Before all this I didn’t really know what the difference between chemo and radiation was, it all just seemed like some nondescript, horrible stuff that I hoped I never had to go through.
But the world keeps spinning, and it turns out chemo and radiation are two different things. I’m still not entirely clear on what radiation is, and I’m not sure I’ll even have to go through it, so I’m happy to just discuss chemo.
Chemotherapy is a treatment for cancer that involves an IV, a lazy boy recliner, and chocolate chip cookies. The lazy boys at the place I go are all green and covered in fake leather. They are lined up against a wall with dividers between them, giving the same sort of fragile privacy that similar dividers provide in men’s bathrooms.
Each lazy boy has a phone next to it. This is in case you are super busy and need to make important phone calls whilst they are pumping you full of the drugs that will damn-near kill you. I don’t know anyone this busy.
Each chair is also equipped with it’s own television that gets poor reception of local stations. This is convenient if you are really nuts about daytime television and you wouldn’t miss your soaps for anything.
The cookies are in the waiting room. I don’t know where they get them, but they are awesome. Clearly the bakery keeps the best cookies for us cancer patients. They probably use a pound of butter in each cookie, but I mean, what do we care, right? What, is it going to give us cancer? Gimme one of those damn cookies, and put more butter in it next time.
The rest of the cancer center is pretty sterile looking. The walls are painted with the soothing, tan color that they always use on those HGTV shows. Hanging in the corner is an embroidered acronym that cleverly uses the individual letters of CHEMOTHERAPY in a sad prayer. There are also small dolls dressed as nurses. This corner freaks me out.
The real nurses sit at a big desk and talk on the phone to doctors. Behind them is a big ice and water machine. The water and ice machine is the biggest piece of equipment in the whole place.
When you come for your chemotherapy session, they first take your blood and send it off to “the lab,” which must be a place very, very far away, judging on the amount of time it takes for things to go and come back from it. You then have to wait a few hours for the far-away people at “the lab” to test your blood.
An order is then sent to “the pharmacy,” another place in a far-off land, where they measure out and mix the drugs that they will be giving you. The drugs have to be measured exactly, based on your height and weight that day.
Meanwhile, you are still sitting in the lazy boy, watching your soaps and eating your butter cookies. The nurses hook up an IV to the port that was surgically implanted in your chest and give you huge amounts of “saline.” “Saline” is something that looks like water that is apparently not water that makes you have to go to the bathroom a lot.
Before the drugs come, the nurse, who in my case, is sort of cute, puts several drugs through your IV. First, she puts in a steroid called Decadron. This is to bolster your system before the other drugs destroy your system. Having Decodron is a lot like having a direct IV drip of pure, liquid caffeine.
Then the nurse puts Benedryl through the IV, which makes you extraordinarily tired. You might fall asleep at this point, but as you are unable to stop moving from the Decadron, sleep is not really an option.
Then the chemo drugs come. Their are four different drugs that need to go into you before you can leave. The first one is colored like red Kool-Aid. It’s a little frightening to see the red liquid floating down the IV tube towards your body. You think, “OH GOD, here it comes!” And the nurse is looking at you, and you are looking at the nurse, and suddenly it seems like all the other patients are looking at you, and you are looking at them, and the red stuff is coming down the pipe, and the nurse is looking at you, and you can’t stop fidgeting, and the room is getting smaller, and it’s coming and it’s coming and it’s coming!!!!
But then it’s not so bad. It doesn’t feel like anything. One by one they put all the drugs into you and it doesn’t feel like anything. You might as well just watch your soap operas, because it’s not exciting. I bring my laptop or my iPod and watch movies and listen to music.
Then they give you a few shots that will, again, help fix the system that the drugs just screwed up. By this point you are pretty sick of being stuck with needles and you have had your fill of butter cookies. They take out the IV and they tell you to go home, that’s it.