Hodgkin’s Lymphoma requires a chemo regimen of ABVD drugs for 6 cycles. A cycle consists of two sessions of chemo per month. Therefore, this whole process should take six months if my body responds completely to the treatment.
I must admit that I was looking forward to the first treatment. Not in the “woohoo CHEMO!” type of excitement but in the “I just need to know what I am going to be facing for six months” type of anticipation. I hate not knowing. I hate being in the dark and out of control. Leading up to the first session was the dark and I just wanted at least a damn flashlight. Although the nerves were definitely there, how can they not be when the whole idea is pumping poison into your body that typically elicits severe nausea, I was most ready to get this step in the whole process over with.
I woke up at my regular school time, even though my appointment wasn’t until 9:00. Some habits are difficult to break. I didn’t eat anything because my friend told me that the nausea had been much easier to handle on an empty stomach. I took my first of many stomach protection pills, drank some chamomile tea for inflammation prevention, and packed my chemo bag.
Kim's Chemo Bag: 1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 2. Ipad with two feel-good movies and four episodes of The Good Place 3. Velvet Lisa Frank coloring pad from Katie's mom's care package 4. Silly Putty and Rubik's Cube also from Katie's mom 5. Spanish verbs workbook in case I was feeling brainy and motivated 6. Pencil/Pen case 7. Thermos filled with Chamomile ice cubs to suck on during chemo 8. Water bottle Things to add next time: A sweater, fuzzy socks, snacks for Mom (even when she says she doesn't want them), and more coloring books.
Mom and I hopped the 121 bus because I am too stubborn to take a freaking Uber when I don’t have to. Plus, I wanted to show her the bus that takes us to the hospital in case she ever needed to meet me there. It was a little rainy and gross yesterday, which meant the walk to the hospital from the stop was going to be a pain. Nevertheless, we got on the bus and the fun began. I am used to the crowded morning buses in Montevideo, but Mom was not. It was definitely not her cup of tea. Every person on, every sneeze, I could feel her tense. It was as if she could visibly see all of the germs flying full speed directly at me. Now, I get my immune system is going to be down and I need to be more careful, but I am still a firm believer that our bodies are made to be more defensive when we give them moments to defend. Needless to say, I will be taking an Uber when I am with her from now on. No promises when I am sola.
Chemo takes place in day care. I can literally say that I am going to day care! The first nurse, Maria Rosaria was extremely nice and ushered us into a hospital room. She explained that they wanted me in a bed since it was my first time. Just in case something happened, they wanted easy access. The room is fairly small – one bed, two chairs, a roll-away table, and a tv with a private bathroom. Maria Rosaria is the head nurse and she was in charge of giving me all of the dos and don’ts information. Of course in rapid Spanish. I got the main idea, but Mom insisted on recording everything so a real Spanish speaker can help us translate later. I was informed about foods to eat, how much water to drink, protection from the sun, fatigue, how to manage side effects…basically all the things I had already read about on the internet which made translation in my head go much smoother. There was nothing wild that surprised me. We were also handed a pamphlet in Spanish, which Mom has made her mission to google translate and in turn learn some Spanish. Maria Rosaria hooked me up to my IV (obviously the worst part for me…fucking needles) and started the process.
There were a total of 8 drugs I was administered. The first two were given simultaneously. Side Note: These are the Spanish version so you can always look them up if you are curious what they are in your country. Izofran and Dexametasona are anti-nausea. Izofran is also a calming drug, so I was loopy as hell after that one. It felt like I had been sniffing paint fumes all day long. It made me so loopy that I decided it was the perfect time to start a coloring pad that Katie’s mom had sent me in the sweetest care package ever! The colors were AMAZING! I was trippin’ all over the place!
Then came chemo drug number one. This is a super funky one because it is this beautiful bright red. The name is Doxorubicina or Adriamycin. It takes 10 minutes to administer and doesn’t feel like anything. It is administered through a syringe by the nurse directly into the IV line. This one is supposed to make you pee red and boy they were not kidding. I had a little red in my urine at the hospital and then when I woke up this morning it was like the Kool-aid man had blasted through my uterine wall! No wonder they don’t want other people using your toilet!
Blemicina (Blenoxane) takes about 10 minutes through a drip. Again…nothing special with this one.
Vinblastina (Velban) was given in one minute through another syringe injection. This one was a little cold.
Then came the big momma! As soon as I saw the bag wrapped in tin foil, I knew I was in for something interesting. Dacarbazina (DTIC) comes in a red tube but goes in as a clear liquid. This one was the little pisser. I think I am going to print up a groundhog image to put on the bag for this one. First, it takes roughly 2 hours on a good day. Mine took five. More on why in a minute. Second, it burns like a big fat bitch! Think of a hornet’s sting – That pulsating spread of burn away from the initial site. Now make that happen all the way up your arm inside the vein. They had to slow the chemo drip and increase the saline drip to balance out the burn for me. It felt like arm contractions. I was even breathing through it like I was in labor at some points. The worst is that they burn stopped when I rested my arm on my other arm (semi-cross armed style) but the nurse kept getting mad at me because it would stop the flow. So, I had to put my arm down and a little to the side of the bed, which felt like my fingers were losing circulation.
Then came the cold. I was so freaking cold. And I hate being bloody cold. I covered myself in every blanked there was, mom gave me her wrap even though she was cold in the room (the sacrifice of a mother is one of the most beautiful acts in the world), the nurse gave me more blankets and I wore my sweater. Still cold. So I tried to nap a little while mom watched Italian cooking TV. Yes, the Italian station in a Spanish speaking country for and English speaking woman. I know. As soon as I started to get teeth-shattering shivers, the nurses began to act. I was having an allergic reaction to the chemo. They stopped the drip immediately and injected two anti allergens into my IV. BAM! The chills stopped, the pain stopped, and I was immediately back to myself.
We started up again and I was in for two more hours since she had to slow down the drip even more to make sure that I didn’t have another reaction or more pain. The saline wasn’t working right so I needed a little vein enema to get everything started again. That was the strangest sensation – it feels exactly like a vein enema sounds…a whoosh of cold and a smudge of uncomfortable. Mom and I took the opportunity to watch the mindless but cute Netflix movie The Princess Switch (no judgements! We love our mindless feel-good Hallmarks when we need them). We almost got to the end of the film when the IV timer went off. Chemo was finished and I just had to have my veins flushed and some more Izofran to make sure I didn’t get nauseous at home.
And that was that. First chemo done. Piece of cake. I felt a little woozy and clammy at home. Kind of flu-like symptoms. And my tummy was a rumbly but no true nausea. My brain was a bit foggy from the second dose of Izofran. But I was able to eat a little bit and drink lots of water. I passed out around 9:35pm. The whole process was not as bad as I thought it would be. And now I at least know what I am in for these next six months. Take that, Phil! I’ve got my winter coat all ready for you, you little bastard!