My fourth round of chemo was yesterday afternoon. It was a bright and sunny day in Versailles (for a change) and I spent half of it in the hôpital de jour being poisoned yet again. Go figure.
Preparation for each round of chemo actually begins a few days before the actual event. There is a blood test to be done 48 hours head of time that is faxed to the hospital and there is medicine to be taken in advance to limit some of the side effects. For this cycle my doctors have changed products/poison and that meant heavy doses of cortisone to offset the possibility of an allergic reaction. This meant no sleep the night before so when I headed into the hospital I was tired and cranky.
Once I got there however there was a lot to lift my spirits. I saw again a lovely woman who I had met during Chemo Round 3 and found out that her husband (also French) is a doctor in Montreal and her son goes to school there. We spent a very pleasant half hour discussing the delights of that city and the quality of the Canadian system of higher education. There was also the warm feeling that comes of being recognized by the staff as I walked down the corridor to the waiting room. The doctors and nurses recognize me now (even with almost no eyebrows and a turban covering my head and pulled down nearly to my ears) and they stopped and asked how I was feeling and how the last chemo cycle went. Ah, the small pleasures of having an abonnement longue durée (long-term subscription) in the club.
My doctor was in a particularly good mood yesterday. Positively radiant. She very carefully went over the list of side effects of the product with me and gave me medication for each one: larmes artificielles (artificial tears) and a vitamin A pommade (ointment) for the dry eyes; injections to boost my white blood cell count (something similar to what athletes use to boost performance - le dopage); pain medication (tramadol/paracetemol) for the muscular and joint pain; and a special vernis (nail polish) for my finger and toe nails to keep them from falling out.
Now these are the potential side-effects and it is entirely possible that I will experience none (or all) of them. I found it very comforting however that she didn't wait for me to actually experience the symptoms before opening up the medicine cabinet. These medications are in my hands if I need them and that gives me a small very limited sense of control over my immediate fate. This is important because so much happens when you are a cancer patient that is not within your power to change starting with the very fact that you are sick in the first place. I am finding that it is easier to be graceful and accepting of the larger picture when the doctors take the time to talk with you and answer your questions and when some things are in your hands to manage yourself.
The chemo session itself went much like the others with one exception: refrigerated gloves and slippers. As I mentioned before one of the side effects is damage to my nails and they've found that icing them during the session helps to avoid that. I have never been so glad in my life to have an Ipad/Kindle because there would have been no way I could have held a physical book with my freezing fingers encased in those big heavy blue gloves. I just turned to my neighbor in the chemo room and she cheerfully turned on the device for me and helped me find the book I wanted. Then, when I wanted to turn the page I just used a pointy edge of the glove to tap on the right hand side of the screen. It was pretty funny to watch (I caught my neighbor smiling at my efforts) but it worked.
I went in at 2PM and was out at around 6PM. As I left I said, "A la prochaine" (until next time) to the staff and wished my doctor "Bonnes vacances! (have a great vacation). Yes, that's right, one of the reasons for her exceptionally good mood was that she was about to leave for one of those long French summer vacations - a few weeks in the sun with her husband and baby. A well-deserved vacation in my humble opinion, and since I know that I will be well taken care of in her absence, no worries on my part.