Tuesday, November 20, 2007

chemo for my first cancer

My last journal entries dealt with medical tests which examined my first cancer, Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  Now I'd like to share briefly with you the treatment of my first cancer, which in actual time lasted seven months.
Krissy and I were still in the very comfortable room with Dr. W.  He said I could start chemo in a few weeks when they had an opening in their chemotherapy infusion room.  In the meantime, he told me I could check into something potentially promising.  Hershey Medical Center was participating in an experimental study which would compare a new treatment for NHL with a treatment in common use.  He said that naturally I was free to choose the study over his treatment if I wanted to.  Krissy and I discussed it and we decided it would be good to consider all my options.
Krissy's father drove Krissy and me to Hershey to meet with an oncologist who was involved in the study.  He had read all my test results, which Dr. W. had sent him.  The oncologist asked me many questions; the answers I gave combined with my test results would determine if I would be a suitable subject for the study.  When the oncologist was finished with his questions, he began telling me the details of the study.  There would be two groups of subjects in the study.  One group would be given the new treatment, a combination of the chemo drugs Cytoxan and Fludara.  The other group would be given a commonly used treatment, a cocktail of other chemo drugs.  Subjects would be randomly placed into one group or the other.  The subjects would be closely monitored during and after treatment to evaluate their progress.  The results of the study would help oncologists understand more about NHL and the best ways to treat it.  The oncologist told me that I could think over my decision for a while and get back to him. 
Krissy and I discussed the experimental study.  I would have liked to try the promising new treatment, but if I took part in the study I might have been placed in the group receiving the current chemo treatment instead.  I was unsure about what to do.
Krissy and I talked to Dr. W. again, and I expressed my uncertainty about the study.  Fortunately, he told me that the newCytoxan-Fludara treatment was available in his infusion room right in my hometown.  It was not necessary for me to take part in the study after all, but I would be able to get the promising new treatment.  This was what I had been looking for.  I accepted his offer.     
Dr. W.'s nurse explained to us how chemo would work.  I would receive chemo treatments one week per month for six months.  On Mondays I would be given Cytoxan and Fludara; Tuesdays through Fridays I would be given Fludara alone.  Chemo would be given by an IV bag for an hour or more a day.  A nausea medication would be added to the IV bag, which she said would be enough to keep me from becoming nauseated for 24 hours.  She told us that my hair would fall out as a result of the chemo, and that they would closely monitor my progress with regular blood tests.  I filled out the necessary paperwork and waited for the opening in the infusion room.
My first day of chemo arrived.  A nurse led Krissy and me into the infusion room which held seven or eight recliners with electronic IV pumps standing next to them.  I sat down in the one empty chair; Krissy sat beside me.  At age 36, I was by far the youngest patient in the room.  A nurse inserted an IV into my hand and started running a bag of saline.  She also gave me some Tylenol and Benadryl tablets, which they always gave me before chemotherapy and blood transfusions.  The nurse brought a bag of Fludara and connected its line to the saline line.  The Fludara ran for an hour.  I felt no particular sensation except for the same anxiety about chemo that I had felt all day, and some drowsiness from the Benadryl. 
When the Fludara was done dripping, the nurse connected a bag of Cytoxan and let it run for about two hours, if I remember correctly.  I felt little or no sensation from the Cytoxan, either.  When the Cytoxan was done, the nurses sent me home, and Krissy came along to make sure I would be all right. 
About two hours after the nurse disconnected me from the IV, I started feeling strange.  I wasn't sure at first exactly how I felt, except that I knew the feeling was wrong.  I gradually began feeling sick:  feverish, with body aches and a severe headache, nausea with a dehydrated sensation, restless, and generally awful.  It felt like the worst flu I had ever had, but it also felt more than flu-like.  I don't know how to describe it, except that I felt terrible.  I spent the evening lying down and eating nothing.  It had been like this for hours by then, and the sick feeling showed no signs of fading.  I fell into a fitful sleep.
Sometime during the night I threw up in my sleep and choked on it.  I woke up in a spasm of coughing and gasping, trying to open an airway.  I coughed for quite a while before I was able to breathe normally again.  Sleep was slow in returning. 
Again, this story is becoming too long to comfortably fit into one journal entry.  I'll finish it tomorrow.


  1. I cannot imagine feeling as you did with such severe flu like symptoms. I would have wanted to sleep through the whole thing.

  2. interesting story.  Looking forward to hearing the end of it. Chemo sounds very hard on the body.. glad you are past that now!

  3. I remember this very vividly.  I do remember it did get easier for you though, didn't it?


  4. chemo is awful, i hated my treatments, twice a month 5.5 hours of chemo each time then a week of being sick, then it started all over again, it went on for 8 months. (((hugs)))))

  5. I've been blessed never to have to experience chemo.  But have lots of friends who've gone thru it.  It's not fun in anyway shape or form.  Hopefully you will never have to experience it again.  Happy Thanksgiving to you & Krissy, oh and Michael!   Linda in Washington state

  6. Wow what a horrible thing to experience....June

  7.     As bad as this is to relive for you, it is a good education for those of us who have never experienced this. Take care of yourself.

  8. I'm sorry you've had a set back.  Prayers are being said for you and Krissy.  Know you'll be home for Christmas and I hope it's the best ever!
    Hugs, Kathy

  9. John, alerts must be down, I didn't get your alert, so you might want to send your readers a mention that you penned this.  Just a thought... Now, off to read!  Love, Val xox