We had the opportunity to attend a “Chemo Class” of sorts yesterday. Actually, it’s called “Chemo Orientation” and is held by and at Kaiser.
The class had been scheduled for weeks. I knew it would be a week or so after my first infusion, so I was a little reluctant to take the time to attend, after all, I’ve already gone through it! What could they tell me? In addition, I’m not afraid to Google any and everything regarding my cancer and what goes with it – I must already know all there is to know. And…it started 20 minutes late and my attitude was deteriorating by the minute. “We’ll be leaving now”, was at the tip of my tongue at 2:20 when they finally gathered us up and shuffled us off to the conference room where the class would be held. I stood patient until then. Beside, I watch Breaking Bad…what else do I need to know?
Long story short…I really didn’t learn anything new and earth-shattering at the class. The well-informed nurse who presented the information did a comprehensive job doing much more than just read what was on the slides projected on the screen. She actually spoke to us directly, about 12 of us plus support people/family. So all in all, she confirmed a lot of info I was kind of already familiar with. Afterwards, I thought how great it would be to have been able to have some of my family and friends along as well, but, it was not to be. So, here is a little of what I heard at the meeting.
One of the most compelling passages in the presentation addressed the fact that it is O.K. to tell family and friends that you are “sick”. Yes, sick! It’s OK to tell anyone, “I appreciate it, but today is not a good day to come visit…I’m feeling particularly crappy today”. The nurse went on to remind us that we are indeed ill and need not feel obligated to anyone but ourselves. Be polite but have yourself first and foremost in mind when it comes to safety and well being, especially around sick people, ie, colds, flu, and so on. The other side of that coin: do whatever you are able to do in your condition, ie, as much exercise as you can, work as much as you want (though this has a caveat), get out often, etc.
Work and energy. Here’s the caveat. Your brain still thinks you can do what you did before the cancer and the chemo. In other words, you brain will try to write checks your body can’t cash! You start out well meaning with a project or wanting to go back to work, then you just run out gas…and fast. I’ve already experienced this at home puttering around the garage with a project or two – working on my old stereos and a couple photo projects. I just have to sit down often and recharge! How discouraging but real. By the way, regarding going back to work, this is totally up in the air and totally out of the question right now. We’ll see down the line. In fact, I had a nice conversation with the head store manager where I work the other day, and when it came to me coming back she just shook her head and offered this, “Nope. It’s up to you but I wouldn’t do it. Stay out as long as you can considering what you have going on. We miss you and look forward to your return, but don’t push it”. Then hugged me and thanked me for coming in and talking to her about all of this. Makes you feel a bit better about being on a leave of absence. No guilt. No pressure.
The nurse went on to tell us about certain foods and medications both good and bad. About most of this information I was already aware. Stay well hydrated especially before and during chemo cycles. Take your anti-nausea meds well before you have an infusion not after you’ve gotten sick. Call the doctor if this happens or that happens. Wash hands often and keep things clean. And so on. I won’t bore you with all the details. Suffice to say, Loretta and were way ahead of the curve.
Probably the most important bit of information we got…answering our question: What about a flu shot? Her immediate answer: YES, get one now, today, right down the hall when you leave! And so we did. At Kaiser, it’s all part of the plan, ie, free, easy, and relatively painless. Funny how a couple of the folks in the orientation class left shaking their heads, “I ain’t getting no flu shot! It’ll make your arm sore and you get sick for a day or two”. Queue game show buzzer here…NOT! Even if it did do those things (temporary all), it’s a small price to pay if you don’t want to contract a dose of influenza while going through some of the other heinous side effects associated with chemotherapy. It’s a no-brainer.
Speaking of side effects, the bottom line is that they are temporary. They go away after a few days and will go away permanently when the sessions are over. The most important bottom line: the ends to the means is that this is killing what leftover cancer wasn’t removed during surgery. And that’s a BINGO!
So, Loretta and I left the chemo orientation class with a refreshed feeling of, not well being, but well informed. Not only did we get to meet a few nice people in our same situation, we felt we had a better understanding of this whole process. There is a lot of info and support available out there and we will opt for that when the time is right.
One last thing they wanted us to know. Depression during this period is not an option, it is a given. In some way, shape, or form, all of us will get depressed from this experience. Some will deal with it better than others. Some will deal with it on their own. And some will seek help through counseling and/or medication. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a fucking bummer to have cancer and getting through this process with the least amount of depression and frustration is key.
The validation we received was very important to both of us.
Of course, I was the one who asked the most questions and I was the one who volunteered to stand up in front of class, raise my shirt, and show everyone my chest port scars! Some things never change. I’m such as sucker for an audience these days! I was ready to do 3 minutes of standup. “Take my cancer…please!”