“Stacey, your pulse is rapid. You will more likely have a reaction if you don’t calm down. Would you like some Ativan?” said my oncology nurse today.
“No, thanks.” I replied. “I have cancer in my liver and I really don’t want to tax it any more than it already is. I will just breathe through it.” I replied.
“Are you nervous you are going to have another reaction?” the nurse continued.
“We are going to give you extra drugs to deal with that. You will not react. The second dose of chemo is more likely to have a reaction and the third chemo is less likely. Especially with the drugs we are giving to you. You will be okay.” the nurse assured me.
Kevin had tried to calm me down in the car going to RVH this morning. He tried to reason with me and assure me that it was okay. “The nurses know what to expect and this time they are even more prepared, Stacey. You will be okay.”
“I know. I know that in my head, but tell that to my heart” I said. “I know you are right. I am just scared.”
Kevin and I arrived at RVH in good time and were ushered into chair 18- right beside the nursing station. This is similar to the teaching world when you have a student who needs to be watched closely – you put him/her right beside the teacher’s desk. I knew I was in trouble. At least, I thought this meant trouble.
I was one of the first patients to arrive and so it was quiet. The nurses had arrived even earlier to double and triple check meds and make sure that they knew who was arriving that day for treatment and what needed to be done. My cute little hospital volunteer came around almost immediately and offered me something to eat or drink. She recognized me from the time before and I recognized her. “Not right now, thanks” I replied. “But maybe later I’d like an herbal tea, if you don’t mind.”
“Well, we have hot water, but no herbal tea.”
“I’ll get you some from downstairs, Stacey. You know the Benadryl is cold and so it would be nice to have a hot tea then.” offered Kevin. (bless him!)
While Kevin and I were discussing tea and other goodies, my nurse from the previous session (Kim) entered the room. “We have everything all ready for you this time Stacey, so that you will not react. I already talked to Anne, your nurse today, and told her your history. Now, be a good girl – no reaction today!” said Kim. She smiled and her smile was very reassuring.
“I will be good” I said. Meanwhile, Anne wrapped my arm with a warm compress to try to pop a vein. My veins are certainly not the veins I came into RVH with two months ago. Chemo batters and bruises them so it makes it difficult to stick a pic line into them. Anne knew what to do – and within minutes found another vein and budda-boom-budda-bing – the pic line was in and I was getting locked and loaded for my saline “flush”.
“We are ready to go – how are you doing, Stacey”? asked Anne.
“Better thanks – let’s do this thing!” I said.
We all hunkered down and prepared for the what I thought would be my eight-hour session.
Within half an hour, I was ready for my Taxil— the one I reacted to the last time. I watched the clock. Five minutes went by – nothing. Ten minutes went by – nothing. It was dripping at half speed so I figured the reaction would happen later if it were to happen at all. Fifteen, then 20 minutes – nothing. I had to go pee (they pump a lot of fluids into you!). I figured if nothing had happened within 30 minutes, I was good to go. I really had to pee. Twenty-five minutes later, I asked Kevin to get me ready – needed to unplug the pump from the wall and get my shoes on. Boom – 30 minutes in and…. nothing. Off I went.
I will never forget how good I felt when I came back to my chair. An empty bladder does wonders – but so does the relief of having no reaction. I felt great. Tired but great. I tried to read – couldn’t focus. Was it the Benedryl or the cocktail of steroids that clouded my head? I didn’t care – I just closed my eyes. I was so content. The nurses cranked up my pump to nearly full speed. Nothing. No reaction. What a feeling. I guess I had been more anxious than I had thought.
I opened my eyes when Kevin commented, “Oh, no! We don’t want any” or something that teased my high-school friend Cathy as she poked her head around the corner for a visit.
