Friday, June 8, 2007

Chemo Is Hell

Friday, June 08, 2007

I have to say, chemo is so much worse than I anticipated. I don't know why, because it's not like I didn't hear that it was awful. The oncologist said it when I first met with him – "You're going to be pretty miserable," were his exact words. I guess maybe you just cannot believe it until you feel it.

So here's what it's like.

I go for treatment on Thursday morning. This phase (Adriamycin-Cytoxin or AC) takes about an hour and a half. The next phase will be Taxol and that takes much longer; the Taxol itself is a 3-hour drip and there are things that happen first, so it might be closer to four. When I get home from the treatment, I feel kind of weird and woozy but okay; I generally can eat a reasonable lunch and a small dinner with a friend.

When I get up on Friday morning, I want coffee, the last time that will happen for some days. I drink the coffee, eat some fruit and yogurt, go for a walk, and don't usually feel the need to nap until late afternoon. If it's a Women in Black Friday, I can go and stand there for an hour and get home okay.

Friday evening is like waiting for a train wreck you saw in a dream. I think I can feel the poison working its way into all my systems. By that time, the steroid they gave me in the office has pretty much worn off. I'm uninterested in eating and starting to feel queasy, despite the best anti-nausea meds they've given me. I lie around and try to convince myself I am not going to be as sick as I was the last time.

Saturday and Sunday I'm a zombie. I sleep about two-thirds of the time, and the rest is filled with being bad company to the friends who come over, taking short walks, fighting the waves of nausea and trying to eat and drink small amounts. I can't handle talking on the phone. My eyes won't focus well enough to read, though sometimes I can do part of a crossword puzzle, so I just sort of drift through movies or whatever is on TV. I wake up several times a night and fight against throwing up. The times I lost, I felt better after, but that doesn't seem to be something you can remember in the moment. This last round, I managed not to throw once, which feels like a victory.

Monday is absolutely the worst day, because I am almost better but not really. I have to go get a shot, and I like to walk over there, which is about ¾ of a mile or so. Someone usually walks with me, we wait a few minutes in the doctor's office, the shot takes no time and then we walk back. This past week, we stopped for lunch at a cafĂ© a few blocks from my house, but about 15 minutes after we sat down, I was nodding off against the window. I got home and pretty much fell down on the couch, slept for most of an hour, got up, went to acupuncture, fell asleep with the needles in me, woke up feeling a little better, got home, slept.

By Tuesday, I think I should be able to do things, and I can, but I cannot do as much as I think I can. Those are the days I get so frustrated, because I'll be feeling okay, and then suddenly I feel awful. My energy just plunges, like someone siphoned all the gas out of your car right after you filled it up. Once I was standing in line at the grocery store, and I broke out in a cold sweat because I suddenly felt I couldn't stand up one more second. This time, I went to a meeting and then a demonstration, in San Francisco, and there was a cold wind which made it feel like I was trying to move through sand. I suddenly felt like I had to have protein, so a friend and I went for Vietnamese food, which helped. But then I got into the BART station and the readout said there wouldn't be an East Bay train for ten minutes, and I nearly burst into tears. I COULD NOT wait that long. As it turned out, there was one in five minutes, I made it home, and it was okay.

Then starts the period of waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep. I'm not sure what causes that, the drugs themselves, or the nausea meds or the effect of having slept so much of the previous five or six days, but it is totally irritating. While I'm awake at night, I am fighting nausea, and all the anxiety over things I think I should be doing, that I don't feel up to doing yet, crashes in. Then of course, I get up in the morning not feeling rested, and that means I won't be able to make the most of these days when my energy is pretty good. I do have wild dreams that I remember more than I usually remember my dreams.

On Thursday, when I told the nurse I had been nauseous for two weeks, she said very few women are nauseous in the second week. Well, I really envy those who aren't. I am nauseous all the time and by the end of the first week, I have nothing very good to take, plus I am just sick of having so many different drugs in my system, wreaking havoc with my plumbing and making me feel like I'm in a fog, and so I decide I will not even take what I have, and I just walk around feeling disgusting. I get hungry, but nothing seems at all appealing so I don't eat until my body just demands something.

My acupuncturist encourages me not to worry right now about a "good diet" but just eat whatever I can handle. I seem to crave fruit and I can eat it with yogurt, which Susun Weed claims cures nausea – it doesn't seem to do it for me, but I like it and it is good for protein and nutrients. Other than that, I use bread and rice cakes to break through the worst nausea, and sometimes I seem to crave tofu, which I'm supposed to be avoiding because of the phytoestrogens, which might or might not feed the estrogen-sensitive cancer, but I'm not worrying about that right now because I don't eat that much of it and it doesn't seem likely that cancer can be growing in me now when nothing else is.

One of my friends has a coworker who recently finished chemo, and she told my friend the other day that it was so awful she started to hallucinate. It helped me so much to hear that! Because so many people have told me "it's not that bad," or tried to inspire me with stories of friends of theirs who worked every day, which has the opposite effect of what they intend, making me feel that I'm just not tough enough.

While nauseated and not being able to sleep last night, I flashed on what it would be like if I were dealing with this in prison - that based on having said to my niece that I would give anything to be back in immigration prison right now. But of course, I did not mean with cancer (and I didn't really mean it anyway). Anyway, just the thought gave me chills; I cannot get it out of my head. I concluded I would want to die. I am so miserable, and yet I am so privileged. I just can't imagine it in the circumstances at least 90% of people getting chemo are in.