Chemo diary, Part 2: The good doctor, the poking, and the prodding

Just for fun, let me call my oncologist Dr. Plimsole Fay Swacker-Carbonspine. He’s a swell guy but may not want my endorsement.

Dr. Carbonspine prescribed the chemotherapy drugs administered from Jan. 30 to July 19, which are enumerated below. About him I have to say I was wary. Learning early on in the relationship that I’ve written about cars, he pumped me for information on Bentleys and Aston Martins, both of which are sold at a dealership located conspicuously near the clinic. It really would have been better had he inquired about the Toyota Yaris. Or pickups. I like to talk to doctors about pickups. “Yes,” I say, “you can take it off-pavement and maybe lose yourself in the boonies.”

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Me, in April, at a grain elevator in Booker, Texas, during recovery week, outfitted with a J. Augur Design scarf.

Here are the drugs I got:

Oxaliplatin (anticancer) by drip infusion every other Tuesday. It has platinum in it. I got the upgrade! It’s also about the same price per infusion as renting a bowling alley for you and your friends for an entire Saturday afternoon and the next two Mondays.

Leucovorin (folic acid analog) to help the body absorb the oxaliplatin.

Decadron (dexamethasone), a corticosteroid, also to ease the body’s acceptance of the oxaliplatin, even though decadron has a list of side effects stretching from here to Pasadena.

Kytril (anti-nausea), a serotonin receptor antagonist. It’s effective although if I were a country crooner I’d write a tune called “Please Leave My Serotonin Alone in El Paso.”

Zofran (anti-nausea) tablets at home as needed. I took about two and then forgot about it.

Fluorouracil (anticancer), first in a “push” injection through the PICC after the oxaliplatin drip and then by continuous infusion for 48 hours. A big pain in the ass! I hate this stuff. It’s like trimming a lawn with a B-24 fixed up with a mower deck on its belly.

Heprin (blood thinner) in the clinic to clear the catheter.

Lovenox (blood thinner) by injection into the belly after blood clots developed. Imagine a fire brigade going to work on the blood clots. Very impressive!

Coumadin (blood thinner: barium lake, aluminum lake) by tablets daily. A result of taking a blood thinner is that the tiniest scratch or scrape develops an ambitious scab that hangs on beyond closing time.

Neupogen (filgrastim), a bone-marrow stimulant, boosts the white blood cell count against the depradations of neutrophenia. Neupogen injections, so I hear, cost thousands per pop. Why not skip them and do something useful with the money—something good for humanity—and buy a ’77 T-Bird instead? Or a Cadillac CTS wagon?

Immodium over-the-counter recommended for you can guess what I don’t want to talk about it disgusting!

Cannibis, a readily available herb. Dr. Carbonspine didn’t prescribe cannibis, but I got a card and used the herb as a supplemental anti-nausea drug and also found that it cleared up the foggy headache that lingered after oxaliplatin. It’s an attitude-adjuster, too. And–extra bonus!–it causes me to tweet deep musings like: “What if we finally isolate dark matter and find it attached to reading matter?” and “I tried to sell my soul, but the devil wanted to pay in cryptocurrency.”

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Me and Kathryn, who works in Dr. Carbonspine’s clinic.

Yes, chemotherapy is all-enveloping, and that means time-consuming.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer in 2016 and had to do six weeks of chemoradiation, my sweet friend Laura Burstein told me to think of cancer treatment as a part-time job, and she was right.

Assuming I clear the next scan, I will be happy in coming weeks and months to have back the many hours. Maybe I should move to Arkansas. Time moves slow there. That’s why it’s one of my Fave Five States with California, Washington, and Nebraska.

After getting those blood clots around my PICC in the left arm, I went to the clinic nine days in a row, had a short break, and then five more consecutive days.

Accomplishments during my treatment

  • I spread three cubic yards of crushed stone on my yard and set sandstone flagstones for a border in the front.
  • Remodeled the back bathroom.
  • Danced at a party with the invigorating Viga Dean
  • Led a hike to Lost Horse Mine, in Joshua Tree National Park, on March 14, the day after major infusion, making it back in plenty of time to go to the clinic for a refresh of the continuous-infusion fluououracil reservoir
  • Attended a Hollywood premier and sat with the actress Maisey McClain
  • Hammered away at blog posts and magazine stories. When I blogged about the NASCAR race I attended on March 18, the PR guy said I had “fileted” them. “Truth to power,” I said.

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    Shirt could fit better, but it still prompted the remark  you’ll see next post.
  • Volunteered as a docent in Modernism Week and as driver in the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival (wrapping the PICC so it wouldn’t be as obvious although my Film Fest boss Terri Arnett recognized it because her son had one when battling an infection).
  • Gained weight. Last fall after surgery I was down to 141 pounds. Starting chemo I had increased to 147 pounds. Now I’m back to my normal weight of 157 pounds and have stopped craving so much and eating the huge meals of the winter and spring.
  • Took myself out to dinner a few times after infusion: KFC (yummy but disgusting), Olive Garden (easy to underrate), Frankie’s Old World Italian Bakery, Cafe & Supper Club (a hole-in-the-wall worth visiting).
  • Drove an 1,800 mile road trip to Omaha during a recovery week in April, stopping at 20 grain elevators along the way.
  • Had visitors: Cousin Joe Horacek, Aunt Sharon Ahrens, my Tillotson aunts and uncle from San Diego County, sister Kate Oshima all the way from Omaha, and life-long friend Kelda Draper. Kristen, my grain elevators blogging partner, dropped by in late-March, having blown the cooling system in the ’92 Ford Ranger she had just acquired in Anaheim and, attempting to drive it home to Illinois, progressed no farther than 10 miles beyond my desert hideaway. This led to my overseeing repair and then setting out three weeks later to deliver the truck. (To reiterate, it was my recovery week, and I had not yet experienced problems with blood counts). When I got to Kansas, it became evident that additional repair was necessary, so I ditched the truck at Kristen’s dad’s place outside Omaha. Kristen got it home last week. The most recent visitor was Susan Ahrens, who with her new pooch Noura, saw me through the final treatment and chemo blahs. My love and thanks to all. I have some incomparable friends.
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