Everything is moving so quickly now that it’s been tough for me to keep up. Lots of appointments and procedures to prepare for my cancer treatment endgame: chemotherapy. For the next six months, I will be receiving two (2) chemo infusions per month, for a total of twelve (12) infusions. The hope is that this will completely cure my cancer; however, given that I’m stage IV, there’s a chance that I will need further treatment once my chemotherapy is completed, such as a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. I’m trying not to think too much about the other treatments for now as I feel it’s better to focus on the task at hand (though I am mentally preparing myself for the fact that I may need further treatment).
Yesterday I had surgery to install a port, which is a permanent IV — a central line to administer chemotherapy and other drugs. While I am pretty sore today and finding it a little difficult to move, I am overjoyed to have a port. Prior to my surgery yesterday, it took three (3) nurses and six (6) attempts to start my IV for the procedure. The pain of being poked repeatedly doesn’t bother me too much, but it causes a great deal of anxiety and stress — things I don’t need more of at the moment. Not to mention the fact that one of the drugs in my chemo protocol (decarbazine) burns your veins if delivered though a standard IV. Yes, please, I would prefer to avoid that.
My first chemotherapy treatment is tomorrow and I’d say I’ve prepared as much as I can. I’ve picked up my anti-nausea medications and the other drugs I need to take at home. I have also prepared the items that I plan to take with me to the hospital tomorrow for entertainment (it takes a few hours to administer all of the drugs). Of course, I’ve prepared several options since I’m not sure how I’ll be feeling as the drugs are dripping.
Physically, I’m completely prepared. Emotionally, I’m a mess. I’m terrified.
My main fear is my hair. The standard chemo protocol for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (the drug combination is called ABVD) causes hair loss. Some folks who have strong hair only experience some thinning, but my hair is quite fine, so I expect that I will lose it all. When I first found out I had cancer, I didn’t think that hair loss would bother me. I knew I wasn’t going back to work until my treatment was completed and, not being a particularly social person, I figured I wouldn’t be going out very much. My partner has also been completely supportive and isn’t worried about it, so I didn’t feel like I needed to worry about it either.
And then my mother went to have a hair cut and our stylist mentioned to her that I should cut my hair short before I start chemo. In her experience, many women have an easier time coping with hair loss from chemo if their hair is shorter beforehand. This got me thinking a lot more about the repercussions of hair loss and it started to hit me a lot harder. What happens when I want to go out for a nice dinner with my boyfriend? Do I wear one of the toques I’ve knitted for myself? I will definitely get a wig, but I still feel like this loss will be difficult for me to accept once it starts happening, especially if I can’t find a wig that breathes well and doesn’t bother my sensitive skin.
The rest of my fear is more general. I’m worried about what chemo will do to my sensitive skin, my nails. I’m worried about nausea and the possibility that I might have a metallic taste in my mouth all the time. And I’m worried about cognitive dysfunction. I plan to spend a great deal of time writing during the next six months and I don’t want those plans to be negatively impacted by chemo brain.
I’ve read accounts written by survivors and, while it’s helpful to learn about the experiences of others, everyone is different and everyone reacts to chemotherapy differently: some folks have a more difficult time than others. I guess I’ll start finding out tomorrow.