She laughed and caught my eye. “Oh, you remembered, Cathy” I said. “It is so good to see you again!” Cathy and I used to chum around in high school but, as is often the case, lost touch when we went of to university and then life. She and I happened to catch up with each other on face-book only weeks before my rounds of chemo began and so we attempted to catch up. Having cancer causes you to slow down and to really work on friendships that should have been attended to a long time ago. This is a good side-effect of cancer, for sure! In any case, we had a great chat – she brought me a pickle. Yup. A pickle. Cathy, too, likes puns and on one of our face-book conversations we punned about pickles. (Don’t ask me why). She also explained about the German tradition her family had whereby a glass pickle – like mine- was hid in the Christmas tree. Whoever finds it first has good luck for the year -and even gets another gift. Who knew?
“Stacey”, she said. “I told the RVH communications about you being one of the first patients in the gynecology – oncology program and told “Jamie” that you were coming here today. Would you be willing to do an interview with him to use in promotions for commercials, pamphlets, and flyers?”
“Well – it seems I may not have needed the Benedryl this morning as that just set my heart-rate sky-rocketing.” I replied. “I guess I can’t make up an excuse that I need to do my hair.” I joked. “If it is a way I can give back for all the excellent care I have received, then how can I refuse”?
“That’s how I would look at it too. I’ll give Jamie a call.” And so she did.
Meanwhile, another friendly face popped his head around the corner: Martin Langmuir had come to visit. Martin had been a dear friend of my Mom and Dad’s and had I had known him as a second – brother of sorts for nearly 40 years. Martin is a an extraordinary man and I will never forget how happy he made my Dad in Dad’s twilight years – days. As Dad aged and after Mom passed away, most of his friends stopped coming around. I am certain they felt uncomfortable with him as Dad did not joke or speak much in the end. Most people feel they are imposing, or awkward – not knowing how to speak. Not Martin. He visited Dad at least once a week – and sometimes twice. They would share some wine and tell stories. Martin did most of the talking – but was patient when Dad tried to get his words out. Martin never forgot about Dad – and he was there when Dad passed away. Martin is a very special friend and I think he feels he needs to take care of me the same way. Although he battled cancer himself and heart troubles – he came to see me in chemo.
Today was a day of visitors… while I was talking to Cathy and Martin and Kevin and of course the nurses, Jamie arrived. I immediately looked to see the camera and breathed a sigh of relief when I didn’t see one. “Oh, I use my phone” he explained.
“Oh – I sighed”.
“Are you okay to do this” Jamie inquired.
“It is always better to be spontaneous.”
“I have some questions for you to help.”
“Okay”. I realized I was being very talkative – off to a good start.
And so it began. I was nervous and self-conscious. I was out of practice. I forget to tell him things about my husband who is my rock. I forgot to tell him about my friends who either text or write me everyday. I forgot to tell him about my warrior sweater, my visit from Ben, and how little David explained to me that he was lonely because no one at school understood what he was going through. I guess one always “remembers” what should have been said afterwards. At least this is how Kevin explained it to me after I told him how sorry I was that I hadn’t sung his praises to the camera. “That’s okay, Stacey. I don’t need you to do that” was his response. How sweet.
Well – what I didn’t see were Cathy’s tears as I remembered to Jamie when, for the first time, I learned of my diagnosis. I didn’t see Martin and Kevin’s smiles when I recounted how Dr. Dodge had assured me that he “could help me”. I didn’t realize that the nurses, especially Kim, were interested in hearing more about my journey and wanted the blog address. I was so nervous and tongue-tied (and conscious about the space in my teeth – but that is another story) that I don’t remember much else that I said at all.
“I think we have a poster-child for our new program” announced Cathy.
“Oh, good grief, Cathy” I responded in shock. How could a woman with a pronounced space between her two front teeth, a woman who is bald and hooked up to a chemo machine be a poster child???
In any case – it had been an adventure and I was happy. It was a good day. I had had my morning walk and talk with Kevin, I did not react to my chemo, I had some wonderful visitors and texts that made me feel loved and supported, and I was able to give back to the hospital. No need for Ativan today, sitting in Chair 17.