As someone who’s going through chemotherapy, I’ve found that people often want to know what it’s like for me. And when I start to explain it, they typically want to know more. I think it’s natural to be curious and to even have a certain fascination with what I’m experiencing.
And truly, it is fascinating. Even for the cancer patient. At least – for this one. An aunt of mine died of breast cancer when I was a kid, and I’ve learned that quite a bit has changed since then.
Not all breast cancer is the same breast cancer.
Not all breast cancer is the same – so not all chemotherapy is the same. Not these days. About thirty years ago – yes. If you had breast cancer, you went through the same chemical treatment as any other patient with breast cancer. Fortunately, we’ve learned quite a bit in the past decades and that knowledge has changed how it’s treated.
Breast cancer describes only the location. That’s it. There are many kinds of tumors that might be found there. Some grow very slowly and some are highly aggressive. Some are caused or influenced by hormones and some are not. Some tumors are common and some are rare.
So the type of breast cancer determines the chemical cocktail the patient needs. It also determines if the cancer can be beaten without chemotherapy or not. In some cases, radiation is needed. But in all cases, the tumor has to go. It cannot stay.
About my cancer.
The type of cancer I’m currently battling is extremely aggressive and it’s also very rare. When the doctors talk to me about it, they can’t help but show how excited they are. They are, in fact, scientists, and my funky tumor calls out to their secret Mad Scientist to come and play.
It’s their love of science that’s going to save my bacon, so their not-at-all-hidden excitement with the rarity of my cancer is a good thing. I’m like a hobby. Saving my life is fun!
Port or no port?
I have a port, or chemo port. Not everyone with breast cancer needs one of these. If they don’t, they get a regular IV. My port was surgically installed just below my collar bone, which means I’m a little bit of a cyborg! It also means I don’t have to go through this looking like a junkie.
I am extremely grateful for the existence of my port. When I did a bit of research to see who I should thank for this nifty thing, I discovered it’s something that has slowly been developed by many people over many decades. So my thanks goes to the diligence of many people who bothered to give a damn.
Sitting in the chair, which is much like a barber’s chair and considerably more comfortable than an airplane (check that: chemo is more comfortable than flying, folks), I’ve noticed that some of the women can stay awake and even get up to chat while they’re on chemo. They’re clearly on very different stuff. When I’m in chemo, I’m just seriously drugged. It’s hard for me to keep my eyes open.
My chemotherapy goes like this…
Because my cancer is aggressive, my chemotherapy is also aggressive. Some of the women going through chemo with me are in and out of their chairs in a couple of hours or less. Some only need maybe half an hour. Currently, a short day for me is four hours. A longer day (every third week) is six hours minimum.
When I started chemotherapy, I was on a different chemical cocktail than I am now. At that time, I was going to the hospital once every third week for chemo. But every week, I went to my gynecologist for bloodwork tests.
If the test results were poor, I’d get a call from the hospital later that day. Sometimes I’d need more medicine, sometimes I’d need to give myself a shot, and once I needed to move into the hospital and stay there under quarantine.
How it is for me right now…
I’m now taking different drugs with my chemo, so I go to the hospital two days a week. Wednesday is my weighing and bloodwork day, and Thursday is chemo day. Wednesday determines whether I’m fit enough for the full dose of chemo planned.
The chemo doesn’t hurt me. Not in the chair. I’ve noticed though that for some women, the process causes them some discomfort. For me, the discomfort and pain comes the next day. The day of – I’m just really out of it.
It’s the days following chemo where I need to get through various side effects. They aren’t fun, but I have found ways to deal with them. I think I’m doing ok.
But the most important thing? Deciding I’m going to make it. That for me was the most important step.