12/23/08 -- remember I don't know when my first session is yet.
Chemo Class is designed to answers your questions about what your body will go through and how the treatments will affect you. This is probably the biggest area of concern for anybody starting their journey.
At least for me, this is how the class went down.
My wife and I, along with 2 other couples sit in a room with a nurse, while she goes over the basics of chemo. Everything talked about is in general terms, at this point. Again, the chemo regimens differ for different cancers. Chemo itself is just a catch-all phrase that means "We are going to inject you with chemicals that will indiscriminately kill any fast growing cell in your body. Don't really care what the cell is." As a side note, this is why chemo patients lose their hair. The hair follicle is a fast growing type of cell, so the drugs attack and kill the cell.
If you don't want the details, skip this part.
So what to expect in general terms -- things that CAN occur with any chemo.
- I will be given a blood test before every session to track my blood count, and make sure I'm healthy enough to receive the treatment.
- fatigue (count on some level of this one!)
- Anemia (see above)
- appetite changes (guaranteed)
- avoid blood thinners -- aspirin, advil, motrin, etc... Tylenol = GOOD
- diarrhea -- use Imodium AD
- hair loss
- infections -- CALL THE DOCTOR
- fevers over 100.5 -- CALL THE DOCTOR
- shaking chills
- nausea / vomiting -- if it doesn't subside, CALL THE DOCTOR
- unexplained bruising or bleeding -- your platelet count will be lower than normal
- severe headaches, change in balance -- CALL THE DOCTOR
- pain -- burning, numbness, shooting pain, stomach pain
- itchy, dry skin
- sensitivity to the sun
So, after the general class is over, the nurse takes us back to the actual chemo treatment area, to show us around and get us familiar with the area. No big deal... bunch of medical lounge type chairs in a somewhat large room. The patients are sitting in the chairs with the IVs hanging on those wheeled metal poles next to them.
When the time comes to leave the area, the nurse turns to me and says:
"Mr B., just wait right here, and we'll take your blood."
"For your blood test."
"What blood test?"
"For your chemo."
"What blood test? What chemo?"
At this point the nurse turns around and asks someone else, "Didn't you tell Mr. B?"
I don't wait for a response... "Nobody told me anything. What blood test?... what chemo?"
"Your first session is December 26th."
"We are closed that day, so we won't have the facilities to process your blood results, but the doctor wanted to start you as soon as possible, so we've made different arrangements to have you start on the 26th. Is that OK?"
"Yeah, sure... only we haven't told anybody about this yet, including my wife's family, who are coming for Christmas, and spending the entire weekend. Guess we have to tell them Christmas evening now."
So that's how I learned that my first session would be on the day after Christmas, thanks to some special arrangments.
So after the blood test, the nurse sits with the wife and I to explain the specifics of my chemo. Pretty much expect some/most of the symptoms listed above.