No Spring Chicken #7
If you are making a "Bucket List" leave chemotherapy off of it. In fact, find a way to totally skip the lymphoma/cancer digression entirely.

Friday I started chemo. They are using two drugs on me, rituxin and bendamustine. The first has some chance of allergic reaction, and is administered once a month. The latter is administered two days in a row each month. Actually, neither is "per month", they are "per 4 weeks". Eventually we will have a blue moon of chemo. A blue moon is when you have two full moons in a single month. Now you know, if you didn't before, what that old saying, "Once in a blue moon." actually means. It isn't very often, but it isn't all that rare, either.

Anyway, rituxin can cause some problems so they dribble it slowly to start, and as you survive that without side effects they up the speed. They started me at 125 (ml/hour?). About the time they kicked it up to 300 (having passed through 200 & 250) I started getting a side effect - shakes. Like you would get from a fever, but without the temperature. So they shut it off, kicked in the saline drip to flush the line and added benzadrine to reduce the allergic reaction. But it seems your body learns from the stuff, and doesn't fight it as much (if at all) later. After they had me stabilized (shakes gone) and time for the benzadrine to circulate they started off again at a lower rate and upped it on a shorter schedule this time. They got all the way up to 300, which is the max rate for rituxin and finished out the dosage of that, then went to saline for 30 minutes to flush the lines. It seems you don't want to mix these two into a single cocktail. Then they gave me 30 minutes of the bendy stuff. Now, it they dump in very rapidly. Like 1000. So you are really pouring stuff into your system, and all of a sudden I needed to use the restroom more often. Lots more often. This is not too difficult a process because the pumps for the chemicals have a battery to keep them going, so you get yourself out of the chair and blankets, unplug the drip-tower (complete with pumps) from the wall outlet and roll the entire thing into the bathroom. Since they've given you a few extra feet of tube it has lots of reach, as long as you don't let the tower turn. Oops - a five wheel roller thingy, what are the chances that they all roll evenly? Pretty slim, so it seems to go in a straight line while rotating around its axis as you move it. Don't pay attention and you wind up with no slack for the drip tubes, which can make all sorts of procedures with that hand difficult. I only had to un-spin it twice today, because I was paying attention.

They also had me pick up some medicines to be taken at home at night. One for anxiety and nausea. Since the first thing they did was check my birthday, then my weight, then my vital signs, they found that my blood pressure was 110/70 when we started. Does that sound like someone who needs anxiety medicine to see them through? I should hope not. But as the day wore on, and other things happened, it did fluctuate around quite a bit. When I had the shakes it really went weird. But I was home I think it was down and stable.

Most of Friday I had Robinna and Diane, but for a short time I had a nice young lass named Lillian with a very slight accent from Ireland. She says it has mostly disappeared, but that is where she came from. Besides those three I also saw my oncologist, Dr. Malpass and Gina Ritchie, an oncology social worker. Social worker? Heck, I thought that was what I had all of you for! They have some procedures that they have to go through before any of this can start, so they got things set up, but didn't put a needle in until after the oncologist came by and checked on me, then gave the OK. So then they put the needle in, missed, another person tried elsewhere and missed, then tried again and hit. Then, with the doctor giving the OK they were able to call down to the pharmacy and get the two chemicals dispensed. So, by the time they actually started dripping it was 11 am (we got there at 8 am). Janet went down to get lunch, and when she came back she brought me a salad. Since one of the possible allergic reactions from the rituxin is nausea, it was a good sign that I could eat, and did. I just kept getting colder until I had 5 of their blankets over me, and one wrapped around my head and neck (imagine Lawrence of Arabia, without the charm). Diane got a picture of that with my iPhone, so I'll probably send it along some day, or post it to the web somewhere. Robinna, Diane and Lillian did their best to make it a good experience. Warm blankets, cheese & crackers, water, juice, pudding. And a few chemicals to ease the chemo reactions. I suspect that I'll get to know them all better as the months go by.

Once the rituxin was done they did the 30 minute flush with saline, then dumped the bendy stuff in at the really rapid rate. We were wrapped up and done by 5, and just barely got onto the 5:20 ferry (which was a bit late). I've survived the first (and supposedly the worst) day of treatment. I spent a lot of it sleeping or vegging - too weary to read or play on the computer. You know I'm tired when I set the computer aside. When we got home we had a quite, simple dinner. But there were Christmas cookies waiting to be eaten and calling my name, which I had with hot chocolate by the fire. Now, I've just got a few medications to take before bed and I can zone out some more.

Today, Saturday, I survived my second day of chemo. Actually, this one was a walk in the park. No waiting for the doctor or the pharmacy. Just 30 minutes of pumping in the bendamustine (someone must have had fun coming up with that name), and wham I'm out. Of the hospital, not counsiousness. But there were a few problems.

