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.