100 Summits, Plus 1 More: Chemotherapy (Day 1)

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.




10 thoughts on “100 Summits, Plus 1 More: Chemotherapy (Day 1)

  • December 28, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    I admire you so much, Susan, for approaching this journey the way that you are, Sending you all the love and healing mojo in the world. ❤️

    • December 28, 2017 at 2:28 pm

      Thank you so much Erin!! I truly appreciate your love and support.

  • December 28, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. Cancer is a scary thing, and all those summits are daunting.

    I hope you come through with a new found strength and cancer-free!

    • December 28, 2017 at 6:54 pm

      Thank you! The hardest part of preparing for chemo, for me, was not knowing what I might expect, or what other people went through. I hope I can shine some light into those dark places for other people, and maybe make it less scary for them too.

  • December 28, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    The cancer center nurses are the best! I could not have made it through my late husband’s treatments without them. Hoping you breeze through the series with no issues.
    Go ninja kitty!

    • December 28, 2017 at 6:54 pm

      I love the cancer center nurses!! They’ve been so great to me. I’m so glad they were helpful to you too, and I’m sorry about your husband. Thank you so much for the good wishes!

  • December 28, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    Very different from what I had and sounds actually better. I hope it goes easy. With your dedication and guts, I know it will go well. Support however you need it from here. You are inspiring me to think about training for Fuji. I am not too old, I have just had way too much fun!

    • December 29, 2017 at 5:11 pm

      Thank you Claire! I appreciate your support so much. I’m hoping to get through this and on to the next adventure (which does include Fujisan!)

      • December 30, 2017 at 10:18 am

        Of course you will summit Fuji! Take a picture of the drink machine! I made that up as a joke, then found out there really is one there! I am increasing my walking and stairs, and my hip (I said I’ve had too much fun — that involved a skittish young horse, and no, I did NOT fall off) is actually improving. Fuji is not a technical climb, it is more like a long hike, but there ARE a lot of stairs! Gut this out. You can!

      • December 30, 2017 at 4:16 pm

        I’m looking forward to Fuji-san – and all 99 of the others, too. (I’ve actually been studying, and in training for, the hyakumeizan climbs for almost a year now). And nope, they’re not technical climbing, but lovely, solid hikes, which I adore. I can’t wait to get started! I doubt it will be as much of a “gut it out” as a glorious time in the beauty of the mountains I love most in the world 🙂 (with, perhaps, a few moments of getting through along the way).

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