Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day One of Rituxin and Chemo- Check

Yesterday was more difficult emotionally than it was physically. My parents picked me up at 9:45 to head to Prentice Hospital to check in. Upon arrival  I was immediately amazed at how beautiful the hospital is. At the entrance lies a beautiful flower shop, Argo tea, comfortable chairs with non-sterile hospital lighting.  The check in desk very much looks like one you would find at a 4 star hotel.

"Checking in for five nights"- Last name Benn, First Name Jenna"
"Date of Birth?"- 10/4/81- 29 years old.
 Anytime I am forced to articulate my age ( which is frequent in these parts), I find myself getting choked up. Its is still hard for me to digest how someone so young should have to be faced with their mortality.

 I then think about all the pediatric oncology patients that are fighting for their lives every day with a fearlessness that is nothing short of remarkable. When I think about them,  I remember to stop feeling badly for myself.

We were met by someone from the intake department who quickly moved us up stairs  to what I have been calling the penthouse. The 16th floor of Prentice overlooks the entire chicago lakefront and skyline. Everything about this hospital is brand spanking new. At first glance this place looks much more like a hotel than a hospital. It was only when we started rounding the bend and I realized the hospital scenery was only a facade masking rooms where the sick and dying remain. I took a few steps back, turned to my parents, and let out a long deep yelp. I cried into their arms with with everything that I had.  I was freaked out.  This floor which I am not allowed to leave, is going to be my home for the next 5 days, every 17 days, for 4.5 months ( if all goes according to plan).  I started to feel panicky and hated the feeling of being contained for such long periods of times. I suppose this was the true definition of a stay- cation and I didn't like it.

After my momentary freak out- and it was a good one- my parents held me up, arm in arm and slowly walked me to my room. Its a room with a view, overlooking Northwestern Medical Campus, the lake front, and many of the high rises in the loop. There is a massive flat screen Tv that allows you to check email. And they have freaking room service here. Yesterday I order Quesadillas and a chocolate chip cookie ( as i try to stick to my high calorie diet these days) and it was delicious.
Things were looking up- at least temporarily.

My prentice initiation consisted of giving a stool sample, a urine sample, and blood work. This was no hotel.

The 16th floor is an oncology floor for blood cancers and palliative care. In my quick tour of the facility I saw a lot of old men that appeared to be at the end of the road. It feels strange to know that my neighbors next to me are making peace with their lives, reflecting on their accomplishments and failures, and slowly learning to embrace what is yet to come.  Having death and dying juxtaposed with a young girl fighting for her life,  feels strange and perhaps not fair.

Yesterday they took my vitals, and measured my weight. My chemotherapy has to be so precise and in line with my weight each day for it to be effective. They have this down to a science- literally!!!
I was upset when I stepped on the scale to see that I had lost more weight. I am fairly convinced however if I keep eating quesadillas and chocolate chip cookies, I will gain back some of the curves that have gone on hiatus.

When the nurse mentioned that the chemo would begin in 6 minutes I once again had a mini freak out. At this point the picc line had already been put into my arm, streaming into my heart. It was a just a matter of time before this go-cart would be plugged in and ready to go.

Psychologically its a hard idea to get past. In some ways you can think about the start of chemo as the start of your medical fight against Cancer. I welcomed this idea but I struggled with this also symbolizing  the first day of my new life, my new reality, my new normal. I have no way of knowing how I will react, and what the outcome will be. However, what I do know, is that after this, my body, my mind, my spirit, my soul, my outlook, and the way I choose to live my life, will be forever changed.

So on January 21st, at 3:00 pm, the medicine entered my bloodstream and my life forever changed. I can only hope this date and time will one day be cause for celebration.

I have experienced no side effects what's so ever from the drugs so far. After they gave me steroids I felt like myself again, full of energy and life. I even egged on Marc to see if he wanted to go for a run! It was said in jest but I really felt that good. 

I hear the first few days of treatment have very little side effects but the latter days and the days following discharge are when symptoms start to emerge.  The goal of this treatment is to knock out my immune system- not completely like with Leukemia patients, but pretty close. By knocking it out we can slowly rebuild it so it can learn to better fight off infection. During the days I am out of the hospital there will be times I will be very immunosuppressant which means I may have to avoid crowds, all sick people, avoid hugging and kissing, and wear those famous tourist masks we see people rocking in the airport.   We will see how this unfolds and how I will be able to leave my own mark on my relationship with Cancer.

What I am quickly realizing is that every Cancer survivors experience is their own unique experience.  Because certain symptoms and issues happened for them does not mean this will be the rule for me.
As I have said before, I am a chocolate vanilla swirl ( or maybe a chocolate peanut butter swirl from Loves Yogurt)- my case is unique, I am unique, and how I will respond to all of this will undoubtedly be unique.

Signing off from the technicolor dream world I am currently living in.
For those of you that are in the area - I welcome visitors.
Just call me!

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