Sunday, October 1, 2017

All Done

So where are we? 

I’m occupying that strange land that lies at the end of treatment and  before we take the pretty pictures that tell us how effective that treatment was. Scans won’t happen for another two months but rather than feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, I  feel pretty calm. Not to sound like a seasoned veteran but I’ve done this before. Rituxan worked before. I have no reason to believe it won’t work again. And if it doesn’t, well, we’ll address that when we get there. So until then…some comments and observations about this round of treatment.

Treatment Not Chemo
First go round, I did Rituxan and Bendamustine. The latter (Bendamustine) is a nasty toxic little chemical substance, thus it is definitely chemotherapy. Rituxan, on the other hand, is a monoclonal antibody — so a type of immuno, not chemo, therapy. This go round? No Bendamustine thankfully. So that’s why I refer to it as treatment and not chemo. In case you were wondering.

Easy Does It
Because it's a targeted treatment, and not the broad, systemic toxin that Bendamustine is, the Rituxan treatment is about as easy as it goes. I felt fine, with the except for a little headache, fogginess on the Saturday after each treatment. I continued my running each week, and this week, I'm back up to my 10-15 mile a week schedule. That's great, but it creates a strange disconnect when you're sitting in the waiting room, about to get treatment feeling healthy, and are surrounded by people much sicker than you. I felt simultaneously lucky and guilty, and occasionally apprehensive, after all since the eighth floor is all hematologic oncology, all the patients there were likely lymphoma, leukemia or myeloma patients. Hard not to see the sicker patients and wonder if that could be you some day.

Super Sensitive
Ever drink too much and couldn’t move your head (or any part of your body) without the whole room spinning? Couldn’t shut your eyes? Couldn’t move your eyes? Yeah, that’s me on too much Benadryl, all at once.

So on week three, Lana, my angel of a nurse (more on her later), slowly, slowly pushed the Benadryl in my IV. It was the slowest she’s ever pushed 50 mls of Benadryl, she said. What’s the point? When it comes to medicine, I’m super sensitive. Makes for a cheap date.

The slow push worked well — some vertigo but manageable. And by week four, we were feeling confident enough that I wouldn’t react to the Rituxan that we went back to Benadryl pills. Much better.

Little Things Matter
When you’re spending seven (the shortest day) to 11 hours (the longest day) in the same infusion chair with the same staff, little things matter. Having Stacy there for the second half of each day was key. Often, we were just surfing on our own devices much of the time, but the physical company helps. So do the little things that Dana-Farber does, like having volunteers push around a food cart for refreshments. And smiling. Nurses, techs, volunteers all greet you with a smile. When you’re going through treatment — even when it’s as relatively easy as mine was — a smile helps. 

Big Things Matter, Too
One of the biggest things about doing a course of infusion is having the same infusion nurse. No matter that all the notes from previous rounds are well documented, and that they’re all capable and nice. As a patient, you feel like your nurse knows you. And I felt like Lana knew us — me and Stacy. It was Lana, my nurse, who was there well past her shift end, when my first infusion lasted until 8:30 pm. I was glad to see her familiar (and yes, smiling) face on weeks 2 and 3. And when she wasn’t my nurse on week 4, she still checked in to see how we were doing. I remember when the Yawkey building opened back in in 2011, I was on a few committees and as people talked about the clinic switchover form one building to the new building, one of the big concerns was whether patients would have their same infusion nurse. I didn’t see the big deal back then. I get it now.