Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Post of Assurance

I have three friends who will begin chemo next week.  I've spoken with each of them and while sometimes I feel like I have alot of experience with cancer, I am not the patient and I cannot relay just how a patient might feel before starting his/her first treatment.  I can however, tell them a little of how my husband and I felt before his first treatment.

I didn't sleep much the night before.  All I could think of was what would tomorrow be like for my husband and would I be strong enough to help get him through?  I always tend to wear this suit of armor and my persona is that of someone who can get through whatever comes my way - but little does anyone know, looking in from the outside, just how I truly am feeling. 

We arrived at the cancer clinic early that morning.  First we had to check in at the clinic desk, my husband had a blood test to ensure his blood levels were ok for the treatments (blood tests are always done before having any chemo treatments so this will be routine) and we were told that it would be about an hour wait before the results were in.  We went to the hospital cafeteria for coffee to help pass that time and to try and alleviate our anxieties.  My husband appeared calm, but then again, that's the way he always seems no matter what comes his way.  I know that he was a little nervous though, because who in this situation would not be - after all, he was the one going to have the chemo.

And soon the time had arrived and we were standing in front of two huge doors that had CHEMOTHERAPY written right across them - as we entered I held my breath.  It was a rather long room with loungers all along one side and beds along the opposite side.  There were a few patients already there receiving their treaments, but it was not overcrowded, no doubt due to the early hour of our appointment.  A smiling face introduced herself as Nurse Paddy and then she asked my husband if he wanted to sit in one of the loungers or lie down on a bed.  He chose to lie down and she went over some of the possible side effects of the cancer drug and then handed him a paper to sign for his acceptance. (One thing to note here is to NOT stress out when you read all of the possible side effects from any of your cancer drugs - they are all possibilities and not actualities so don't let that worry you.  My husband never had any harsh side effects, so hopefully you will be the same). Before long he had his IV of Benadryl to counteract any allergic reaction.  Soon he was lying there, eyes closed and actually resting quite comfortably.

Now it was my turn to look around.  Some patients were receiving their treatments while sitting up and others were lying down like my husband.  A couple of patients were reading books and looking quite relaxed despite the fact that they were having doubt this had become somewhat routine to them by now.  Another patient and her husband were seated directly across from us and as I smiled at them, her husband instantly could understand just how I felt.  He smiled back and with comforting words told me to "Just make myself feel at home....|"    Home?  I could this place ever make us feel like home?  Strangely enough though after a few visits to this chemo ward, we both did feel as though we did acquire this homely atmosphere everytime we entered through those big doors.

It was a busy place...nurses were constantly checking on patients IV's and/or ports, they continually checked everyone to inquire if patients or those accompanying them would like anything to make them more comfortable, and doctors on occasion would stop by to see how some patients were doing.  A kind elderly lady rolled past with a cart filled with tea, coffee, juices and light snacks for those who wished to indulge.  She stopped and chatted with everyone, no doubt to make them feel more comfortable and she easily accomplished this with her warm smiling and caring personality.

My husband was soon feeling a little colder, so the kind man across from us showed me where I could get blankets from an electric warmer at the end of the room.  I brought two back and covered him which made him feel more comfortable.  The nurse soon arrived with the chemo meds and as I watched them drip into the IV,  I couldn't help but wonder if this would be the miracle cure that we were all hoping for. 

Popsicles anyone?  Apparently popsicles are a regular in any chemo room for patients who might like a cool treat.  In this particular chemo roon, there are glass windows that entirely encompasses one side of the unit where one can look out over a beautiful flower garden when in season.  The array of color and the miracle of nature, allowed my husband and I to feel quite complacent as the sun shone so brightly on the beautiful blooms in front of us.  There were books on a shelf for those who liked to read and televisions at different venues.  For patients who may be receiving chemo now - I would suggest that you may want to bring along a small hand held protable DVD system that you can place right beside you or on the tray top and watch your favorite movie to pass the time and keep your mind off the treatment itself.  I had brought along a journal, so I occupied myself with my favorite pastime - that of writing.

Once the IV's were completed - (this will take various times, depending on the type of treatment you are receiving) - then the nurse removed my husband's IV lines and advised him to stay for a few minutes longer to ensure he was feeling ok.    When she returned to give him the final release he was actually feeling really good!   Not tired at all, because he had rested throughout the whole procedure.  We went to the clinic desk to receive our next appointment schedule, bid farewells to those who were still in that room and whom we had met that day, and then we were off!

Thinking back to the indepth anxiety we had felt prior to entering that chemo room, there was really no need to be that scared at all.  The staff were extremely friendly and reassuring, the unit was very inviting and relaxing and most of our fears, as it is normally in life, were ones that we had imagined.  Once we both experienced the situation, I have to say that my husband felt so much more relaxed when he returned for his second treatment the following week.  Next time, I brought a small lunch, a crossword book and another book for my husband as well.  We were more prepared and less stressed as we knew what to expect on the second trip.

I have found this great website that you really should check out and please scroll down to read "Lessons From the Chemo Room"...I think it is one of the best things I have ever read and definitely a must read for those who are new to chemo.

For those of you who are going to have your first chemo treatments soon, I trust our experience will help to reassure you in some way.  While I understand that each patient's journey is different sometimes, the fear that we all experience as patients and caregivers, as well as family members is very similiar.  It is a difficult road to travel, and there are no words to dispel that, but my best advice would be to keep positive, take each step along this highway with courage and I know for certain that you will meet such wonderful people along the way who will leave a lasting imprint on your heart.

Good luck to everyone and remember that you are never alone!


Meya said...

This is a great post. My husband begins chemo next month and we read this together today. It does ease the uncertainties for sure.

Cheryl said...

A well written post Deb and a 'must read' for us all.
Love Chez xo