What Chemo Really Looks Like

To most people the word chemotherapy is followed by a small gasp, raised eyebrows and a feeling of sadness. For us, it’s just part of our day to day life. But what does chemotherapy actually involve? What does a normal treatment day look like? And what happens after you leave the hospital? Each person’s chemotherapy journey is different. It depends on their type of and stage of cancer, the current treatment regime and how well the person can tolerate the drugs. The following is my current chemo journey.
At this point in time I am on a chemo drug called Folfiri. I have an infusion every 2 weeks on a Monday at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. The Sunday before treatment day is when the anxiety starts to kick in. My body knows that it is about to be pumped full of chemicals which will make it sick. I get nervous and begin to feel sick in the stomach and tight in the chest. I don’t sleep very well on these nights. The Sunday is my preparation day. I do all the shopping and organising for the week to come and pack my bag for the next day. The morning of treatment we are up early as we live about and hour and a half from Peter Mac. The sick feeling increases as I double check my numerous medications to ensure I have enough to cover me for the next week of nausea. The drive into Peter Mac always goes faster than I would like with the anxiety increasing as we get closer.
We normally get into the centre for 9:00am and make our way to pathology. Before any treatment can be given I must have a blood test to ensure my levels are fine. So our first wait begins. Once in the pathology chair, the pathologist proceeds to try and put a needle into my ever increasingly hard to find veins. This can sometimes take more than one attempt. The bloods are sent off to be urgently reviewed before my oncology consult and infusion that day. From here we make our way to the oncology consult at 10:30am. And again we wait. An oncology consult normally involves me telling the doctor that I am still getting nausea and them prescribing me with even more drugs. They review my blood work and decide whether I can undertake chemo that day. If the bloodwork is off, I am sent home, but normally it’s all good and we head to Day Therapy for my infusion.
At the Day Therapy ward I check in and again……..we wait. I am then called up to double check my details and sign for Medicare. I am then presented with a lovely bracelet which details my name, date of birth and patient number. Once this is done……we wait again. Eventually a nurse will call us through and after entering the large double doors to the ward, I am weighed and assigned a chair in one of the ward rooms. Each room is occupied by 6 well spaced chairs. These are not normal chairs, but recliners on steroids. The legs go up and down, the back reclines, the arms turn into small tables and they are super comfy. Each person in the room has generally got a support person with them and the rooms can sometimes get rather loud. Once seated, the nurse rattles off a list of questions such as “what side effects have you experienced”, “how is your eating?” and “are your bowels working well?”. My blood pressure, temperature and heart rate are then taken. In order to aid the infusion, I have a port that has been installed into my chest. This little devise sits just under the skin with as small tube that enters


vein in my neck and then runs down to the top of my heart. In order to access the port the nurse needs to push a thumbtack sized needle into it through the skin. This part, although sore, is easy enough. However, before the drugs can be administered the nurse needs to be able to get blood to come out of the line attached to the port. For some reason my port likes to play up. Some days the nurse will need to inject the needle numerous times as well as putting a blood thinner into the tube, which they call “draino”, before the blood will come out. Sometimes this can take over an hour. I am then given pre-chemo medications to help with nausea and other side effects. So, by this time we have been at Peter Mac for 3-4 hours and I am only just about to start receiving chemo. I will now spend the next 3-4 hours in the chair whilst a combination of saline flushes and chemo drugs go through my system. At some point I will fall asleep in the chair. With about an hour of the infusion to go I start to get a sore throat from one of the drugs, followed by an overwhelming sick feeling. There are times were I will start to throw up whilst still receiving the infusion. Once the infusions have finished, a bottle that contains more chemo drugs is attached to my line. This bottle will stay attached for the next 46 hours.
It’s during the drive home that I enter my chemo zombie state. I can’t talk, I struggle to stay awake and only have limited interactions. The entire drive is undertaken with a throw up bag in my lap just in case. Once home I’m straight off to bed where I zone in and out until I feel the need to throw up once again. That night I am unable to eat anything that even resembles food and often struggle to keep water down. My zombie state continues on into Tuesday, which is again spent drifting in and out of sleep. If I am lucky I will be able to eat 3-4 slices of toast for the day with anti nausea tablets that are taken throughout the day. A number of these tablets have a constipation side


effect, so I now need to also start taking laxatives and stool softeners too. Wednesday is an exciting day as my bottle gets taken off the port. Sometime between 3-5pm a nurse comes out to the house and takes the bottle off. Finally I am free!! Not that I feel up to doing much as it’s normally by this time that the nausea really takes hold. By Thursday morning I am back to eating, and boy do I eat. Some of the anti-nausea drugs are in the form of a steroid and it gives me a monster appetite. By the time Friday comes around I can finally leave the house, but only for very small trips. Saturday and Sunday will see me starting to get back to normal and the nausea subsiding. I can finally leave the house for an extended period of time.
For the next week I am back to my normal self and often forget that I have cancer. It’s only the large scar down my stomach and the odd pains in my liver that remind me. All is good again, until the next Sunday when it all starts over again.

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