Yesterday (May 17), I had my first four-hour session of chemotherapy to treat my Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
It began on a positive note, as my doctor informed me that my bone marrow screen had come back negative, meaning the cancer had not spread there and I would not need to extend my chemo treatments.
After a nice quiet weekend of sampling the finer things in life, my wife and I were ready to begin treatment, which will not only kill cancer but other rapidly dividing cells like taste buds, hair follicles, sperm and blood cells.
With the looming loss of taste buds on the horizon, my wife cooked me one of my favorite dishes on Saturday night, Spanish Paella, which was enjoyed, of course, with some fine Spanish wine.
Sunday morning began with a big breakfast of bacon and eggs, and ended with BBQ and a sampling of fine beers.
Come Monday morning, we were eager to begin treatment, since the sooner it began, the sooner it would end. We met my mother, who lives two hours away in the Bangor area, in the parking lot of the Maine Center For Cancer Medicine at 8:30 a.m. on a beautiful, crystal clear day.
The nurse ushered us into an examintion room, and tested my newly installed mediport. She sprayed the area with a substance that froze and numbed the skin, counted to three and jabbed the IV into the port, which made a popping sound, but was otherwise painless. She then flushed the port with some saline solution. It worked perfectly, she said, so they will no longer have to stick my veins with needles to draw blood – a relief to someone who does not like needles.
The treatment area at MCCM is an open, semi-private room, with cubical-type walls that are high enough to give patients some privacy but low enough where the attentive and kind nursing staff can keep a close eye on the more dozen patients being treated at any one time.
My nurse guided me to a large leather recliner and began my treatment by giving me intravenous steroids and two different anti-nausea medications.
They were kind enough to delay administering my chemotherapy to ensure I could get in touch with a Virginia-based sperm bank, to ensure that my swimmers had arrived safe and sound. The prospect on not being able to have children after treatment was the most difficult part to deal with. The finality of it. But, I’m proud to report, there are six viles of potential Billingses in a cyrogenic facility awaiting our withdrawal.
Once confirmed, I was ready for my first taste of the chemo-cocktail known as AVBD. The first medication came in the form of a large syringe of Vinblastine. After that injection, the nurse hooked me up to a bright orange toxin called, Andriamycin. It looked like the fruit punch Gatorade that I was drinking at the time. Later so did my urine, which was kind of cool.
Like the Andriamycin, the third toxin, Bleomycin, only took about 15 minutes to be pumped into my body. After that, a large bag of Decarbazine was hooked up to the drip. That one took about two hours to administer.
During that time, my wife, mother and I talked, shared a few laughs and read magazines. The nurses were very attentive, polite and helpful, offering food and beverages as through we were in a restaurant, rather than a cancer treatment center.
I could also pick up on a few conversations. An old couple next us discussed the pros and cons of medicinal marijuana, while a female voice from across the room said, presumably to her husband, “We may as well enjoy everyday we have together. No matter how many.”
About three-quarters of the way through treatment, my wife remarked that I lost some color in my face. Later, my mother remarked that I had lost ALL color in my face.
Meanwhile, I was surprised by how often I had to use the restroom. Luckily, my IV machine had wheels.
After the first treatment I was a little tired, but regained some energy and color after eating lunch. When I got home, the fatigue returned, along with a hint of nausea, so I took a pill, pulled a chair into the sun on my deck and softly strummed my ukulele, nearly playing myself to sleep. (This morning, I found that I should have used sunscreen, especially with my extra pale skin. That was odd, seeing how my skin usually does not burn, only browns to enviable hues – or so I’m told.)
I didn’t really feel bad after the treatment, only off. It felt as though there was something buzzing in my veins and a peculiar sensation in my stomach. I drank glasses on glasses of water, as instructed, to flush my body of the toxins. I briefly wondered how this might affect the ground water.
For dinner, I could only eat a little bowl of the homemade macaroni and cheese my sister-in-law brought over. Although I couldn’t touch the chicken, my wife and mother gobbled it up like sea gulls.
Despite being tired, I had a hard time sleeping throughout the night. There was a certain restlessness permeating my body, which knew that it was full of substances that do not belong there.
The doctor said the steroid would give me energy and appetite for two to three days following treatment. She said I could expect to be overcome with fatigue once it wears off.
Shortly before beginning treatment.
After being asked several times by family how I was feeling after treatment started, I decided to mug for the camera. Another moment of levity.