This month was harrowing. Before a person starts this particular chemotherapy, there are a few things that have to be done:
- Pulmonary Function Test - so they know your heart can take it
- Port Insertion - this involves putting a central line into your aorta
- ENT Dr. - for a hearing check so they know your function before/after and can detect issues
- Chemo Training - this is where they tell you what to expect over the next nine weeks
Our first major red flag was serious bruising around the port area. It was bad. Several nurses commented on it, and a couple asked if my husband was on any kind of blood thinners (he wasn't, of course). My hackles rose, and so did his. We exchanged "looks." If you're close with someone, you both know this means you're going to talk about it later and over-examine it to death.
Now, after you get a port, you can't get the area wet (shower) for at least seven days. Keep this in mind as we trudge forward. After ten days, you can remove the butterfly stitches holding the insertion area closed.
His chest was sore as hell. If we'd known/been told that it would be that bad, he would've gotten it put in a lot sooner so it would've had time to heal a little before they started poking it.
It was accessed for the first time the next Monday. They had to stick it twice to get blood return, and the nurse wasn't gentle. At all. He'd been bathing out of a bucket, and he didn't get the area wet at ALL. We were super careful in order to avoid infection.
Chemo training taught us all about care of the port, and we were told about foods to avoid, foods that might be good, and things to watch out for. We were also given an emergency number card to reach the on-call doctor. Just in case.
A few things you have to be cautious of are:
- Vomiting that won't stop
I shopped for foods I thought he might be able to keep down and that wouldn't taste bad. All the spices in my cabinet were ignored except salt. I also ordered FIT fruit and veggie wash, because everything you cook HAS to be cleaned thoroughly. Chicken broth was stocked up on. Friends sent masks, gloves, and other little care package items like sanitation wipes and chocolate Ensure.
We were ready (we thought).
Monday, February 20, 2017, we got up early and headed for the treatment center. Both of us were nervous, but I'd packed us lunch and some snacks, and we were prepared to work from there. Laptops and other things were in abundance. I probably looked like a crazy person with as many bags as I was carrying.
Once we got there, he signed in and we waited, nervous. Crazy nervous. We didn't know what to expect.
They weighed him, took his BP, and accessed his port (see note above) to draw some blood before releasing us into the ward for treatment. I grabbed a rolling desk, and he set up his laptop. A nurse came over with the bloodwork results, and she said he was good to go before explaining exactly what she was going to give him.
Steroids, anti-nausea drugs, potassium, and fluids were all given before the etoposide and cisplatin (those last two only took an hour each). We got there at 7:30am and we left at 4pm. Not kidding.
He was feeling fine, and dinner that night was a carefully constructed rice and chicken meal. I seasoned everything with only salt and chicken broth. No vomiting. Yay! He wasn't even feeling sick, but we didn't want to set anything off with seasonings of ANY kind. Better to be safe than sorry.
This repeated for the next four days. 8-4 treatment, and a bland dinner to follow. Here are some of the things I cooked (remember, just salt and/or chicken broth for seasoning):
- Steak and simple salad (dressing was oil and vinegar)
- Pasta with plain butter sauce and tomatoes
- Pan fried chicken (vegetable oil only--no flour or anything--naked) with chicken stock rice and fresh green beans also cooked in chicken stock
- Soup with fresh veggies, leftover chicken, and chicken stock
- Pork chops with rice and gravy with beef stock (he didn't like the flavor of the beef stock by this point, so he went with naked rice) and a side salad
By that Thursday, it hit him. He wasn't interested in food very much at all. He ate what he could, but he was more interested in the Ensure than anything else. Grapes, bananas, and apples were a Godsend. He loved them.
For breakfast, we'd gotten into a rhythm that included some kind of bread item before we left for chemo. Lunches I packed him always had fruit and Nature Valley granola bars (the plain honey oat ones). There was plenty of ginger ale at the treatment center, too.
Friday, February 24, 2017, after five infusions, he was tired, nauseated, and achy. Not to mention the pain he was experiencing in the port they'd been sticking all week or the fact that he still couldn't shower.
He laid in bed all weekend. Even the anti-nausea drugs they prescribed weren't cutting it, but I pressed the heck out of him to keep drinking fluids.
It was scary as hell. This strong, capable man had been reduced to a sleeping pile of goo in just five days.
We stuck to our schedule of breakfast, and he ate every morning whether he felt like it or not. He knew as well as I did that he needed something in his stomach besides chemo drugs.
Tuesday, we headed back to the infusion center for another round of bleomycin. Shockingly, he was actually starting to feel better. As the days passed, his wellness continued upward. He was feeling so much better by the time he was due to start round two, we thought it might not be nearly as bad as we expected.
Boy, were we wrong.
Round 2 (March) will be discussed Monday. I'm taking the weekend to recharge.
If you're getting ready to care for someone going through this, try and remember to wash everything, use bar soap on your hands always, and cook bland food. If you're the one about to go through it, try and be gentle with your caretaker, and don't fight them when they try to get you to do something. Open communication is the only way you're both going to survive it.
Until next time!