Here we are, starting the one journey I don’t want to take.
Samirah drives us to my first chemotherapy session. She has prepared a backpack like the ones we usually carry when we have to get on a plane: a sandwich for each one, a drink and some snacks. We love to travel so much!
This year we were planning to go to Norway. Samirah has never been there and I think it is one of the countries one should see at some point in one’s life. I have already been to various parts of Norway, Oslo and surroundings with my family, and in the north, to Tromsø and Bergen with Almudena, my adventures partner. This time, we had everything booked for the Lofoten islands, but Covid-19 has not allowed us to leave the house.
Samirah tells me that maybe by December, we can already start thinking of a little trip. For the first time in my life, I can’t see ahead and I am living day-to-day. Maybe that’s not so bad. Many times it has happened to me that if I have an upcoming trip, I am already thinking about the one that will follow, without having even enjoyed the current one yet.
We arrive at the hospital before my aunt, who lately for some reason always seems to be late. I don’t want to be here either. But there she is, always looking out for me and taking care of me as much as she can. I think she has cried more these short weeks than she has in the last two or three years.
In the day hospital we are seen to quickly. Toñi, the nurse, will first give us the health education concerning my treatment: what side effects can I expect, what should I pay attention to, and in general, how to deal with what will happen to me.
The doctor will also come in and visit me. She no longer seems angry with me, thank God. She wants to give me some good news. The scan went well, my bones haven’t been touched by the cancer. Toñi, she tells me to hold on to that, although I probably don’t know how much that means. Yes, I do know, later I read on the American Cancer Society website that:
“Once cancer has spread to the bones or other parts of the body it can rarely be cured. However, it can often be treated to slow, stop, or eliminate its growth.
So yes, it’s very good news.
I would like to make a side note here, because as I write this I remember that, maybe someone in a similar situation is reading this, and I don’t want them to take these words as written in stone. Neither the American Cancer Society nor I know your particular case, so this may not mean anything. It is best to ask the doctor openly, as I understand that he or she has an obligation to be open with his or her patients.
I return to my conversation with Toñi. We spoke for some time about my hair. It’s going to fall out and there’s no way to stop it. I feel sorry for my Samirah who struggles with dealing with this subject. I don’t think I’ll be going out much in the next few months and not many people will see me, but she has to look at me bald, worn-down and, later on, with only one tit every day.
When we finish the health education, it’s our turn to see the pharmacist. She’s a young girl, maybe my age, but I am friendlier. She gives me Primperan and steroids for the two days following the treatment. I tell her that I’m taking prebiotics and she tells me that it’s better to stop because of the risk of a possible infection. I can’t forget that I am now an immunosuppressed patient.
The meeting with the pharmacist is very short and we are soon done. A nurse who knows my aunt accompanies us to the treatment site. The entrance is a bit mysterious and access is restricted. Juani, the supervisor of the day hospital, had explained to me that the place where they put the treatment is a sterilized area, so no one but the patients and the nurses should access it.
I say goodbye to Samirah and my aunt. The paper mask that Samirah uses to cover her mouth and nose is completely wet. My aunt cries a little less. She looks at Samirah with pity, calls her “poor thing”, and then they are both crying equally. I am calm. I get chair number 6 on this first flight of my transatlantic journey.
What follows is not so bad. They attach my IV. First they start with the hands because chemotherapy deteriorates the veins. Later in the treatment, they’ll have to go up the forearm and if it doesn’t work, up the chest. Silvia, the nurse, who has also worked with my aunt, is nice and attentive to me. She explains that first they have to give me medicine for dizziness, nausea, and so on. That finishes quickly. I have two bags left hanging. One is quite big and the other is smaller and has a red or red-orange liquid in it. It has already been explained to me that this medicine will color my urine for the next few hours.
We start with the red one. I’ve also been warned that I have to warn them if I notice anything strange. Shortly after the red fluid begins to enter my vein, a slight rash begins to outline the path of the vein to the upper forearm. I am a little itchy, but nothing I can’t handle. I tell Silvia and she decides to stop the treatment until the rash goes away.
We have to repeat this three more times until we finally empty the small bag. During, I go to the bathroom a few times and my urine is already orange. I tell the nurse and she says that this is good because it means that my kidneys are working well. Once we’re done with the Doxorubicin, the third part starts, the biggest bag filled with a crystalline liquid – Cyclophosphamide – which is connected to me with a pump. This part goes fast and even though the bag with this medicine is a lot bigger, we are soon done.
Although the treatment usually takes about two hours, due to the reaction I had with the Doxorubicin, my first session took about three hours. It was not painful at all, nor traumatic, so I feel quite positive.
While Silvia takes off my IV, we talk about the hair issue and a girl seated in another chair interrupts us to cheer me up. She is twenty-six years old, has a one year old daughter and stomach cancer. Whenever I hear other people’s stories, I know that my cross is heavy, but other people’s cross is heavier. The girl radiates the bravado of youth that not even cancer can take away. She tells me that hair is just hair, that I don’t have to worry about it and that it will eventually grow back. She shows me the huge scar that covers her belly vertically. She tells me that her chemo is preventive and that she only has two cycles left. She’s been in this hellhole for eight months now, but it’s nice to see her eating even though a good part of her stomach has been removed. Life is stronger than anything and it pushes its way through our weaknesses to keep us going. I would like to stay and talk to her more, but outside I have my own waiting, so I tell her that I hope very soon not to see her here in the hospital again, I thank her for her words and I leave.
After the session, I think the three of us are a little more positive. I don’t know exactly what we expected, but it wasn’t that bad. I feel good physically and that makes me happy.
When we get home, I eat a chicken my aunt had prepared for me. In the end it wasn’t that bad! I think to myself. Then I go to the supermarket, with an FFP2 mask and a hygienic one on top. Now I have to be more protected. I basically want to buy some fresh foods. Samirah goes to a different supermarket to do the bulk of the shopping. She’s not too happy about me going to the supermarket, but since I feel good, no one can stop me.
Between the supermarket aisles I’m already starting to regret not listening to Samirah and staying home. Something is not right with my complaining stomach. I also regret eating my aunt’s chicken.
I don’t remember which nurse, but she told me that chemo is like a pregnancy. Everyone experiences it differently. Some have a hard time during the first days of the cycle, others experience only a few symptoms.
Three hours after the first cycle of chemotherapy, I start to feel sick. The worst part of it is the nausea. The smells are getting worse and I can’t handle them. I also have a sick feeling in general and feel weak. The feeling is similar to the flu. Samirah keeps an eye on my temperature, because if I have a fever of more than 38 degrees, we have to go to the emergency room. The rest of the day and until the next morning, I spend in bed.