Thought I'd post an update.
There was some excitement during my last chemo appointment. There's a 64 year old lady that I've become aquainted with named Beth. She's a very nice lady, and has taken a liking to watching me play GTAIII on my 51m 5500 laptop during treatments. She giggled uncontrollably when I got a prostitute in my van, though she was a little disappointed in me when I ran her over and took my money back after the fun...
I'm not sure what kind of cancer she's got, but they weren't able to remove it all surgically, so she's getting pretty harsh radiation and chemotherapy to try to kill what's left. I can't imagine going through this at that age, while maintaining the grace and friendliness she always displays.
They're giving her something they referred to as carboplatinum, one form of chemotherapy that is apparently tolerated up to a point in some patients, then they react strongly to it. She'd had a few treatments with this chemical, and though her blood numbers were low enough they had to delay treatment a couple times, she was holding up to it fairly well. Usually, she visits with people for a while as they wait for the results of her bloodwork, but after her treatment starts, she falls asleep. She did the same on this day, so nobody noticed anything unusual.
One of the newer patients noticed she looked uncomfortable in the position she was sleeping in, but we all said she always sleeps like that. After a few minutes as a precaution, one of the chemo nurses went to check on her. I was talking to the nurse as I'd just arrived, but the nurse stopped talking to me abruptly. Beth had stopped breathing.
The two nurses in the chemo department lept into action. They adjusted her chair and cleared her airway, then she started choking as they tried to help her breath. She passed out, so they intebated her, basically inserting a tube into her lungs to breath for her, and put out a code blue to the rest of the facility. The group health I belong to is right across the street from St. Peters Hospital, but in order to transfer her, they have to call 911 and have the paramedics come to stabilize, then transfer her to the hospital. They scramble the doctors to help while they wait for the paramedics.
Several doctors showed up, and as the nurses continued to work on her and fill in the doctors, her heart stopped. She was having a massive reaction to the carboplatinum, or her body just couldn't take any more chemo.
The scene was sort of surreal. There were other patients in the room being treated, and I think everyone was basically thinking to themselves, there but for the grace of god go I. Some patients were trying to ignore what was going on, trying not to think about it. A few looked terrified. I was very impressed with the nurses though. They handled the situation very well. One nurse kept talking to Beth trying to judge her level of consciousness, and make sure if she was trying to communicate she could. The other is the medical whiz, he was monitoring her condition and medicating her, helping her breath, and telling the dotors what happened at the same time. The only really bad part was when the counsellors showed up and tried to distract the other patients by offering them drinks and old magazines...
In about half an hour, they got her semi-stabilized. She had very low blood pressure and wasn't breathing on her own when they wheeled her out. I learned as I was leaving a couple hours later, they got her stabilized at the hospital, but she was still unconscious. Right after they got her out, the nurses returned to treating the other patients as if nothing had happened. They can't really talk about her condition due to privacy, so I have no idea at this point whether she made it through that episode or not. I'll find out Friday.
I understand her husband is a real prize. A couple weeks ago, she'd made a mistake on the time of one of her appointments, as they had to reschedule her due to her low blood counts, so her hubby got mad and refused to drive her to her appointment though he is retired. The poor woman ended up having to call a taxi to get to her chemo appointment as she is way to sick to drive. Well, this time he drove her, and he was sitting in his pickup in the parking lot with his dog, smoking cigarettes to pass the time. When the nurses went out to the parking lot to find him and let him know that his wife was having an emergency, he got in a fist fight with one of them... Seems he didn't want them calling his son, cause he'd leave work to come to the hospital, and for some reason he didn't want that to happen. Work must be important in that family, or the old man is just an idiot. Eventually, the son was called and he came to collect her things that were left behind. He seems like a nice guy, about my age. At least she has someone in her family to make sure she's okay...
