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Friday, January 30, 2009

Medicine & Independence (Blog 9)

Here is where I need to back up in my documentation of the facts as I can recall them. Most of my nurses have, at one point or another, innocently and noncommittally hinted that maaaaaybe, at times, marijuana helps to alleviate those unbearable chemo symptoms. I’ve also had professional, suit-wearing, slightly older women friends suggest with straight faces that “If you can get your hands on some, I’ll make you pot brownies.” After one particularly difficult day riddled with side-effects, I DID get my hands on some herbal supplements. My official mule (damn, I have so much street cred now) obtained it from a gentleman whose mother is suffering, un-medicated, from the effects of breast cancer; he thus holds a soft spot in his heart for me and others going through this. On a side note: when I mentioned this topic to an upper management, straight-laced friend of mine in a text message, he suggested that I check out Whole Foods for “herbal remedies.” Within seconds he responded that he is, in fact, a dork and realized right as he hit “send” that I was referring to the illegal variety. To this day I still harangue and torment him about his adorable naïveté.  In his honor, the next time I’m at Sun Harvest for some all-natural produce I’ll also ask the stocker where the ganja aisle has gone….
It is important that I make this point that it is widely documented that pot has no recreational effects on cancer patients. By that, I mean that it may be some “really good #$^!,” but the cancer patient will only experience homeostasis. If lucky, we will feel “normal” again—perhaps a tiny bit relaxed, but nothing to the extent of what our partners-in-crime are relishing. I wasn’t sure if that would be the case for me but, after having tested this theory a few times, I can vouch that it is, in fact, true. I’ve shared my “score” with others who have marveled at its potency, simmered in its wonderfully therapeutic effects, and thanked me for the especially delightful visit. They have been known to eagerly tear open and polish off bags of chips, boxes of mozzarella sticks, and goldfish crackers while I have been relieved to finally eat a whole bowl of soup. FYI: these are not bragging rites as I have gained about 12 lbs since starting treatment. Lose 20, gain 12—yes, I want to maim the medical assistant when she announces in that annoyingly chipper voice how fat I have, in fact, become. Anywayyyy….this latest discovery is the platform upon which I board the soapbox of medical marijuana. As I write this, I have transitioned from a measly, pathetic state of hating the world, the nausea, the insufferable fatigue, and my body into a state of total, utter, blissful normalcy. Whereas others might seek to achieve a wonderful, trippy high, I only expect to reacquaint with the mediocre, pre-cancerous Sarah. BFF/Chosen Sister
Speaking of people who go out of their way to help out a malignant sister, I have amazing friends. You know those people who claim to have 13 “best friends” and seem to collect more “best friends” wherever they go? Yeah, that’s not me. I have a generous handful of true, meaningful, life-long compadres who will undoubtedly support me in whatever life presents me—and vice-versa. My absolute bestie, Judy, was scheduled to fly in from Denver for my next chemo on Tuesday, October 28th and stay until Sunday, November 2nd. In spite of my horrendous impending treatment, we were so excited to spend five nights of uninterrupted girl time watching cheesy chick flicks, doing manis/pedis/facials, and discussing global politics (riiiiiight). I knew she hadn’t been feeling well the day before, but Judes called me on Monday in tears--clearly straining to talk--explaining that she was officially too sick to travel. Both her doctor and her mother, a former nurse, said that A) her body couldn’t last two plane rides and B) no cancer patient, with their pathetic-to-nonexistent immune systems, could survive her latest plague. 

