In 2018, I will attempt to become the first American woman over 45 to climb the Nihon hyakumeizan (100 famous mountains of Japan) in a single year. Given my recent cancer diagnosis and surgery, I believe I’ll also be the only person of any age to climb them within a year of completing chemotherapy.
My oncologist described the journey as “100 summits, plus one more.”
I started up the first one yesterday – even though I didn’t walk a step.
Since I plan to chronicle the entire 100 Summits experience here on the blog, I’m including my “climb” through chemotherapy also – to add context to my story and, I hope, to help other people facing cancer treatment or illnesses.
(All of these posts can also be found on separate 100 Summits tab, which will contain only the blogs tagged #100Summits or #OnlyOneNinja.)
Yesterday morning, I had my first chemotherapy infusion. (If all goes as expected, I will have eight of them, two weeks apart.) I arrived at the infusion center an hour early, because I accidentally put it in my phone as 9am instead of 10am. (oops)
I had books, and didn’t mind waiting, but the nurses brought me back and got me started immediately. They set me in a comfortable recliner (see the shot above), gave me a delightfully warm lap blanket, and then got started.
First, they had to clean and access the port-a-cath (a Bard PowerPort) that my surgeon implanted beneath my right clavicle on December 4 before I left for Japan.
The port lies completely under the skin, and consists of a catheter and a line that goes into my jugular vein, allowing the nurses to send the chemo drugs in as close to my heart as possible and decreasing the chance of damage to my veins. (Important, because one of the drugs I’m getting is known for doing that kind of damage.)
This photo might look scary, but it doesn’t hurt – and IVs do – so I’m glad I went through the surgery and had the port installed. It made the entire process so much easier.
After accessing the port, the nurses gave me a “chemo teaching” about the drugs and the process, to make sure I understood what would happen today and what was likely to happen in the days to come. They were great, and answered all my questions. Then, they pre-medicated me through the port with saline (to protect my kidneys), two histamine blockers (Benadryl plus one more, to help avoid allergic reactions) and “the best anti-nausea medication on the planet.” It didn’t hurt like IVs sometimes do – and that was weird, because I kept expecting it to hurt, but it didn’t.
Once those were on board, it was time to begin chemotherapy. First, I received my dose of doxorubicin (sometimes called “the red devil” because it turns your urine red)
The nurse used a syringe to push the drug into my port – but slowly. It took about 5 minutes to get all the medication in. Once again, it didn’t hurt, and by then I felt very sleepy from the benadryl. After flushing the catheter line, the nurses hung my second chemo drug – Cyclophosphamide – which I received as an hour-long drip infusion.
To me, it felt like five minutes because they leaned my chair back for me and I took a lovely nap. By the time I woke up, my husband had arrived to take me home.
I still felt tired, so I went to bed as soon as I arrived at home. I slept for about 5 hours, woke up to watch a little TV with my husband and update friends on my status, and then went back to bed, where I slept like a rock for a little more than 8 hours – the longest I’ve slept in several weeks!
I’ve still got a long way to go on this journey, and I’m sure it won’t all be happy naps, but given the available alternatives, I’d say this first day went brilliantly well!
All cancer patients’ experiences vary – and nothing I say here is intended to be taken as medical advice. That said, I know how terrifying a cancer diagnosis is–for the patient and her friends and family–and I hope by sharing my story I can give other people hope and strength as well.