Chemo Chronicles: Heading into the final round


Once upon a time, back when we’d finally got out little blog fired up and running, we posted anywhere from five to twenty-two items a day, seven days a week.

Then, five months ago, we discovered some blood and pus in our pee, then a couple of trips to the doctor’s office and a hospitalization later, we were without both bladder [to a very aggressive and relatively rare micropapillary carcinoma] and prostate [thanks to an early stage adenoma].

We also gained something, a new, small circular extrusion of moist pink tissue a few inches to the right of the ol’ bellybutton.

The extrusion, called a stoma, is the end of a section of gut hacked out during surgery and moved to a new location to serve as living plumbing to convey the output of our kidneys into a self-adhesive ostomy bag, an external plastic replacement bladder, complete with its own drain valve.

Unlike the real bladder, the bag-on-a-bod has no nerves to remind us when it’s full. That, in turn, can lead to accidents, as when the pressure of contents exerts sufficient hydraulic pressure to breach the seal twixt bod and bag. [Perhaps it’s just karma from all those leaks we so assiduously cultivate in our journalistic incarnation].

All of this is preamble to our last Double Whammy session.

During the surgery, the doctor also grabbed 20 lymph nodes adjacent to the bladder. Nineteen were pristine, but the twentieth was colonized by the very nasty little micropapillary cancer. Both the surgeon and the oncologist said that without chemo, the odds of metastasis were at least fifty percent — dropping to twenty percent with chemo.

Because it’s relatively rare, there’s no set chemotherapy regimen. The one we opted for consists of an initial Double Whammy session, with intravenous doses of both cisplatin and gemcitabine hydrochloride.

Then, a week later, comes the first of two weekly gemcitabine-only sessions.

Then comes a week off, followed by another three identical sessions. Then come two more repetitions of the cycle, for a total of twelve chemo sessions over a total of sixteen weeks.

It’s the initial Double Whammy session that hits hardest. Friends were present for our first two Double Whammys, but we did the last one alone. In addition to a one-liter cisplatin bag and a smaller gemcitabine bag, the session also includes at least a liter-and-a-half of saline.

Which brings us back to that other bag. . .

In our first two sessions, the presence of friends kept us awake — and thus conscious of the bag. But the last session, we were alone, since the friend who’d planned to accompany us had come down with a virus. Viruses, we learned, aren’t encouraged in chemo clinics.

So we did the session alone, falling asleep somewhere around the second hour of the five-hour treatment.

We awoke feeling pleasant warm in our southern exposure. No, wait. Damply warm.

We had just wet our pants for the first time since second grade.

It all went downhill from there.

Chemo’s been a drag. Each successive round has been more enervating, though we’ve been eased somewhat by our own doctor-approved cannabis-augmented anti-nausea regime, and by a blood transfusion and the addition this last cycle of two or three days of one-to-three-hour IV hydration infusion after each of the chemo sessions. We also seem to have a handle on the cisplatin-induced constipation that landed us in the emergency room nine days after our first Double Whammy.

But the sheer exhaustion has been overwhelming. And what’s worse, it’s hit hardest at our ability to write.

Hence the infrequent postings compared to our pre-surgical days.

There’s one round left and it starts Tuesday with the last Double Whammy, followed by two last rounds with gemcitabine. Plus hours in the clinic reclining chairs on days following to keep the fluids up.

And, for the occasional upchuck, we keep the plastic I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter tub on the bed beside us. [And if we use it, you really won’t believe it’s butter.]

While them chemo ends 16 April, we hear that the energy won’t come back for a couple of months more — perhaps fully by July, around the time a granddaughter is due.

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4 responses to “Chemo Chronicles: Heading into the final round

  1. Bruce E. Woych

    [Portable Poetry …poems for your pocket]

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    [The book printer – Amman]
    Alfred,Lord Tennyson : Ulysses

    It little profits that an idle king1,
    By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
    Matched with an agèd wife, I mete and dole
    Unequal laws unto a savage race,
    That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

    I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
    Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
    Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
    That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
    Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades2
    Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;
    For always roaming with a hungry heart
    Much have I seen and known; cities of men
    And manners, climates, councils, governments,
    Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
    And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
    Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy3.
    I am a part of all that I have met;
    Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
    Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
    For ever and for ever when I move.
    How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
    To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
    As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
    Were all too little, and of one to me
    Little remains: but every hour is saved
    From that eternal silence, something more,
    A bringer of new things; and vile it were
    For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
    And this grey spirit yearning in desire
    To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
    Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

    This my son, mine own Telemachus,
    To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle—
    Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
    This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
    A rugged people, and through soft degrees
    Subdue them to the useful and the good.
    Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
    Of common duties, decent not to fail
    In offices of tenderness, and pay
    Meet adoration to my household gods,
    When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

    There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
    There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
    Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought
    with me—
    That ever with a frolic welcome took
    The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
    Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
    Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
    Death closes all: but something ere the end,
    Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
    Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
    The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
    The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
    Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
    ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
    Push off, and sitting well in order smite
    The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
    To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
    Of all the western stars, until I die.
    It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
    It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles4,
    And see the great Achilles5, whom we knew
    Though much is taken, much abides; and though
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

    Alfred,Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) 1833

    FOOTNOTES
    1 In this poem, Ulysses (the Roman for Odysseus and the hero of Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey), now an old man, having returned to Ithaca after twenty years absence and much adventure, has grown restless, and is now contemplating setting out with his crew again; 2 a constellation of stars associated with rain; 3 site of the Trojan wars of which Ulysses was a hero; 4 the Elysian Fields, believed by some to be the resting place of heroes after death; 5 Greek hero of the Trojan wars who suffered an early death

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    http://www.portablepoetry.com/poems/alfredlord_tennyson/ulysses.html

  2. Bruce E. Woych

    .http://www.portablepoetry.com/poems/alfredlord_tennyson/ulysses.html

    … There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
    There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
    Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought
    with me—
    That ever with a frolic welcome took
    The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
    Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
    Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
    Death closes all: but something ere the end,
    Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
    Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
    The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
    The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
    Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
    ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
    Push off, and sitting well in order smite
    The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
    To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
    Of all the western stars, until I die.
    It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
    It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles4,
    And see the great Achilles5, whom we knew
    Though much is taken, much abides; and though
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

    From : Ulysses
    Alfred,Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) 1833

  3. thanks for this. i read your updates with great interest. we dont know which of us or friends or family will be dealing with such things, but it’s a nice payoff that our concern about you teaches us things to help ourselves and others get through such things. the accident for one thing… also, for example, good to know it takes awhile for the strength to come back! sad to think there’s those who after a month mustve despaired ….. again, thanks.

  4. It is almost over. It is hard to believe all you have been through. Remember you can call on me or Sam if you need help at a treatment.

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