Continuing my series on the chemotherapy experience, we now move on to the outpatient chemo experience.
As a reminder, you can review the other parts to the entire chemotherapy regimen in my other posts:
Why Outpatient Chemo? As you may recall, one day of outpatient chemo alternated with the four to five days of inpatient chemo for my treatment. Initially the outpatient gig sounded like a piece of cake! But why, oh why is cancer treatment anything but?
What’s the Process? My outpatient chemo would take place on Tuesdays. The day would begin much like that of going in for inpatient treatment so much of this will sound similar.
I would first get tested for COVID-19 early in the morning. Then it was on to bloodwork and making my port accessible (meaning poked with needles and hooked to the IV lines). These items were usually accomplished by 9:30am.
From that time, we would have to wait 1.5 to 2 hours for my lab results to come back and meet with the nurse to give me the go ahead for the chemo.
Once the lab results came back, we would meet with the nurse and go over my numbers to get the all-clear for moving ahead with the chemo. My numbers were always “good enough” to move forward.
After getting the thumbs up, we would transition to the outpatient chemo center at Moffitt. This was another waiting period to get checked in and to let the pharmacy know to get my “killer liquids” ready. The chemo is formulated specifically for you.
God bless the pharmacists. It cannot be easy mixing these poisons. Enough to kill what it needs to kill and yet not enough to kill the patient.
Once a chair opened up, they brought me back and gave me my pre-meds. Pre-meds protect the body from the chemo doing its worst. This also included mesna to again protect other organs from damage.
Then the three chemo drugs for my treatment were administered.
And God bless the nurses in outpatient chemo.
How it Started vs How it Went. If inpatient chemo was my worst enemy, outpatient chemo was the dagger my worst enemy held in his hand.
Three medications that, in theory, add up to 2.25 hours of IV time, would often take 12 hours of my life.
A blood work time of 9am would often see me not leaving Moffitt until 9pm. I’d see other patients come and go.
I won’t forget my hope and positive attitude I had going into my first outpatient session. I remember listening to music and even getting up and dancing to stretch my muscles. I also remember being the only one left in the center that night.
I believe that Nelson was only able to sit with me for one of my outpatient sessions due to COVID policies. Unfortunately my chair locations, time of day, and length of chemo did not allow me to make any other chair friends.
I spent a lot of time just sitting there feeling sorry for myself. Sometimes my mind was well enough to pour over Bible verses or text friends and family. I could never get comfortable enough to nap. It was very lonely.
By my third outpatient chemo session I was being wheeled out in a wheelchair. I had stood up to leave and almost fainted in front of the nurses station.
I began to sob.
One of the nurses asked me how many chemo cycles I had done. I told her six and her care grew even deeper.
If the inpatient chemo hadn’t gotten me the week before, the outpatient came along and finished me off.
But wait, there’s more. Similar to inpatient, I would be sent home with medications to assist my body in rebuilding the good of what had been killed off.
Instead of the pegfilgrastim shots, however, a nurse would tack on a device that would inject a white blood cell stimulator. Some of you may know it as a Neulasta device. This device gets adhered somewhere on your body (I had it placed on my tummy) and 24 hours later and tiny needle pops out to prick you and deliver the dose.
I still can’t believe it happened. Typing the words “lonely” and “sob” brought back a lot of emotions. Emotions that I didn’t feel at the time because I found myself feeling nothing. Past despair, past depression. Just, nothing.
I will end this with the same paragraphs I ended my previous chemo post:
For those about to endure this chemo or who are going through it now: I do not write this to discourage you. I write this because I’m still here when I thought that I wouldn’t be. I write this to share the experience with doctors, researchers, and caregivers.
As awful as this treatment was, it was necessary. And with each cycle, a little bit more hope and light appeared because the chemo was working.
Remember: it is TEMPORARY. When you’re in the midst of it, it can seem like life is over – like this is all you’ll know and you’ll never get out of bed again. And I write this to tell you that’s absolutely not true.
Feel free to reach out to me via any way listed on my About page.
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