Yesterday was quite a day. Many of you may not know what receiving chemotherapy entails and might be curious about the process. My particular treatment regimen consists of two chemotherapy drugs, which were adminstered intravenously. The treatment was given in a small, private patient room by one oncology nurse. My nurse's name was Debra, and she was excellent. Doug, Terrah, Mom and Dad were all permitted to be with me in the room. Before the chemotherapy drugs were started, I was given a cocktail of medications to help prevent allergic reaction to the chemo. A couple of those made me extremely drowsy, so I was groggy throughout the rest of the process. After those medications were given, each chemo drug was adminstered separately and took about 30 minutes each. The process is really quite painless, and the staff did an incredible job of making me feel comfortable.
In fact, permit me a tangent about the staff for a minute. It seems that in the last couple of days, staff from different parts of this puzzle appear out of nowhere offering just what I need at the time. For instance, on our way into chemo yesterday, we passed Dr. Netterville's nurse, Georgette in the hallway. First of all, I don't think Georgette ever even met me personally (we had talked on the phone), but a few days ago at Netterville's office, she recognized me from a good distance and it was the same story yesterday in the hallway. They do have a picture to help them remember patients, but really who could be expected to remember someone they'd never really met from a picture they might have seen briefly? Anyway, she was so kind in her hopes that my pain subsides quickly and in offering her assistance with anything I need (even though she works in the surgery department and I am in oncology's hands for the next 9 weeks). She wouldn't have even had to speak, but she took the time not only to speak but also to show genuine concern.
Next, we went into the waiting room we thought we were supposed to be in, and one of Dr. Gilbert's nurses, Beverly, appears out of nowhere telling us where to go and that she would be down as soon as possible with my orders for chemo. She and Dr. Gilbert have been so kind and so available. On Wednesday, Dr. Gilbert wasn't even planning on seeing me. She was just going to write orders for my pre-chemo bloodwork and have that drawn, but when she ran into us in the waiting room and she could tell I thought she was going to see me, she took us to a room and answered tons of questions. Beverly, was also running to and fro that day helping with additional requests for information. Meanwhile, there was a waiting room full of people with questions for her, I'm sure.
Later, just before I was set to go into the chemotherapy treatment room - I mean, literally, they had just called my name - Patti McCarver, NP from surgery shows up to encourage me. What you must understand is that her office is nowhere close to the chemo treatment area. I know people who haven't walked that far in 10 years! I really don't even think she was sure of how to get there, but she showed up with perfect timing to add her comforting smile. Making a special trip across campus to comfort someone on day one of chemo is not the job of a head and neck surgery NP - it is Colossians 3:23 in action. Mom and Dad had not met her yet, but had heard about her kindess to me - of course, they were pleased to get a chance to talk with her. I don't know if I've mentioned this in a previous post or not, but Patti has prayed with us on two occasions, and I'm certain she has done some praying on her own time, as well. She is a God-send without question.
I can't leave out Debra, the oncology nurse that I mentioned above. She was just as impressive as everyone else by which we've been served. She was kind, patient, thorough, comforting, and knowledgeable. She will be my nurse for most of the treatments - I was very uplifted by that news.
There is more to be said about other staff members, Drs. Sinard and Netterville (the surgeons) and Dr. Cmelak (radiation oncologist), but I'll save those for future posts.
Randy also stopped by yesterday morning. I was pretty out of it while he was there, but I'm certain he and Doug discussed drive-thru strategies, which gave me some of my best entertainment of the day.
Let me get back to the details of yesterday. The actual infusion of chemo only took one hour, but the total experience was about 4 hours. I expect this to be the case for most treatment days. Each week, before receiving chemo, blood will be drawn to check various markers which indicate whether or not it is safe to receive that week's treatment. The lab results have to be reviewed by Dr. Gilbert and then I can receive treatment.
After the treatment, I felt fine regarding the chemo. I was just extremely drowsy for several hours later. Nausea and vomiting were possible side effects for later in the day, but I never experienced those. I have had some nausea this morning, but nothing major. My pain medications have been changed by oncology, and they are working much better than what I had been taking. This is extremely good news, of course, especially where my sleeping is concerned. For almost a week, I hadn't gotten a good night's rest. At times, the pain medication and fatigue where enough to get me to sleep, but I woke frequently with more intense pain than when I went to bed. Lying flat seemed like it might be making the pain a bit worse, so I had been trying to sleep in the recliner, but that wasn't a very successful strategy either. Yesterday afternoon, with the combination of extreme drowsiness from the pre-chemo infusion and more potent pain medication, I was able to sleep in the bed for about 3 hours solid - such a wonderful blessing! Then, last night, I slept a good five hours without interruption - thank you, Father!
Today, I have an appointment for a PET (positron emission tomography) scan to determine whether or not the cancer has spread to other parts of my body. That wasn't really a great concern before now, since my CT looked so good. In fact, I still think it will be negative, but due to the rapid changes over the last few weeks and my desire to have one done, Dr. Gilbert ordered one. It is scheduled for today at 3:15 pm.
The PET scan brings me to my next topic - cure rates. I'm always hesistant to talk about this, because I don't want any of you to be more upset or worried than you already are. On the other hand, I want you to understand the seriousness of the situation, because I cherish your prayers. I have been told that the cure rate is as low as 40% by Dr. Sinard and up to 80% by Dr. Gilbert. Dr. Gilbert also recognizes that it could be as low as 40%, but states that the cure rate increases dramatically with this treatment method depending on the cause of the cancer. Of course, as I've said before, we will probably never have a definite cause for mine. Therefore, it is impossible to produce a definite cure rate percentage. Cure rates are based on 5 years post treatment. So, if I have no signs of recurrence 5 years from now, I will be considered totally cured. Of course, I will always be considered high risk for developing other cancers.
Make no mistake, I want you to pray for complete cure if it is God's will. We must not fret about cure rates, though. Listen to this from Job 14:1,2, & 5:
1) Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. 2) He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure. 5) Man's days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.
God has a perfect plan for my number of days - cancer or no cancer, surgery or chemoradiation, promising cure rate or not so promising cure rate. However, he also tells us to come to Him and ask for what we desire. Of course, I desire to live, so I will keep praying for healing and cherishing your prayers for the same. Even still, if God has other plans, they are best for all of us, and we have to remain strong in our trust of His intentions.
Praise Him for always making good plans!