I am completely humbled by the things I'm seeing through my treatment, and others. It's a shame that it usually takes an emergency to put things into perspective for most people. Seems in America these days we're all protected from the realities of the way we live, and the repercussions of the choices we make. The human spirit can be an amazing thing, and I'm in awe of the people that treat illness for a living, and do it compassionately. It must be horrible to get to know people and be treating them and have them die. I don't think my personality could handle that.
A lot of people in the medical community get a bad rap due to corporatization of health providers, and pharmaceutical companies, but once you've seen it from the inside, you realize how difficult it must be to work in this field if you interact with patients. Healthy thumbs up to those exceptional people in the process that are effective.
It also raises the importance of family, and friends. I don't know how anyone could get through something like this alone. I don't know how I'd handle this without my wife Judy. I can only hope were the situation reversed, I'd be as strong for her. Though I can't understand Beth's husband's reactions, I'm sure he's going through his own fight with her condition so I shouldn't judge. Then again he might be a jerk that's pissed cause she can't make him sandwiches like she used to. Who knows.
I'm about half way through my second course of chemo, so I pretty much know what to expect from here on out. The chemo makes me pretty sore from my hips up the back, and especially in my calves and hands. I also am experiencing the normal constant low level of nausea. These issues are pretty well managed with painkillers and other meds for nausea and intestinal upset though. I can understand now how marijuana could ease the nausea, and bring comfort for chemo patients. It's shameful IMO that people suffering from cancer treatment in this country can't use it if it brings them relief. Even with a perscription, it's legality is questionable. Just ridiculous. The chemicals they're pumping into me, and the meds I'm taking to make it tolerable are much more damaging to my system than a joint. I'm just speculating of course, pot is illegal you know...
The nurses think I may be developing a side effect that involves the hands and feet. The chemical that I'm being treated with attacks fast growing cells by damaging their DNA structure as they reproduce. The thought is that cancer cells of the type I have tend to reproduce fast, and as they mutated from healthy cells, they tend to be relatively unstable. Unfortunately, the chemical doesn't know the difference between fast reproducing regular cells, and cancerous cells, so it affects them all.
Common side effects are irritation to tissue that has cells that reproduce relatively quickly. That includes your stomach, and intestines, as well as any moist membrane tissues like the inside of your mouth, your sinuses, and your eyelids, etc. My eyes are watering like crazy.
The skin on your palms, and the bottom of your feet also reproduce relatively quickly, so some people develop redness and dark discoloration of that skin. Eventually, the outer skin can all peel off, so it can be pretty uncomfortable. My hands have turned red, and they're a little swollen too, so the nurses are keeping an eye on them. If it gets worse, all they can do is reduce the dosage of chemicals to try to reduce it as much as possible.
Personally, I don't think I'm having that problem, just seems that my hands turn red during treatment, and it goes away pretty quickly, but then I'm still new to this.
As for how I'm doing, it's good and bad. I'm not getting the spikes of violent nausea that some people get. My blood numbers are rock steady, and that's good as some people on this chemo see big drops in red blood cell production. I've had mouth sores once, but they healed quickly, and though my immune system is pretty depressed I've avoided catching anything other than one mild sore throat so far, despite weekly trips to group health. The nausea has only got the best of me a few times, so that seems to be pretty manageable. Generally I feel pretty good and it appears my body is handling the chemo as well as could be expected.
The bad is that even with pain meds and the nausea pills, the general feeling is of being tired and sore and a little queasy all the time. I'm not working much at all due to the tiredness, in fact it's an effort to get the lawn mowed every week. We have about an acre of lawn, and I used to do it in an afternoon.
I seem to have a couple days of feeling spacey after chemo, then one bad day where it's an effort just to turn on the tv, then a few days to recover and get ready for the next treatment. I can imagine by the time November rolls around and I see my last treatment, I'll be very relieved. They're telling me it'll take eight months to a year to get back to normal after that though...
I have recently found the NBF CS:S server, and it's a great distraction to play. The game is pretty immersive, so you tend to tune out real life while playing. Anyone that has the game, stop by around 4:00 pm (pacific), it's usually pretty busy and fun around then...