Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Update: first session of chemotherapy and radiation

Tuesday, April 3rd marked the first day of my Chemotherapy and Radiation treatment at The James Graham Brown Cancer Center. The Center is part of the U of L Health Care system and places a huge focus on the collaboration between their oncologists, cancer researchers, and clinical trials.
 My appointment was for 12:30 noon, which allowed me to take care of some personal business first involving the transfer and license plates of a jeep recently acquired from a very good friend. After a long wait at the DMV, a quick lift from another friend (named Ed Hiemer whose amazing mechanic skills made this possible) I finally got the jeep to my place and hooked up with my new assistant Jennifer Shanklyn who was my ride and support to the chemo / rad session.

Jennifer and I arrived perfectly on time and had a short wait with others who were scheduled for their own sessions as well. Jennifer maintained an amazing wit and attitude that made the wait far less scary that it otherwise might have been.

My name was finally called and Jennifer went with me as I navigated through the routine weighing and check-up before at last being shown to The Chair where I'd spend the next 5 hours. Part of the prolonged time was due to this being my first visit and the additional blood tests as part of the RTOG control group trial.

 I took my designated chair and the nurse proceeded with the ritual of disclosure and then the process of inserting the IV needle through the skin into the port implanted in my chest.  Although I'd brought a fun little book to read (How to Man Up), Jennifer surprised me with a copy of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. 
 Actually reading material is available in copious amounts in the chemo clinic. Bookshelves abound with a variety of genres and there is even a small kitchen with a wide selection of juices, coffee, and snacks. Each Chair has its own TV mounted on an opposing wall and the environment is much more hospitable than I'd hoped it would be. But the mood of the clinic is what you'd expect from the seriousness of each patient's purpose and treatment. There is a somber quiet and even the patients with guests seem to take refuge in self-imposed solitude and silence.

I decided to save the books for later and busied myself reading all the labels and medical warnings on everything I could lay my hands on.

 As my attention focused on the drugs flowing into me I heard something that I couldn't believe at first. It was music, soft and low, the sound of a live performer on cello. My mind immediately went to my daughter Courtenay. She is amazingly talented musically and the cello is her instrument, and for a moment all the memories of her high school recitals and her late night rehearsals in her room came back to me. I looked around for the source of the cello and saw a man seated in the hall with a cello playing for the patients. I can't express how that simple music brought me strength as I thought about my daughter, my son, my family all so far away. At last the performer ended and moved on to another part of the clinic.

Jennifer sensed my change of mood and immediately began engaging me with wild and random topics about films, books, and murder mysteries. It was then that another friend arrived and suddenly our three-way conversation became a comedy improve as we debated coffee for chemo patients, the effects of drugs, and a hundred random things. The effect on the people in the other nearby chairs was amazing as we all joined in some pretty loud and weird conversations.

At last my friends had to leave due to their own schedules, and everyone around me expressed great disappointment when a somber silence filled the void. We all returned to whatever personal books or mp3 players or television programs that passed for our respective walls of privacy.

 At last my chemo injection came to an end and it was time for my radiation treatment. I was taken to the basement radiology center. It was a brief but fascinating experience as I lay in the center of a massive machine that moved around me like something out of a science fiction film.

At last my sessions were complete and yet another friend who happens to work nearby arrived to give me a lift home.

A nap later and here I am updating my blog. All in all today was an interesting start to this process.  The treatments were surprisingly non-painful, just psychologically exhausting.  There has been mild dizziness and nausea tonight, but I emphasize it has been very mild.  The most stressful thing today was returning home and discovering I'd forgotten to send in a utility bill last week and my water service has been shut off.   This is a minor thing and I intend to take care of it when I go downtown tomorrow for my next radiation treatment.

- Todd


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  2. I'm glad you have some awesome friends there helping you during this! W00t to them!! You are in my thoughts and I wish for you an endless supply of strength for your battle.

    Rob La Cross