Monday, June 16, 2008

The Treatment (part 2)

The 'infusion room' sits on the top floor of Texas Oncology's brand new building near the center of the city. You park underneath and take the stairs or elevator to the 2nd floor. Linda always chose to use the stairs. To her, it became a benchmark to see how badly the chemo was kicking her ass over the next 4 months. To me, it was just a reminder of how out-of-shape I was. Emerging from the stairwell, you are presented with a large, nicely decorated reception area. To the right, administrative booths and further down the hall, exams rooms. To the left, scheduling booths, a pharmacy and further down, the 'infusion room'.

Unlike what I had expected, it is not a depressing place...and I don't mean the decor or lighting, I mean the people. You'll find people there from every walk of life, and every age: Big burly guys, little old ladies, a young lady listening to her ipod, someone watching Jerry Springer, and a 39 year old woman fighting breast cancer. I think by the time people get to the actual chemotherapy, they are past the initial cancer shock and are anxious to get going with their treatment. Now don't get me wrong, no one wants to be there, but if life's journey sends you down this path, this place seemed to be, at least to me, a place of hope and not despair.

Prior to any treatment, we always saw the oncologist (the cancer doctor). Linda managed to get one of the best oncologists in the city. Although very clinical, Dr. H. has an incredible ability to reassure you. She would always explain what our options were and what we could expect. She directed treatment but never dictated it. She has just the right balance of professionalism and compassion. Blood-work was also a staple of every visit. They had to make sure Linda was healthy enough to poison.

The infusion room has 4 sections. Each section is separated by a half wall. Each section has 8 chairs, with 4 chairs that face the other 4 chairs. It has big windows on 3 of the 4 walls making the room nice and bright. For every 2 chairs, there is 1 overhead TV (above the heads of the chairs that face you). Aside from eradicating the cancer from her body, the primary goal of every visit was to secure access to the remote control for the duration of her stay. There was no way that Linda would allow someone else to control her TV viewing destiny. As you can see in yesterday's photo, even before starting any chemo on her first visit, Linda had already seized control of the remote.

For all the build up, the anxiety about the treatment, the unknown, the first infusion went very well. They hooked up bag #1 (which I think was the C) and it dripped away for a couple hours. Linda really didn't notice anything at all. #2 was the A. This is a bright red liquid that is manually injected into the port by the infusion nurse. Adriamycin has the potential to be very bad for your heart, so they inject it slowly by hand to watch your reaction. The nurse sits there with a big ass syringe and slowly, for 20 mins, injects the red chemo. They call it dessert. If they pump it in too fast, you may get a headache, but that's usually it. After the A was the T. It too dripped away uneventfully for a couple hours. I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't that. I think I asked Linda "how do you feel?" every 10 minutes or so for our entire stay.

Armed with a day-planner-full of anti-nausea prescriptions, we drove home and sat outside that evening as we usually do during school breaks (it was still Christmas break for the kids). The neighbors came by one by one to see us, almost incredulous to the fact that Linda was outside. I doubt the words were actually spoken, but I know Linda and I for a moment thought the same thing..."this chemo stuff is easy"...ohhhh shit!

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