Going into the first treatment, my anxiety level was pretty high. Thank God I had Jamie with me for the very long day ahead! He joined me for every appointment and helped me process everything that was going. Prior to today, my care team at Mass General did an exception job of explaining everything to me and told me I can handle everything that is going to happen. However, I had a hard time truly understanding it before having my own experience with it.
10:45am – Biopsy followup. The day started off with follow-up regarding my biopsy to make sure the incision was healed and that I was ready to begin treatment. Everything went well and he cleared me to begin treatment.
12:30pm – Blood work. This is standard before every treatment to make sure I can handle today’s treatment. It’s pretty amazing how quickly the results can come back from the lab at MGH. I got an alert on my phone within 10 minutes showing me the full report of the blood work.
1:30pm – Meeting with the nurse or the doctor. This is my opportunity to ask questions, update her on how I’ve been feeling recently, review my lab results, talk about next steps, etc. This will happen before each treatment with alternating visits with the oncologist and the nurse.
During this meeting, I learned about the possibility of needing a port, which is basically an adapter they surgically implant in the chest to allow them to take blood and give infusions without having to poke a vein. This is especially useful for patients who have veins that are difficult to access. This is good motivation for me to stay in shape and keep the veins easy to access! They say the port is not a big deal. Since I have a big keloid scar on my chest, a new scar from the biopsy that will likely turn into a keloid, I’d like to avoid another surgery if I can. Vanity won’t drive this decision, but since staying fit through the process helps me avoid the port, I should be fine because I’m already planning to exercise every day that I feel well enough to do so.
2:30pm – Chemo infusion. This part was the biggest shocker to me. Prior to going to the Infusion Floor at MGH, my lizard brain painted this ridiculous picture of what the experience would be: I am heading to a prison ward, will be seated in an electric chair, and will be given poison for three hours, and will need to be wheeled out to the car at the end. (Yes, it was dramatic, I know.) What really happened was this:
I was greeted in a comfortable waiting area by one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met in the world, Kelly. She had so much energy and compassion, you could feel it from the second she opened the door to call my name. She brought me to a private room which has a very comfortable chair. It was, in fact, electric, but that was to let me recline the chair using a remote control.
Then, nurse Amanda came over to welcome me and brief me on what’s next. Amanda is truly amazing. She is so compassionate, super knowledgeable, she listens to everything I’m saying, and responds to every detail to make sure I’m fully comfortable with her answers. Amanda got my IV going with some saline, then added some pre-medications for nausea prior to the chemo infusions. As the pharmacy was preparing the chemo meds, Kelly came back to see if I wanted a drink, sandwich, chips, cookies, or ice cream while I wait. I’m starting to feel like I’m on a first class trip.
When the meds arrived, I was so impressed with the protocol that the team went through to ensure that I was getting the correct medications. Amanda scanned all the drugs into the computer, then called over another nurse, who stood at the computer. Amanda read off all the details of each drug she was holding, including dosage, and the other nurse confirmed the results on the computer. They then had to go back and forth on the computer to sign off several times. In addition, Amanda showed me each drug, and the label with the dosage before she administered it. It seems like it would be very hard an error to be made here, which is extremely comforting.
Over the next three hours, I had several medications plugged into my IV. The first of the four chemo drugs was the one I was the most concerned about: Adriamycin, aka “the red devil.” Can you guess why?
This is one of the drugs that can be difficult to tolerate during the infusion, and can lead to the decision to get a port. Thankfully, this went in painlessly in the first 10 minutes or so. The next couple of hours were quite relaxing. As we worked our way through the four drugs, Amanda explained a bit about each one and stayed with me a good part of the time to make sure everything was going well. Jamie and I spent a lot of time getting to know Amanda and telling fun stories. In fact, at one point, while I was eating potato chips and laughing at something we were chatting about, I interrupted and said, “Wait, this is what chemo is? I can do this!”
By about 6pm, it was over! Jamie and I hugged Amanda and thanked her for making this experience so awesome for us. Quoting Mean Girls, we told Amanda that she can totally sit with us. Being a movie and TV buff herself, she got a kick out of that.
I love that MGH uses a preferred nurse model which means that I’m almost always going to be scheduled with Amanda for each of my 12 treatments. This is a big comfort to me. I’m not sure why this isn’t practiced in all hospitals, but I’m happy it’s the way things are done at MGH. In fact, I really appreciate the way just about everything is done at MGH. Once the ball started rolling, the process is excellent, but the people are the most remarkable part of the entire experience. I truly feel that I am in the best possible care on the planet and feel so lucky to only live 10 miles away from MGH.
Overall, I felt very happy coming out of this session. My anxiety was definitely lower, but now my thoughts have turned to the unknowns of the side effects over the next few days. We’ll see how that goes!