2016 September 22

Do-It-Yourself Chemo in 10 Easy Steps

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Hospital patient holds an IV bag that sends medicine to his body through the arm.

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Liesl Marelli, Colorado Army National Guard

Sheesh, you take a short break for…okay, so it was a month. I do apologize for the delay. Still think that Cyril's little “intervention” was uncalled-for.

Besides, he missed a central tenet of procrastination. The successful procrastinator waits until the last possible minute, it's true. But think about what that means: By definition, if you wait too long—past the last possible minute—you're no longer procrastinating, you're just failing. [Note]

Anyway, enough of that. Everybody wants to know how chemo's been going. I must admit that part of the reason I haven't been updating is that there hasn't been much to say, and what there is to say hasn't been particularly fun reading. Would've mostly been a lot of complaining about various low-grade-but-cumulatively-fatiguing side effects.

Suffice to say that my initial expectations for a few (3 to 5) days of unpleasantness followed by a week and a half of improving to near normal hasn't exactly been the case. Recovery after treatment #1 was on the rough side, enough so that for treatment #2 the oncology doc decided to cut one of the 4 chemo drugs in half. Recovery after treatment #2 was better, particularly the last few days. Appetite has been returning, and after a long period of weight loss I've finally added a few pounds back. Still, for treatment #3 we decided to cut back another one of the chemo drugs by 25%.

Although nausea and vomiting—two of the most common side effects—haven't yet signed my dance card, I've been waltzing with nearly all the others. (Hint: If you ever wondered how I look without a beard, this is the closest you'll ever get.) I thought I'd be back working part-time by now, but the combined listlessness and physical discomfort (not to mention my sleep schedule of 4am to 11am) make it difficult to focus on productivity. This blog is about as productive as I get most days.

(See—that wasn't fun to read, now was it?) That said, it's not all bad and I think it's getting better. The muscle twitches and numb mouth that accompany each treatment didn't last as long this time around, so with any luck we may have found the “sweet spot” between high chemo doses to kill cancer and low chemo doses to make me feel better. Sure, there are times when the hiccups last for a couple of hours… but there are also afternoons and evenings where medicine alleviates the discomfort enough that I can entertain visitors or play some duplicate bridge. (In case you missed it above, I sleep through mornings.) I read, do some crossword puzzles, watch movies, try to keep up with correspondence.

Besides wanting to know about my personal chemo experience, people have been asking a bit about the process of chemotherapy. What's actually involved in a “treatment”? Well, your wait is over. I've assembled this little how-to guide so that anyone can easily enjoy the benefits of chemotherapy from the comfort of their very own home.

Chemotherapy in 10 Easy Steps

  1. Get cancer. (Easier than you'd think, apparently.)
  2. Install an IV drip next to your favorite reclining chair.
  3. Have a power port implanted.
  4. Contact Walter White for various chemo drugs and secondary drugs to counteract the chemo drugs. (Do not get embroiled in a deadly gang war while doing so.)
  5. Every other week, sit in the reclining chair while you let (first) the secondary drugs and (second) three of the four chemo drugs seep into your bloodstream through the port. Remember that it's an IV drip, so each drug bag may take up to two hours to empty.
  6. Get an infusion pump so the last chemo drug can be constantly injected throughout your system over the next 46 hours.
  7. (Option A) Arrange for an in-home nurse to disconnect your pump from your port. (Option B) Show off your manliness by ripping the pump connection out of the port all by yourself.
  8. Spend the next 11 days recovering and dealing with the side effects.
  9. After 2 months, get a CT scan to determine if the treatments are effective.
  10. Rinse, lather, and repeat for 6 months.

Let's see, any other loose ends? Oh yes, the DNA tests came back negative for any unusual genes, so we're sticking with the standard course of treatment for now. My first post-chemo CT scan will be the week of October 11, and that should give us a high-level overview of how well the FOLFIRINOX regimen is working. The oncology doc reminded us that while a shrinking tumor would be terrific, just stopping the growth and spread is a success. Stay tuned.

Note 1. Cyril here—clearly Elliot is still in the “Denial” stage. But do not despair, gentle readers! I will not give up the struggle. [Note 2]

Note 2. Drop it already, Cyril! My problem is with cancer, not procrastination!! —etg Back