Remember in the first two letters how I told you about the probes? Well, this week I've been probed some more, but all with pointy things to put stuff into veins or take stuff out. So, my poor right forearm has 8 different holes in it from this week. Today I gave them the left arm to play with, since the right has some bruising and lots of sore spots. It still took them two tries today, but it wasn't the nurse's fault (Maurine today). I watched close enough to see that it really wasn't her fault today. Just something about my veins. They have all said I have such nice veins. So, think Carol King:

I'm so vein, that they could write a song about me.

I'm so vein, I'd better write a song about me, 'bout me, 'bout me...

I guess all of this comes down to better living through chemicals, something I've always enjoyed, but I'm particular about which chemicals. Beer, for instance, is one of my favorites. Something that came up this week reminded me of the day Mike, Dave & I went to Northlake for lunch while we were back at the U. Northlake Tavern made and makes some of the best pizza in Seattle. When we left the table there were three empty platters of Northlake's large combo, and five empty pitchers of beer. Now, Mike & Dave had a chemistry midterm that afternoon and Dave made the mistake of walking up to ask the prof a question. The prof smelled him coming, then smelled it on his breath, as well. Mike was smart enough to stay in his seat. I think they both passed the exam, but not by any great margins. Well, I didn't have a midterm. I had to row that afternoon. I had almost three hours to sober up before hand, so I wasn't obviously drunk. But the coach said it was my best day of rowing ever. I guess I wasn't feeling any pain and couldn't think clearly enough to over-think things like I usually do. There is an inner game lesson there, somewhere, but I'm too tired to dig it out just now.

I should mention that Janet & I came up with a scheme to save money. All the chemo and almost all of the testing is being done at Virginia Mason Hospital in downtown Seattle. So that means a ferry ride both ways. Now, if you drive onto the ferry it costs over $15 going one way (and a rate hike is coming), then you pay for parking ($2 with parking validation), then it costs another $15+ for the car and another $7 for the passenger coming back. Total cost is over $39. Well, we've been driving down to the marina where we have a boat, parking there, walking across the town to the ferry terminal, walking on the ferry (cost nothing heading east), taking a cab up the hill to the hospital ($8 with tip), taking a cab back down the hill ($7-8 - less because it is a quicker trip) and walking on the ferry ($10.35 for both of us) and walking to the marina and driving home (total cost $26.35 and I don't have to drive in downtown traffic, nor does Janet). It really is a smarter way to go. It doesn't seem like it to the American mentality ("gotta have my car"), but it is. I suspect you could take a cab to your favorite watering hole and home again many times before you paid for a single DUI, too. Why do we think this way?

This taxi usage has worked pretty well until today. All week long they have had a cab coordinator at the ferry terminal who told passengers which cab was next. Today there wasn't one. I watched two drivers fight over two sets of passengers (enough for both) and chase them both away doing it. So I chose the less obnoxious of the two and went with him. The other fellow spit on his cab. Is it because they were speaking Farsi to each other? I don't think so. I worked for years with a very nice fellow named Reza who was Persian (don't call them Arabs) who never was obnoxious. Not even when I broke one of his ribs playing basketball. It might be a temperament of the people who drive cabs. I notice that they can be very aggressive at the ferry terminal. A lot of folks are going to the airport and that is a great fare, so they fight for it.

I noticed yesterday that even with all the trashing my body has taken I was in a really good mood. This morning I told Janet I'm becoming happy like I was as a kid. I was a very happy child and youngster, and even through my teen years. After that the weight of the world seemed to wear me down. I was still happier than a lot of folks, but nothing like now or when I was younger. I think several things have contributed to this. First, I'm retired. I don't work for anyone stupider than I am who insists on telling me how to do my job. That takes a lot of stress out of life. Second, I was seeing a psychologist this fall about anger management and she put a few things in perspective for me so I don't yell at other drivers any more. Finally, having lymphoma puts all other problems into a different perspective. Yeah, it could be worse, a lot worse. But compared to this everything else in my life is a piece of cake. Or a cookie. Hmm. The cookie monster cookie jar has some cookies in it. I'd better go see if they are still any good.

One final thought for you all to consider. I took last Saturday during the Army-Navy game to brew batches of Stout and Porter, each of which will produce about 2 cases of beer. Then, this week I find out that I shouldn't be drinking alcohol at all while I'm on chemo. Janet doesn't drink the dark stuff. So, if you want to come get some I'll be bottling tomorrow (Sunday) and it will be ready to pick up. It won't be ready to drink for another two weeks after that, but you can keep it for two weeks, can't you? I'll probably keep a bit, in case someone drops by to visit. But beer only has a shelf life of about 3 months, and I won't be out of chemo for 6, or thereabouts. Sorry, remote friends, but I won't ship it. I do ask that I get the empty bottles back clean, though.

In a Good Mood and Loaded For Beer,