it wasn’t terrible. I looked down to see a long tube connected to me and watched as the saline entered my body.
Only five more bags to go…
Ricardo let out a loud and melodic tune when the first bag was empty. He continued to cry out until that friendly white pot belly came waddling back into the room to hook up a new bag. Adriamycin, known to many as the “Red Devil” came after my saline bag. It was quite literally red and this was the drug that many people get nauseous from. I was warned not to be alarmed if made my pee a little pink, I was however not warned that it would also make my pee smell completely awful.
As time went on, I started to get very hungry during my chemo. My friend Nick had planned on visiting me that day so I texted him and asked him if he could bring my mom and me some food. My mom kept saying she wasn’t hungry, but I knew she was. I pulled up the menu online for a deli that was down the street where a friend of mine worked. Nick entered thirty minutes later carrying a brown bag which I immediately snatched out of his hands. I opened the bag and to my delight I found hearts drawn on all the plastic lids of my food. A smile stretched across my face and I knew I would be just fine.
By my own accord, I was on a very strict diet. I had been reading a lot about cancer and everything I had read mentioned diet. I thought it was odd that my oncologist said absolutely nothing about changing what I ate. I did however nickname him the “Fat Irish Potato” so clearly he knew nothing about what a diet was. I started reading about the Gerson Therapy, an alternative all natural cancer treatment, and tried to follow their recommendations as closely as I could (minus the coffee enemas). I cut out sugar, sodium, dairy, and only ate meat once a week. The therapy explained how eating the right foods could break down toxins and help the body heal. The more I read, the more it made sense. Since cancer thrives in acidic environments I needed to start eating more alkaline foods and cut out the acidic ones. I lost 15lbs in the first month on my diet. I instantly felt better. I no longer had that gross bloated feeling that I had always felt before. I had more energy at work and the gym and wasn’t constantly yawning anymore, a trait I was notorious for. It was the best I had ever remembered feeling. So why weren’t more people paying attention to The Gerson Therapy?
Since I was on this diet, it was hard to order something off the deli menu. I decided to order sweet potatoes, a terrible mistake that I would soon discover. Mary warned me not to eat too much while I was receiving chemo and to stay away from foods I really loved because chemo could change my taste buds and foods that I used to love could wind up making me feel sick. I disregarded the fat woman’s advice and dove face first into the aluminum container of sweet potatoes. Over a year later, I still can no longer eat sweet potatoes. Thinking and writing about sweet potatoes at this very moment is making me nauseous, but I will do it, for you.
Before I knew it, my five hours was up. Nick was long gone and my mother was still sitting quietly next to me. Mary heard Ricardo whining again and came back in to detach him from me. Until we meet again my sweet dear Ricardo…
I flew out of my chair and started kicking my legs about in a fashion similar to Elaine Beniz. My mom giggled while she collected all our belongings. Mary advised me to take extra strength Tylenol every four hours for the next 24 hours because the Bleomycin was notorious for causing fever and chills and the last thing they wanted was for me to wind up sick in the hospital.
When I arrived home I immediately went to bed, even though I wasn’t at all tired. I set my alarm to go off every four hours. And although my alarm nearly gave me a heart attack every time it went off, I assumed it was well worth it to ensure my safety. The next day I woke up feeling completely fine. I relaxed at home for most of the day and went into work later that night. I was the cancer patient, but I was still running circles around my coworkers. I was glad that the chemo didn’t seem to affect me at all.
Not yet, anyway…