Thursday, August 2, 2012

Preparing for Treatment - Chapter 5 of My Cancer Story

This blog post is the 5th in a series chronicling my battle with colon cancer ten years ago.  For Chapters 1-4, see the Blog Archives to the right of this post.

It’s January 2002. I’ve had my colon surgery. My cancerous tumor has been removed, and I am recovering well at home. Now it’s time for the next step…to meet my oncologist and plan treatment.

Dr Margaret Gore
My surgeon, Dr King, recommended Dr Margaret Gore to manage my treatment. I make my first visit to consult with her, with my sister Althea in tow. Dr Gore is a lovely woman, and has an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a medical degree from Duke University. After introductions, she reviews my condition and my treatment options. Although the cancer did not break through my colon wall, I tested positive for a low level of activity in my lymph nodes. This requires chemotherapy to keep the cancer from spreading into other organs.

Dr Gore and her colleagues believe that the current standard recommended treatment for my situation is about to be superseded by a more aggressive plan. I choose to take the aggressive route to make sure we get ALL the bad stuff. The way I look at it, there’s no room for regrets if I make the wrong choice.

I will need three hours of chemo once a week for six months. Every fourth week, I will get a week off. I’m not that interested in all the detail on the specific chemicals that will be used. I never did do well in high school chemistry. Ron ends up doing a lot of reading on the subject (and scaring himself in the process). We talk about some of the possible or likely side effects, like nausea and hair loss, and vulnerability to infection if my white blood cell count drops too low. Then we talk about how to move forward ASAP. Let’s do this.

The first task is another surgery. Dang! I need to have a catheter surgically inserted into my chest to facilitate delivery of the chemo drugs. They call this a portacath. The device is like a screened porthole that is put under your skin and tapped into a large vein. When drugs are administered, the nurse will just need to push the needle through my skin and the screen, and we will be ready to go. This will help avoid damage to my skin and muscle tissue that can be caused by the toxic drugs.

Insertion of the portacath is completed a few days later, and I find recovery from the surgery rather painful (like someone whacked me in the chest with a baseball bat). It’s odd to adjust to having a foreign device under my skin, and it affects my sleeping positions, which adversely impacts my sleep and makes me cranky.

We decide that my treatments will be on Friday afternoons, so that I have the weekend to recover from any ill effects and hopefully be ready to go to work on Monday. I’ll start chemo next Friday and go back to work soon, after being out for eight weeks. I’m determined to get through this next six months and on to the rest of my life.

Next time: My first day of chemotherapy.

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