I completed chemo session one. Some immediate side effects, but nothing too horrible. The worst part was getting the port.
March 2nd at 0600 I checked into the area responsible for port installation at the Portland VA medical center. Treated as outpatient surgery, I was given an IV (hopefully the last until the port is removed) and asked the normal battery of pre-surgery questions. Prep included nothing to eat or drink since midnight before, so I am really wanting a cup of coffee.
In concept, the port is identical to the PICC, just more hygienic and much less maintenance. A line runs down a vein in the neck area to just a centimeter short of entering the heart. This line is hooked to a small (about quarter sized) reservoir. All of this is under a few layers of skin and is generally accessed through the skin with a special needle. The port allows both the introduction of fluids to the body and blood draw from the body.
Wheeled into the operating room, then placed on a table that moves beneath an ultrasonic instrument. After my neck and upper-right chest area are sterilized with Betadine (I think liquid nitrogen or deep space are the only things colder), a cloth tent is placed over my entire body with a hole just for access to my neck and upper-right chest.
The doctor, in the pre-operative brief (which included possible problems that could occur during the procedure, and everyone I have sat through always ends in “and possibly death”), told me that the local anesthesia he will be applying will be a sharp stick and a burning feeling. Other than that, I should only feel pulling.
Holy crap! He wasn’t kidding! The stick was the stick of a needle, but the burning was the heat of the plasma from the sun! I did state some expletives during the application of the local. Thankfully, the scalding lasted only a few seconds, then wonderful numbness. Lots of pulling, some sharp pain, in which I get another dose of burn.
I will post a picture of the port area in the future, once all the dressings have come off and the bruising is healed. Afterward, we were told placing the port was similar to placing butter under the skin of a chicken to turkey during cooking preparations. Yeah, glad they didn’t tell me that before the procedure; talk about high anxiety knowledge.
All in all, the procedure only took about 20 minutes. The prep up to was about an hour and a half, and the wait after for the sedative to wear off (of course nothing strong enough to put me out) another hour and a half. At 1000, we head up to the chemo ward.
The chemo ward was all ready for me, and since port installation the doctor accessed my port for the ward, I immediately hooked up to my poison cocktail (two different ones) and began the infusion. Two pretty uneventful hours.
Giving Comfort, a McKesson Foundation program, provides a goodie backpack for new chemo patients. Julie and I were both impressed:
- a little wooden “Hope” box with uplifting stickers within.
- a fleece blanket.
- a backpack for hauling stuff back and forth.
- a personalized postcard signed by the one that packed the backpack, reminding the recipient to Stay Strong!
Very thoughtful and unexpected.
When the infusion was completed, we met with Coram (an outsourced civilian company that is contracted to provide services for in-home infusions) and became re-acquainted with Carina (the pump that provides my third and final part of the cocktail). Carina and I must dance for 46 hours to complete the chemo treatment. Once hooked up to the pump, Julie and I left to get something to eat before heading back to Eugene.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was getting hit with a side effect even before leaving the chemo ward. Julie and I both had cups of ice water, and when I took a sip from the straw, it felt like I sucked up an ice chip and it stuck in the back of my throat. I hacked it up and went on. It happened again, so I stopped drinking from that cup.
At the eatery we stopped at for lunch, I sipped the cold soda Julie and I was sharing and again the ice chip. Now I was suspicious. Just before leaving, I visited the bathroom. Washing up, the water was not warming up at all, so I washed with really cold water. BANG!
Remember that time you slept on your arm and woke up to find it completely numb - maybe to the point you had to lift it with the other arm just to move it. And after a bit, when the blood starts flowing back into your arm you are hit with sparkling/tingling needles of pain as your arm wakes back up.
BANG! The fingers and palms of both of my hands instantly had that needle pain sensation. Later, after we got home, I walked into the bathroom in my bare feet on the cold linoleum floor and was hit with the same sensation in my toes and soles of my feet.
Julie and I went over all the possible side effects of each of the chemicals in my treatment. Much too long of a list to itemize here. A shorter list would be the actual side effects I am experiencing in the days after the treatment.
- tingling and pain in fingers toes (palms, soles) when exposed to cold.
- constriction of the throat when drinking cold liquids.
- sensitive to cold (I am cold all the time and commonly walk around the house in socks, stocking cap, light coat, and gloves).
- tire easily (exhausted pretty much all the time the first couple days after treatment).
- no appetite.
- a persistent numbness in my fingertips.
All of the side effects have either gone away or reduced greatly after a week. One real concern is the numbness in the fingertips. This side effect can also appear in the toes. This one we need to watch closely, as the doctor has said if it gets worse, doesn’t go away, or starts crawling up the arms or legs, the cocktail must be adjusted reducing or eliminating the agent causing it. This side effect, taken to extreme, can become permanent.
Some of the side effects may have been exacerbated or caused by the port installation. The port area was painfully sore for a few days after installation, to the point I took some serious painkillers in response. I am hoping this is the case, and the next treatment will tell. Which, is taking place on March 16th along with an ostomy checkup.