A Note from Fatty: This is the latest post in my effort to tell the story of Susan’s fight with cancer. Eventually, this will be part of my next book, Fight Like Susan.
Neither of us could sleep the night before Susan’s first chemo treatment. We had too many questions about what it would be like.
How sick would it make her feel?
How soon would it make her hair fall out?
Would she always be sick from now on, or just right after the chemo?
And the biggest question of all: How would we know if it was working?
The problem was, the only question we had any kind of answer for was the trivial one: Her hair probably wouldn’t fall out in any serious way until sometime after the second treatment. For everything else, our answer was the terrifying unknown: “Wait and see.”
The people at my new job were unfailingly supportive of my need for some work flexibility. Maybe part of it had to do with my manager already being a good friend of mine, and my manager’s manager being one of the almost absurdly-nice Osmond family (yep, I had lived in Utah for most of my adult life, but never met an Osmond ’til I moved to Washington).
Or maybe it’s just that most everyone has had contact with someone with cancer, and so want to help.
In any case, there was no question about whether I’d take the afternoon off to take Susan to the hospital for her first treatment. Eventually, we figured, a friend or family member would take her and I could do my job. But for this first one, it definitely needed to be me.
The thing is, though, there just isn’t much to tell about a chemo session.
Susan sat in one of the big comfy chairs they had set up for chemo. A nurse plugged the IV bag full of the chemo stuff – being very careful not to get any on anyone’s skin, because it burns — into Susan’s portacath.
Geeky sidenote: A portacath is a permanent little plug doctors install in people who are either going to be giving a lot of blood or getting a lot of IV’s, or both. Imagine a little drumlike thingy right under your skin, somewhere on your chest. The needle, instead of going into your vein, goes through your skin and into the drum, which then leads to a vein. Having one makes it a lot easier for the nurse to hook you up to the IV. They’re a great invention; Susan had gotten one implanted at the time of her mastectomy.
Once hooked up to the IV, we sat there, waiting for something to happen.
We tried to talk for a while, but we were both too anxious to talk. Eventually, Susan got out the little portable DVD player we had brought along, and watched a TV show — Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’m pretty sure.
In a little while, we were done.
The thing is, Susan felt fine after the chemo. Seriously, just totally fine. The doctor had said that — rarely — patients are able to go about their daily lives without being seriously affected. Maybe we had gotten lucky and Susan was one of those people!
I felt great. And, to be honest, hungry.
So I suggested we stop by the Quiznos (for those of you who don’t know what Quiznos is, it’s a toasted sandwich chain in the US) and split a sandwich. I don’t remember what kind of sandwich we got, but I remember it was really good.
By the time we got home ten minutes later, Susan felt sick.
Ten minutes after that, she had thrown up.
Ten minutes after that, she felt worse than she ever had in her entire life. Curled up in a ball and crying, laying on the bed, Susan was throwing up over and over, and then she was dry heaving.
And when she wasn’t retching, she was saying that she hated Quiznos worse than anything in the world.
Of course, it wasn’t really Quiznos that was at fault. Susan and I had split a sandwich and I was fine. It was the chemo, pure and simple.
The anti-nausea medication wasn’t working. Obviously.
I called the number for the oncologist. A nurse specially assigned to be the cancer patients advocate and answer-person got to the phone, and I told her what was going on.
“Some people do really well with some anti-nausea medications, some do beter with others,” she told me. But we weren’t out of options. Not even close. She called in a different medication to the pharmacy. I went and picked it up.
So she called in a third anti-nausea medication. This one was new, she told me. And expensive.
Not-so-geeky sidenote: You may have noticed that I’m not mentioning specifics about medication here, nor disclosing doctors’ names. In large part, that’s because I’ve learned a pretty important lesson about talking about medication and doctors on the web. Specifically, no matter what you’ve done, there’s someone who will tell you (with great conviction and often considerable condescension) that you did it wrong; you should have used this doctor and that medication. Frankly, I’m not interested in having those conversations. They weren’t helpful when Susan was alive, and they certainly wouldn’t be helpful now. Everyone’s case is different. Knowing who and what Susan worked with won’t help anyone, any more than my hearing that I should have done something I didn’t do will help me.
I went and got it. If I’d had to pay, it would have cost $50 per pill. Somehow I would have come up with the money for it, but I was glad I didn’t have to.
This one worked.
By the end of the evening, Susan was feeling better. Not great, but tolerable.
It was the best $100 / day expense I have ever had.
Regardless, though, Susan never ate at Quiznos again.