The End of Chemo


Last Friday was my last chemo day. What a psychological boost to know it would be the last infusion. The 4th cycle didn't seem to be as hard as the 3rd cycle, but I'm wondering how much knowing it was the last one helped. I also finally got into a routine of taking the Prilosec and Compazine pills right away even before feeling any indigestion/nausea. On the last day Melissa brought cupcakes to the treatment center, a family whose father is going through treatments brought tote bags with goodies, and when I was done the nurses gave me a coffee cup with "yippee!" on it. Nice little festive atmosphere. The nurses wanted to "celebrate", but I was ready to go. I stood up and said thank you to the nurses, wished my fellow patients good luck, and left as quickly as possible.

Friday night I had a moment when thinking about the treatments that was surreal. It was a moment where I realized I had just gone through 4 cycles of chemo. It didn't seem like it actually happened, although I definitely know it did. I think I just approached the chemo in a "task" way, that it wasn't until the end that I saw the totality of the treatment.

So I was asked what I learned from the experience.
First, chemo sucks.

The treatment for testicular cancer takes up about 1 1/2 weeks each time. One week for the actual infusion, and about 4 more days of exhaustion and indigestion/nausea. The first couple of days of infusions you can still do some work, but by the end of the week concentration is hard and you are worn out. It is good to be in tune with your body and vigilant in taking pills when you need them.

Having a catheter stuck in your arm for days isn't painful, just a constant reminder. You also are sensitive to anything getting near the catheter and taking a shower becomes problematic.

Bone/Skull pain (a reaction to the Nuelasta shot) has to be watched for even 12 to 14 days after the shot. It is important to catch this pain at the very beginning and remedy it before it takes over (one Aleve and one Vicodin). This is the absolute worst pain I've ever felt. But it only lasted about an hour.

The nausea can be kept at bay with the Compazine. It is the indigestion and lack of appetite that is a constant companion and for me the worst part of chemo.

Being exhausted isn't great, but sleep is nice, so for me this was the smallest issue of chemo. I just had to allow myself to take naps.

Staying hydrated helps, but is a little difficult. By the end of the treatment week, there is a semi-metallic taste, so liquids start to taste different. Also, constantly going to the bathroom gets boring. This also contributes to the bloated feeling.

Sensitivity to smell, depending on your level of OCD, can be irritating. At first you search for the offending smell only to find out you are the only one smelling it. At some point you just have to accept that the smell is not really there.

Appreciation for woman-kind. Chemo for a quy gives a little clue of what women must go through month after month. The bloating and cramping and smell sensitivity. How in the world could someone do this month after month after month?

Beyond the "technical" what did I learn?
In an odd way I learned that there is plenty of time for everything. Right before this started I was worried about how I was going to get all the work I needed to do done before the end of the summer. Not only did I finish most of the work but also went to a lake for a week and did chemo treatments.

I also learned to receive gifts (well-wishes, support, baklava, trips, rocks, dirt, cookies, bath supplies...) without the need to reciprocate. To accept the genuine outpouring of help and love without trying to keep some sort of balance or tote board. This is a time when people desperately want to help and it is important to let them.

The support group goes through mental stress while the patient goes through physical and mental stress. But I think it is worse for the support people. The patient knows minute by minute what is going on and is dealing with all that is happening. For loved ones, they get to watch and worry. And unless they have gone through something similar, cancer is such a big word that the worry level matches. Putting up a good front ("I'm fine", "I'll be okay", "It's not a big deal") probably really doesn't help the people who are watching this happen. Trying to describe what is happening can be hard sometimes but I think it helps those watching that while unpleasant, this can be dealt with.

Your closest support person is going to go through hell with you. Tyler has had to witness the lowest lows and in excruciating detail. The moodiness, the skull pain (screaming), the lack of appetite, the exhaustion, vomiting. So a lot of times it is the closest person to the patient that actually needs more support from the group. The patient has nurses and doctors in addition to friends and family. The support person has to pick up extra mundane duties (walking the dog more, chores around the house, etc.) while being worried and concerned.

Your 5 year plan never tends to work out exactly how you planned. I had forgotten to plan cancer in my life plan (silly me). But you either deal with the bumps or you mope around. Your choice.

Own your pain. I was told this in the beginning, even before surgery. Trying to put up a good front constantly is counter-productive. In a short time you will have had surgery and chemo. This isn't a cake walk and it is okay to sleep and feel miserable. Many times I would get to the point of wanting to whine and then of course I would meet the guy without a bladder or lung, the person going through chemo and radiation, the person that has been dealing with cancer for years. But it is okay to have those moments of "this sucks". Because while there may be other people dealing with even bigger issues, there are others that aren't. I think comparing myself to those dealing with the bigger issues was a way of keeping my resolve to keep pushing through.

Going forward:
I have a PET scan scheduled in about 5 weeks (August 20th). Ahhh! To just know that I don't have to do chemo again in a another week gives me great joy. I'll start to feel normal again and can sustain that normal feeling. The PET scan will show how well the chemo worked and from there I'll go into a surveillance mode. My challenge now is to not really go back to "normal". What is the point of going through this if there is no positive upside. The challenge is to remember all the good things that have been shown to me. So, keep the gifts coming! ;-). And by the way, the "cancer card" is a punch system, not a time based system. You get to use it a certain number of times over your life. Just because chemo is done doesn't mean I can't still say ... "well, I have/had cancer". Okay, maybe this isn't true!

So my next post won't be until the PET scan results come back. I could post it now because it is going to show everything is fine!



I'm now at Priest Lake in Northern Idaho. So I guess I got through my 3rd cycle. The weekend was tough, but again, by Wednesday I was feeling better. My appetite was still slow to return, but is back again.

The lake is beautiful and we have been out on the water a lot. Trying to learn how to water ski again. I had one night where fatigue set in and slept for a couple of hours. Other than that, getting work done and enjoying the lake.

The MRI came back negative. They did find a tiny foci that may explain some of the migraines. But I'm still trying to prepare myself for the skull pain from the Nuelasta shot (if it happens again). The doctor said that 12 - 14 days is not uncommon for the skull pain. Also said to take an Alleve and Vicodin the second I start to fell pain.

There is still some numbness around the incision from the surgery and the scar is still healing. This is two months after the surgery.

The most important thing I'm doing is remembering to drink plenty of fluids.

Next Monday starts the fourth cycle. Deep breaths. I'm just preparing myself to feel bad but will also be counting down the days to my last treatment. Almost there!!