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Sunday, December 23, 2012

10 Years Ago Today: Chemo

There are a lot of things I don't remember about finding out I had cancer in 2002.  But I do remember the day I began treatments:  today.  That's right.  Two days before Christmas, I had my first round of ABVD (adriamycin, bleomycin, vinblastine, and dacarbazine -- a.k.a. four ways to poison yourself in order to get healthy).  One of these drugs (vinblastine), as it turns out, is a kind of orange-red, which runs through your system and turns your pee, well, orange.  The doctors like to tell you this beforehand, because usually orange or red pee means something has gone seriously wrong with your innards.  Ironically, peeing orange after a treatment of vinblastine still means something is going on in your innards, but in a kind of good way (good bad?  Grey.  We'll go with that).  This was one of the few things I laughed about when I went through the chemo process.  After all, it is kind of hilarious, no?

In any case, I had my first treatment on Dec. 23rd, 2002 and spent Christmas feeling somewhat like garbage.  I'm fortunate in that most of the immediate side effects attributed to ABVD were fairly mild.  There was no intense vomiting (though I'd get a little nauseous at times).  I did feel like I'd gone to a party the night before, drank enough alcohol to kill a horse, and then woke up the following morning feeling pretty much as you'd expect:  extremely exhausted with a side of craptacular.

Beyond that, I don't remember much.  I remember that the nurse who worked at the oncologist's office was an incredibly nice lady with a lovely attitude and that my mom sat with me through most of the treatment (I owe a lot to my mom, if I'm being honest -- she took the brunt of all the financial stress, scheduling, and so on while I tried to combat my disease; she's a hero in my book and a testament to how important it is to have family (however you define it) during times like this).  And I remember feeling like crap while the drugs were funneling into my veins.  You literally feel them eating away at you, like those overnight effects of a nasty cold where you just know that you're going to wake up feeling awful.  The only good thing about chemo, I guess, is that they give you good pain killers and a lot of excuses to sleep and sleep and sleep.  I slept a lot... Oh, and you can pretty much eat whatever you want, so long as you get the necessary nutrients.  Why?  Because chemo ruins your appetite and tends to eat away at your body mass.  Anything to keep your weight from crashing and your body from completely eating itself alive is generally OK.  I made a lot of fruit smoothies...

So there you have it.  I'll blog about how I was diagnosed in the future.  But since today is kind of a milestone -- ten years, baby -- I thought I'd blog about it.  Plus, I recently had my ten year "checkup," in which my oncologist in Florida basically said "well, it ain't back, so you're good to go."  I like such appointments!

There's much more to tell, for sure.  I'll do my best to collect my memories.

P.S.:  Earlier this year, I was inspired by Jay Lake to blog about my experiences with cancer.  Jay has shared many of his experiences on his blog and was kind enough to talk about how terminal cancer affects him as a writer on my podcast.  He's an extraordinary human being.  I recommend you check out his books.

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