Tuesday, April 2, 2013

So THAT'S what chemo is like!

This morning I woke up to Rick's alarm, or maybe it was the alarm he set for me since he was still in bed when I was finished showering.  I'm trying to think of the best word to describe my state of mind, and I think I'll go with, curious.  Before I got a personal invite to this circus that is cancer, chemo was one medication that was given to anyone with cancer.  Not a cocktail of two or more out of many possible chemo drugs mixed to your specific body, your specific lab results, your specific cancer and then some.  When I heard to expect to be there 4-6 hours, I pictured myself reclining in a chair and napping while IV fluids containing "chemo" was pumped into my body through my port for 4-6 hours.  But now I know what chemo treatment really is. 

We arrived in Suite 130 at 8:00am with a small bag packed since I wasn't sure what I was in for. I had my vitals taken (all time low blood pressure for me!) and my port accessed for the blood they needed for labs.  While the blood was sent off to be spun around in that machine and looked at on a slide through a microscope, or whatever they do with blood, I updated my nurse on all my symptoms and side effects: Zero.  She gave me some reminders about chemo and then I met with Dr. Shanks.  He looked at the lab results. Someone, somewhere in there must have called the pharmacy to have them start mixing my chemo meds. I ran our new plan for going to Arizona by Dr. Shanks.  He put in orders to make an appointment for labs only the day before we are to leave.  Just one look at him and I knew that if those numbers were not where he wants them, I will not be leaving on jet plane.  He asked if I had any questions.  I did not.  He called down to the Infusion Center to see if they had a chair for me.  They did.  He looked at me.  I said, "It's go time."  He smiled and said, "It's go time."  Then he walked me down to infusion.  That's when I learned what chemo really is like.  I got the chair I had picked out during my tour of the infusion center.  I sat down.  I met Joan, who would be my nurse and giving me the chemo.  She was very cool. I like her.  I'd go back to see her.  I don't think she liked me, though. I'll tell you why in a minute.

She explained everything as she did it and I really liked that.  First came the pillow and the warm blanket.  Well, actually, first I found out where the bathroom was since I had been drinking so much water.  Even now, I'm not sure if my stomach is a little upset from the chemo or from drinking too much water.  Then I was given a steroid to prepare my body for the chemo.  A little boom before the bang.  Then an anti nausea drug.  Then another anti nausea drug that lasts a longer time.  Those are called pre-meds. Somewhere in between the pre-meds and my first chemo drug, my port stopped working.  After several saline flushes there was still no sign of blood (they want to be able to push a syringe of saline into the line to make sure it goes in, but then they pull back on the syringe hoping to see a flash a pink.  Then they really know the medicine is really going in.) Around flsuh number 8, Rick asked if they charge for each syringe used.  Thankfully, they don't.  Two hours later, 25+ saline flushes, a Heparin flush to clear the line from blood clots, a couple runs up and down the stairs, a couple fake coughing spells, different arm positions, standing up and leaning forward, leaning way back in the chair with my feet over my head (that has a medical term, but I don't remember it), bearing down and pretending to have a baby, an order from Dr. Shanks for TPA and time to let TPA do it's thing, and two hours later, we finally saw blood.  The Adriamycin has to be given directly by the nurse.  She doubles up on gloves and wears a special gown, covers the syringe with a towel, and slowly injects it in the port and the coolness courses through the line and I get cold.  That takes all of ten minutes.  More saline flushes.  Then she hangs the Cytoxin and that gets pumped in over a half hour.  Then it's all over. It didn't feel like anything. I didn't feel anything.  Strange when you think about what the drug is doing. More Heparin is added to the port to keep it open until next time.  Next time will be quicker. 

The time flew by though.  I checked e-mails once.  Had six visitors.  Watched the birds, geese, squirrels and bunny outside the window. Got a lavendar oil hand massage. Counted the cars not obeying the 30 mph speed limit.  Looked for any cars I might recognize.  Was interviewed by a Pioneer Press columnist.  Texted friends. Ate lunch brought by Kara. Drank a lot of water. Made appointments. Rescheduled appointments. Took pictures, had Rick take pictures of me.  Then said good-bye until next time. 

So now you know what chemo is like!

