I smell like chemotherapy now, having finished my first session of my second major round of chemo yesterday (Sept. 17) with about eight to a dozen other patients at Cypress Hematology & Oncology who, like I, it seems, are going mano a mano with death.
It was a good group, and two women who are fighting breast cancer (one of whom has already done battle with lung cancer as well) had a frank discussion with me about our treatments so far and how we cope with the prospect of not surviving. A fourth patient listened pretty intently during the five hours I was there at the Porter Cancer Care Center in South Denver since I think it was his first ever session in the chemo room.
I entered the building a little leery of what the day would hold.
The major side effect of both the chemicals they pumped into my body yesterday, Irinotecan and Erbitux, is diarrhea, and since the same symptom proved a problem for me during my first major round of chemo, I walked through the automatic sliding doors of the center with a sense of foreboding bordering on doom. The foreboding was for the reaction to the drugs; the doom because the chances of surviving my metastatic colo-rectal cancer for up to or more than five years are pretty slim -- five percent.
But my oncologist, Dr. Thomas Kenney, said the treatments might give me two to three years, and I told the two women in the room with me I wanted the time to finish a book I'm writing about a Denver oilman, Tim Marquez, as well as my own novel, which is up to five completed chapters so far.
As for the rest of the day, it wasn't so bad. I had a 90-minute interview with Kenney's nurse practitioner who went over the treatment, the symptoms of the side effects, and what current medicines and supplements I'm taking that she said I should curtail or continue. She wasn't at all surprised -- except by the little information about the topic in the materials she was giving me -- when I asked her the effects of the chemicals on my sexuality.
I think women, who have grown up with menstrual issues and the prospect of pregnancy, have a better handle on the sexual reactions of the body and its parts acting sexually than do men. We men usually do not like to talk about it. Unless it is with a woman.
The materials the nurse gave me mentioned that sexual intercourse should be performed with a condom since chemo chemicals can be transferred in bodily fluids, which also rules out oral sex while one party is in chemotherapy.
What the materials didn't talk about was passionate kissing, nor a man's arousal to erection and ejaculation, nor a woman's arousal. My nurse told me the chemicals I'm receiving shouldn't have much effect along the latter lines, and I didn't ask about the kissing but assume that should be limited to closed-mouth as well.
My nurse did admit she and her fellow nurses are not often asked those questions. Sex is still a dirty word in America.
Then came the five-hour infusion session, meeting and talking with my two new women friends, and the relief of leaving the center knowing the first chemo session was done, and I didn't have to take another for two weeks. Of course, then the steroid they give you to boost the effects of the chemicals, kicked in and kept me awake past three o'clock this morning. And by six, the diarrhea.
That's why I'm not getting to this blog until now to write and post what I actually wrote in longhand in my bedside journal between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. this morning.
I still smell like chemo, but at least I'm alive to write about it.