On January 30, 2015, I had my first chemotherapy infusion. On July 20, 2015, I had my last.
I was actually looking forward to going in for chemo on Monday, since it felt like I had been saying “one more to go!” for far longer than two weeks. It was time to be done already.
Before Theresa even arrived home from work for the appointment, I was already receiving a lot of encouraging messages, including the last of the “Monday Memes” my friend Matt had been posting on Facebook to bolster my spirits on each of my chemo treatment days. As for the answer to Confused Keanu’s question, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. I started getting more congratulatory texts, and my brothers got into the act on Facebook with more funny memes and signs posted to my wall.
My brother Chris also produced the best animated GIF that I’ve ever seen.
Theresa’s sister Bridgett also chimed in with a hilarious reenactment of my final chemo session courtesy of the kids she babysits. Notice the USB “port.” Priceless.
Theresa and I arrived at the oncologist’s office and my brain started getting into the “woe is me” mode that it frequently employs when it knows I’m about to get another round of poison in my veins. She looked me in the eye, told me matter-of-factly that we were going to be positive today because it was the last one, and I tried to obey.
I was tested almost immediately when we were assigned the crabbiest of the nurses on staff (fulfilling the prophecy that Theresa and I had jokingly discussed the night before about how my final treatment might go). She prepared to flush my port with saline and asked if I wanted to put something in my mouth to disguise the taste. I explained that I usually put a few Animal Crackers in my mouth right before the flushing. Hilarity ensued.
Nurse: Have you ever thought of using a mint?
Nurse: Why not?
Me: The Animal Crackers seem to do the trick for me. Plus, this is my last chemo treatment ever, so it doesn’t matter!”
Nurse: Oh, you think it’s your last one, huh?
Me: [incredulous] Yeah. I’m sure of it. Six cycles was enough.
Nurse: [almost to herself] So he says it’s his last one…
That was the sound of my jaw hitting the floor. The nurses in this office rarely win any awards for their bedside manner, but come on! This exchange made me wonder if they all secretly know that I have a blog and just want to make things more entertaining to read about.
My body apparently had the last laugh, however, as my port decided to stop functioning properly for this last treatment. While the flush went through (meaning that things could go into my vein via the port), the nurse was unable to draw any blood from the port, even after making me lie down, which has solved the problem in the past. Slightly miffed by this entire episode but still trying to remain positive, I returned to the waiting room to find my Mom and brother Joe, who had stopped by for some last-minute cheerleading. I was soon called in to get weighed and blood pressured and then went over to the Office of Blood Procurement (not the actual name, but that’s all they do in this room) where the nurse poked my arm vein to get the seemingly irretrievable blood. I want to state for the record that the nurses in this room are the best blood-takers I’ve ever met. I hardly ever even feel the pinch and I’ve never felt faint from their expert process. Of course today, however, my arm vein wasn’t cooperating either. I could feel the nurse painfully moving the needle around in my arm as she mumbled an apology. At last the blood started coming and I left the room a bit dizzy but relieved.
Thankfully, everything got better from there. We saw my oncologist–who was appropriately jubilant about this being my final chemo treatment–and discovered that the next item on the agenda is a PET scan four weeks from now. That’s right…I don’t have a doctor’s appointment for four weeks! I don’t know what I’m going to do with my free Monday afternoons now! I guess I’ll work.
Unlike the last time I had a PET scan, this next one should be definitive in its findings. I will be given a clean bill of No Evidence of Disease health and my port will be removed shortly thereafter. I asked if I could be fully sedated for the port removal and my doc told me that they generally remove it in the doctor’s office. THUD. (just can’t keep my jaw off the floor today…) I decided to fight this battle later and not dwell on the horrific vision of having a port pulled out of a vein next to my heart while I casually converse with the doctor doing the pulling. Let’s finish chemo first.
By the time we got back to our private chemo room, the original nurse had mellowed a bit and announced that the doctor had in fact confirmed my suspicion that this would be my last chemo treatment. Phew. She also did me the favor of making this final chemo administration go incredibly quickly. The “push” portions of the treatment–in which she manually pushes syringes of various chemo chemicals into my IV line–that usually take 10 minutes each were completed in a matter of minutes. And before I knew it, my head hazy from the Benadryl, it was over. I returned to a balloon bedecked home in a car decorated by my family and drifted off for my customary three-hour nap.
Six months. Six cycles of ABVD. Three fevers. Two hospital stays. Numerous doctor appointments. Hundreds of pills. Thousands of hairs lost. Countless side effects. Endless prayers and support.
Without a doubt, this was the most difficult six months of my life, but also among the most encouraging and life-affirming. In the midst of this trial, I was never alone. My beautiful wife Theresa was always there to help me in whatever way she could–squeezing my hand as they stuck a needle in my port, making or picking up whatever meal my fickle appetite demanded, joining me on the couch for various Netflix binges, disrupting her sleep and work schedule to take me to every appointment, and comforting me in my darker moments of discomfort or despair. I can’t overstate just how vital she has been to not only encouraging my generally positive attitude throughout this debacle, but also in allowing us to continue to live any semblance of a normal life these past six months. She has picked up the day-to-day slack of what should be the shared responsibilities of husband and wife–from cooking and cleaning to lawn-mowing and grocery shopping. She has worked to make sure that we have the most fun we could possibly have while also beating a scary disease into submission. And she has done all of this with a tireless smile and loving attentiveness that defines “in sickness and in health.” While I might have been the one with the lump who was actually receiving the chemo, Theresa and I were fighting this disease together from the first day of my diagnosis. I am eternally grateful to God for bringing her into my life and making me worthy to have her by my side.
But the two of us were never alone, either. Throughout our entire lives, God had been carefully assembling a team of family, friends and acquaintances who would all step up to the plate for us when cancer came calling.
The endless stream of prayers and positivity that have flooded our inboxes, newsfeeds, cell phones and mailbox over the last six months have been overwhelming and awe-inspiring. I will truly spend the rest of my life attempting to pay forward the many blessings that have been showered upon me throughout this experience. (Case in point: The cool image to the right was part of a hand-drawn card I received from my friend Mike, who has devoted his retirement years to Catholic prison ministry. He told one of the inmates he visits, Vinny, about my cancer fight and Vinny drew this card for me!)
For starters, I thought I would at least try to elicit some smiles, so I posted a video that was six months in the making and filmed at various stages of my fight against Lumpy. If you haven’t already seen it, please enjoy. And thank you so much for all you have done to help me get to this point! NO MORE CHEMO!!!!