Rick and I were able to talk with Ella tonight. When I asked her if she wanted to read some books about mommy's sickness, she said, "You mean breast cancer?"  She had picked up on more than she had let on.  But she had not yet made the connection between children with cancer and bald heads and mommy with cancer and a bald head. The first words out of her mouth, "We should get a wig." I'm so glad that conversation went well. She also thought it was pretty cool that her teacher's mommy had breast cancer too. She had questions and wasn't afraid to ask them. The books answered some of them.  We were able to answer the rest. Parts of the books needed a little help. The Mommy in the book admits that she's scared, and while it is okay to be scared,  this Mommy isn't scared because "What does the Team Melissa bracelet say, Ella?"  That precious smile, and "God's Got This."  I know and Ella knows who I've given all control to and I am completely at peace with that. If Ella gets scared, she knows who she can come and talk to and most importantly, she knows that God can do anything and she has the faith of a child that believes that. That faith started the day she was listening to a Go Fish song in the car with me on the way to the farm and said, "I don't want Joy in my heart.  I want Jesus in my heart." We prayed right then and there.  So simple, so easy, and all along God has been preparing that tender heart for this season. That will be three years ago at the end of April.  At least every night, but also at most dinner times and some random times in the car, but for sure every night before bed for the last three years she has prayed and asked God for a baby brother, a baby sister, or both.  We told her she should keep praying for that, Mommy and Daddy were, but that Jesus couldn't put a baby in Mommy's tummy while I was so sick.  But it will be a great surprise to see how Jesus makes our family grow. We just need to be patient.  Bottom line(s): Ella knows she is so incredibly loved by her momma (and daddy and grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends).  She did nothing to cause this cancer.  She cannot catch it.  Cancer happens when for reasons we don't know, bad cells start growing next to good cells and grow faster and need to come out.  Mommy will be tired.  Mommy will be sick.  Mommy will lose her hair.  Mommy will wear a wig.  The chemo medicine they are giving me isn't smart enough to tell the difference between good cells and bad cells, so both kinds of cells are destroyed and the good ones will grow back.  In all this, Mommy is still Mommy on the inside and that's all that matters. And God's Got This. Thank you to those praying for this specific conversation.

bottom left picture: look closely and you can see the red...that's the Adriamycin. That's the one responsible for hair loss and nausea and every other side effect known to chemo!  I've read that some people call it Big Red, others the Red Devil.  Joan, the chemo nurse, called it Adria and quoted that one guy from the Rocky movie (I've never seen the movie, but recognized the quote!)

Oh, and a little more detail about the 31 Bags Fundraiser for those interested, in case you don't read comments on blogs (I don't.) Here's Jodi's comment:

"Ok, the ThrityOne online party is open to take Orders on April 2nd-28th. All proceeds will be going to you, YEA! So yes, everyone stock up on all our wonderful bags!
Also, Thirty-One stands for Proverbs31, that is you Melissa! It's an honor for me to hold this Special party for you. www.mythirtyone.com/jborganize101  Just click on 'My Parties' and you'll see the party for Melissa B.
Thank you!"

I'm sure there is some big detail I left out of this synopsis, but the steroids are wearing off and my little upset stomach is getting worse. And Ella is laughing in her sleep, I better check on her.  Pray for no side effects, please! 


  1. Typical mom -- you are multi-tasking always -- chemo treatment and an interview with the media -- lol! The "Turning Point" column will run this Sunday in the Pioneer Press, is it OK if we use that photo of you receiving chemo along with the family photo?

  2. Have you heard of Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.? I love her book, "Kitchen Table Wisdom": http://www.amazon.com/Kitchen-Table-Wisdom-10th-Anniversary/dp/1594482098

  3. So, So, sooo glad that conversation with smart little Ella went well. Just like we were saying that other night, she picks up on much and is resilient. Praying for minimal side effects and that it will be manageable for you. Praying for you and your family!

  4. Oh, and... Yippee!! You get to go to the wedding!!! :)

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  6. Melissa-
    You may not know me, but Ricky probably does. My name is Carrie Hagen. I am the niece of Bruce Hagen, who lives next door to Ricky's parents. I grew up around the borners. Anyways, my mom had read the article that they did on you in the paper and also Bruce had told us what was going on. I am so deeply sorry for what is going on. I have been through this with both of my grandmothers and it is not the easiest thing. I do however know that there is help out there. I am part of a non -profit organization called Pink Ribbon Riders (www.pinkribbonriders.com) We are an organization that raises money through many events for breast cancer patients (we don't like to use that word patients) And 87% of the money raised go straight back to the cause. What we do is give out $500.00 gift cards to anyone that applies for them. Through the years that i have been involved in the organization i have seen how hard it is to make that bill, put gas in the car, get those groceries that are needed, etc. With the $500 gift card you can use it for anything you want. I would like to help you in applying for this if you would like. If you have any questions please feel free to email me or find me on facebook or have ricky get in contact with bruce.

    Carrie Hagen