I Have to Start Chemo ... And I'm Scared

It was six years ago, but I well remember my first chemo treatment ... and the days leading up to it. It was terrifying. We hear so many horror stories about chemo. It is no wonder we all face it with dread (understatement of the year).

Watching my dad's treatment

I watched my dad go through chemo and radiation back in the 1970s for the same illness as I have - nonsmall cell lung cancer, adenocarcinoma. He handled radiation with no problem, but chemo was a different story altogether. He was so sick from it. I remember how pale he got and how weak. He was definitely not the poster child to encourage anyone to want to do chemo. So, I always said, "If I'm ever diagnosed with cancer, I will do radiation, but I will not do chemo."

That is until my oncologist told me that because of my tumor burden, I was not a candidate for radiation or surgery. My only hope was chemotherapy.

Chemo anticipation

My mind did some quick, and I do mean quick, recalculating. "Okay, let's get started," I responded within moments. So much for long-held beliefs and convictions about chemo and me.

To say I was frightened would not be giving enough weight to how I felt before I began this journey. The great big infusion room with cancer patients lining the walls was the saddest thing I had ever seen. At my clinic, it was sterile and ugly. The room had no personality, no color, no humor. But, that was just the beginning. As much as I dreaded becoming one of those patients sitting in the big ugly green chairs, it was that poison that was going to be dripped into my arms that terrified me most.

I wondered if I would lose my hair. In anticipation, I already had a wig waiting. Would I be sick like my dad was? What would it feel like, dripping into my veins? A million worries and thoughts ran through my head.

Hope and humor

Along with me on that first infusion day came my husband, my mom, a tablet, a blanket, water, snacks, and a sense of humor. I wore a dog agility shirt that said, "It's about the Journey." I believed that then. I believe it now.

I asked my husband to video me as I got situated and prepared to begin the journey of and for my life. In my heart, I believed I was living the final few months of my life, but I was determined to do it with hope and good humor.

So, here's what I learned:

  1. Chemo is no walk in the park, but it was doable. I was as sick as I have ever been in my life for several days during the first week after I got my treatment of carboplatin, Alimta, and Avastin. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good the day of and the day after treatment. My mom, husband and I usually treated ourselves to Mexican food after treatment. Out of my three-week chemo cycle, I was bedridden for two to three days. The rest of the time, I could work (albeit shortened days on occasion), take the dogs on daily walks, go to dog agility class, and basically carry on with life. I was nowhere near 100%, but I could still live life.
  2. I didn't lose my hair on that cocktail. Some people do. My hair is not pretty under the best of circumstances. It got uglier. It began to look like I had gotten a bad perm that burned it. So, while I didn't lose it, I had to keep it cut quite short to try to get rid of the burned look.
  3. If I had it to do over, I would get a power port before I got my first infusion. I had great veins before I began chemo. Because I didn't get a port at first, my veins now are no good at all. Once I did get a port, life got much easier. One stick and done rather than babying veins that no longer work properly.
  4. I couldn't feel the chemo as it was dripping into my veins. For me, it felt no different than any other infusion while it was being given.

Don't let fear stop you

Chemo is scary. It is a trip into the unknown. For many of us, it is not an easy thing to do -- we get sick, nauseous, fatigued, at least for a few days out of every cycle. But, it also gives us a chance to beat the monster that is lung cancer. I thought I had only months to live. Instead, I've been living a full and complete life for six years, due in part to the chemotherapy that I was given at the beginning of this adventure.

My best advice? Don't let the fear and dread of treatment cause you to refuse it. It is not the easiest thing I have ever done, but it may be one of the best. I am still here to tell you my story.

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