It Got Real Today


Meet my new friend Ivi (pronounced Ivy and stands for IntraVenus Infusion). Most people go out and connect with other people; I go out and befriend a machine. I’m not sure what that says about me but since Ivi holds my future in her hands, best to avoid taking any risk of pissing her off. So we’ll be BFFs for the next several weeks.

Ivi is too busy to chat right now as she pumps Carboplatin (a chemo drug) into a vein above my right wrist. Looking at the picture you might conclude I don’t know my left from my right. There are times that is true but it’s always connected to an adult refreshment or three. I started in my left wrist but the flow kept stalling and set off alarms that everyone in the clinic can hear. The best-guess by the RN is that the location of the needle tip was just below a valve in my vein. I didn’t know we have valves in our veins but it makes sense; I suspect it ensures blood flows only travels in a one direction. It is 2:30 pm as I write so I’m running late for my 1:40 radiation appointment. Apparently that happens especially of the first day. The chemo clinic contacted radiation to advise I was running late.

So from the beginning of today …

I climbed into this chair and started my iron infusion at 9:30 am. That takes about 90 minutes and is followed by a saline flush to clear the lines and ensure I get the entire contents of the bag. For subsequent chemotherapy, I’m required to do blood work the day before. For this first one, anytime in the month before is okay. I decided to get blood work on Saturday as I was curious as to the level of my hemoglobin given how it tanked a while back as described in my post titled What Goes Around Comes Around. During that episode, the blood transfusions improved it from a low of 52 to 84. Ideally, for my age it should be between 120 and 140. Last weekend it was slightly increased to 87 so I’ve got a long way to go. No one seems too concerned as the trend is in the right direction and I am getting weekly iron transfusions. Who’d thought I’d be so interested in my blood or be so diligently looking at my own poop to see if it’s blackish (it’s not now)?

As an aside, I hydrated before heading the clinic to make it easier for the RN to get the catheter in my vein. That works really well. However, I’m getting a lot of fluid from the infusion. Combined with what I consumed earlier, the need-to-pee is strong and arises frequently. The pump can run unplugged for up to six hours, so each time the urge kicks in, I get up and drag the entire unit to the bathroom. It is a gong show to watch but everyone in the clinic is in the same boat. Many of the other patients are older and carrying a few extra pounds so I’ll leave it to your imagination what that looks like.

Here’s a list of the products infused directly into my bloodstream today:

  • Iron (90 minutes).
  • Saline flush (30 minutes)
  • Dexamethasone 10 mg IV for Nausea (15 minutes)
  • Ondansetron 8 mg IV for Nausea (15 minutes)
  • Benadryl 50 mg to reduce allergic reaction (15 minutes)
  • Zantec 50 mg to reduce allergic reaction (15 minutes)
  • Carboplatin (45 minutes)
    Note: the chemo bags arrive draped in a brown wrapper. Each patient has a unique mix which is made in-house and breaks down quickly under direct light. The brown wrapper slows that chemical change.
  • Saline Flush (15 minutes)
  • Paclitaxel (45 minutes)
  • Saline flush (15 minutes)

The following is taken from a handout provided at today’s session and is drawn from a BC Cancer hospital site. It is a concise explanation of my treatment.

  • Carboplatin and Paclitaxel work by interfering with dividing cells and preventing an increase in the number of cells.
  • Radiation also works by interfering with dividing cells by either killing them or stopping the cells from growing and reproducing.
  • Both Carboplatin and Paclitaxel act as “radio-sensitizer” to the radiation treatments; the drugs make the cancer cells more sensitive to the killing effect of the radiation.
  • This is why the two types of treatment (radiation and chemotherapy) are used together at the same time.
  • The drugs and radiation therapy are also given before surgery to enhance the overall benefits of treatment. What I’m doing now is in preparation for surgery down the road to remove most of my esophagus and stretch my stomach up to re-attach to what little remains. I’ll have to learn how to swallow again.

My time in the Chemo Clinic ended around 3:30 and Janet and I headed down to the Radiation Centre located in the Dickson Centre. By comparison, it is a pretty simple procedure and the actual treatment portion is less than fifteen minutes.

It involves:

  • Positioning me on the table. I grasp handles above my head. The tattoos marked on my chest and ribs are used to position the x-ray gun to accurately target my tutor. The machine projects laser-like cross-hairs on my skin and small adjustments are made to line up with the tattoo dots.
  • In the picture above, the x-ray gun that targets my tumor is the unit above my chest.
  • To the left and right, is an x-ray machine which images my internal spaces to ensure I’m in the correct location throughout the treatment.
  • I remain as stationary as possible and the entire machine rotates around me a couple of times.
  • Throughout the treatment, the song Pretty Woman was playing which proved relaxing. I didn’t fall asleep but got close so I’m not sure how many rotations the machine made in total. I’ll try to count tomorrow.

One of my caregivers described radiation treatment as getting a sunburn on a sunburn day after day. As I write, I have no side effects from today’s treatments but that’s pretty normal. I understand that side effects will likely kick in next week.

As always, thanks for being at my side through this adventure.

Peace, love and laughter
Phil

PS – If you decided to take on a personal challenge of doing an activity every treatment day and/or reduce your portion sizes at meals, send me a note with details to w.philip.ohara@gmail.com … I plan to do a blog with a summary next weekend. This could prove to a decision which saves your life in the future as I believe climbing on a bicycle about three years ago will help me get over my current big bump.

Let me finish with a quote I like from Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist:

The world is changed by your example; not by your opinion.

16 Replies to “It Got Real Today”

  1. You’ve got this Phil.

    Positive outlook is key, and nobody more positive than you.

    Following along is an inspiration to us all…best of luck through your journey.

  2. Great write-up and always love your can-do attitude. The humor had me wanting to make smart ass jokes back at times so luckily there was no edit button at that point. Pulling and praying for you, bud. #NetherlandsRide2021

  3. Wow, personalized cocktails and tattoos! Phil you are really living the life! Glad you have such a great sense of humor and are able to keep it. Hope you are recovering from all the activities well and still feeling good.

  4. Great to get this journey started. The more you can learn about the process the better. Now you need to trust your body to do what it needs to do. You are in my prayers.

  5. Cancer treatment has advanced so much since my experience! It’s good that you’re reading and researching – it helped me understand the options and make more informed decisions along the journey. And really good to see you have a positive relationship with Ivi – I hated chemo (mostly the needle) and had to take a relaxant to get through each session. The radiation treatments – especially the upbeat music they play – were almost a pleasure after chemo. May you continue to experience the healing power of humour throughout this adventure. Hugs!

    1. I intentionally adopted the mantra of approaching this challenge with dignity, courage, humour, grace and faith in God. One chemo and two radiation treatments done. I do like the music in radiation. Thanks for reaching out. I had no idea how many people I know who are proving to be pillars of support. I’m really a cup-full kind of guy but I see this one will need a regular refill. Cheers, Phil

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