Despite the $300 plane ticket, there was no way she could come. I completely understood and empathized with her physical condition, then immediately got on the phone to try to recruit a backup ride to and from treatment. Most of my friends work in professional environments and are committed to various meetings weeks in advance. This fact was not lost and me and I was therefore not surprised that 36 hours notice wasn’t going to cut it. Because I’m so damn independent and stubborn, I gave up early and decided that this one was going to be all me. This would be my first official go-it-alone, independent woman, I-don’t-need-no-stinkin’-help round of chemo. My partner-in-crime and number one supporter, my mom, was devastated that she couldn’t be here (she was babysitting my nephew) but I reassured her that it would be fine. After all, and despite the fact that I slept in her bed the last time she was here, I am a grown-ass woman. 
To the chagrin of my chemo nurses who now expect some crazy allergic reaction and the possibility of paramedic-accompanied hospitalization/biophysical drama from yours truly, I arrived solo, Allure “Best of Beauty” edition in hand. To get through every chemo, I take along with me a tote bag that contains the following: “Granny blanket”—a warm wool, crocheted cream, blue, and brown blankie that enables its artist, my now-16-years-deceased maternal grandmother, to physically wrap me in her warmth (as I know she is in spirit); whatever books I’m reading (right now: “New Moon,” “The Life of Elizabeth I,” and “1776,”); at least one girly mag; my lunch, and my all-important cell phone (I require my friends to entertain me during this bi-weekly, hellacious boredom. Thank you to Adam for the gay jokes, to Rene’ for the mobile trivia, and to everyone else for the phone calls). Aside from the usual anti-nausea drugs and saline, my chemo nurses opted to not infuse me with the traditional pre-chemo meds. This would be a maiden voyage: we would all see if I could finally tolerate my chemo cocktail sans Benadryl and other infusions purposed to stave off allergic reactions.
Prior to hitting the infusion room, I had an appointment with my oncologist. She explained to me that, due to the past issues I’ve had both during and after each chemo (recall the severe anaphylactic shocks, infections, fevers, etc.), I was in it for a “tough ride.” By that she meant that, while she still projects a successful remission circa March or April, I will likely encounter battles along the way in the form of viruses, infections, and other reactions. In other words: expect both illness and recovery, setbacks and success, blah, blah, blah…..
Yet, despite the profoundly depressing “pep talk,” my chemo was administered without incident. I came, saw, and conquered, then proceeded to sleep for the rest of the afternoon and for the next three days. My mom arrived on Friday, wine and homemade goodies in tow, in anticipation of my usual nausea and lethargy. While she had been babysitting my nephew when my sister-in-law attended a business conference and my brother worked full-time, she was relieved of her beloved Mimi duties (she is NOT to be called grandma, thankyouverymuch) that morning. For two days we ran light errands, watched bad TV, and spent usual quality mother/daughter time together. Words cannot adequately express my love for that strong, resilient, compassionate, selfless woman!
That Saturday a particularly fun friend from book club dropped by with a stack of novels to keep me occupied for a few future bedridden weeks. (Side note: Although I can read a substantial novel every 2-3 weeks, she gives me entirely too much credit. As of a few days ago she was offering to bring an additional stack in case I was ready for more). Nancy also pledged bring food for me this and every Tuesday thereafter while her daughter was taking piano lessons nearby, a particularly convenient setup considering I have chemo every other Wednesday. Since my mom left on Sunday and I was too sick to even sit in a church pew that morning or to attend church group that night, and I spent Monday in much the same capacity (which would be incapacitated), I had totally forgotten about said Tuesday plans. Instead, I was mindlessly watching the election when Nancy knocked on my door with a full bag of treasures containing milk, peach turnovers, and bananas, as well as homemade goodies including fruit punch, granola, Italian soup, and potstickers. She stayed to chat for about a half-hour (boys, politics, healthcare, etc.) then left to fetch Hannah while I was left to muse at her generosity—particularly after the sudden de-friending that had occurred only a few weeks prior. What a way to restore my faith in friendship: People will never cease to amaze and surprise me.
Mama Jackie arrived again on November 11th and I had chemo again on November 12th.  Since apparently I am cursed that nothing is supposed to go as planned, it was no surprise that my port, implanted into my chest back in September, was not working properly. While the MA/phlebotomist could get a needle into it without problem, they couldn’t withdraw blood—an imperative in chemotherapy in order to ensure that the medication is administered properly. Nothing seemed to work: neither Heparin, nor raising my right arm above my head, nor hunching over and flexing my upper body like the Incredible Hulk and coughing loudly—a last resort trick of sorts. I finally asked the phlebotomist if I could recruit a nurse to administer bust-a-clot (that’s what I call it, anyway; I think doctors like to call it Tissue Plasminogen Activator (TPA) or something fancy like that…. but that’s just a guess, clearly). After waiting another hour for the TPA to work, we could finally continue with drawing labs and starting pre-medication fluids. HOWEVER, when we were eventually escorted to my doctor’s exam room, she glanced at the lab results and it was bad news: my blood counts had fallen to a dangerous level. Not only would I have to come back the following week for a blood count check, but, thanks to my Mom’s usually-faltering-but-somehow-now-miraculously-sharp memory, I would have to get a flu shot that day as well. YEE HA!
After settling into one of the pleather recliners in the chemo room, I was doing my usual eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations (one crestfallen elderly gentleman was informed that, not only would he not be getting treatment that day, but he was being admitted to the hospital for observation…such a bummer). Just as the chatter started becoming dull, two interesting characters I recognized from the lobby swaggered their way toward a set of chairs across from me. Since one of them had been called back to the lab just after I was, I recalled that his name, in all its glory, was Elvis. Elvis, however, was neither middle-aged, nor a hip-shakin’ rockabilly, nor white. That hardly matters at all considering we see all colors, religions, shapes, sizes, and personal style variations within those ethnically diverse Northeast San Antonio walls. That said, Elvis put on quite a show for us when he proceeded to slide his left hand down his baggy pants (past the “safe zone” mind you) to intently scratch himself. Sometimes, the scratching took on a slight deviation when he used his other hand to then…ummm...shift. Like a solar eclipse, as much as we tried to look away we were drawn back to the phenomenon even though common sense and 20/20 vision thanks to corrective lenses told us to look away. Elvis was apparently only there for an injection and was thus treated rather quickly before being sent on his way, leaving me All Shook Up. My nurse du jour, Michelle, came back over to administer my flu shot when my mom and I asked her if she typically has the pleasure of treating Elvis when he graces them with his presence. Instinctively, she rolled her eyes and shot me a withering stare. “Whyyyyyy…..? What did he do now???” That sent my mom and I into a fit of hysteria before calmly explaining in gory detail the free admission to his private show.
I spent the rest of the afternoon doing odds and ends around the apartment and making dinner—a killer chicken enchilada dish I saw on Oprah a few weeks ago—before crashing into bed around 7:30. That is correct: my bedtime is awesomely that of a 7-year-old’s. Before you get jealous, I should inform you that I then woke up at 11:45 pm with an intense need to throw up before remembering that this is a chemo side effect, albeit a day earlier than usual. I breathed through it and sipped on some water, then went back to sleep before doing it all over again at 2:00 AM (only that time with the pleasure of actually heaving into the toilet). I forced myself up at 8:00 and spent the next two days sleeping and watching TV. My life rocks.

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