Barring unforeseen complications down the road, I completed what I expect was the last of my core cancer treatments today.
The fourth and final chemotherapy treatment ended without fanfare just before noon today. I expected–based on my experience at the conclusion of my radiation treatment and on what I’ve read and others have told me–some pomp and pageantry at the conclusion of my chemotherapy. It was an expectation unmet. The only expression of “joy” was “yay,” expressed with decidedly restrained enthusiasm by the nurse who yanked the needle out of my chemo port, when I mentioned today was my last chemo treatment. Perhaps they reserve celebrations for people who undergo far more challenging chemotherapy than mine. That would make sense. I can imagine how other patients, who might be subjected to weekly or semi-weekly treatments for months and months and months, might feel that a four-course program over twelve weeks doesn’t merit much ballyhoo. And their sentiments would be understandable. But, still. I guess I felt like the end of my therapy didn’t really matter to the staff. Maybe, were I in their shoes, I would feel the same. But I doubt it. Frankly, I can’t fathom how medical professionals dealing with cancer patients can simply ignore what, to the patient, is a pretty damn important milestone. Yet, in the overall scheme of life and healthcare and multiple decades of life on Planet Earth, an ignored milestone doesn’t really matter, does it? No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t, and shouldn’t, matter much to me. Why should I care that a group of people about whom I know virtually nothing and whose lives don’t intersect mine except in fleeting and utterly tangential ways failed to acknowledge “my” milestone? But, still.
Okay, I think I’ve gotten that out of my system. But maybe not. Maybe I should compare the ways in which the people at the other end of the building, in the radiation section, behaved when my treatments ended. The two guys who handled my radiation wishes me well. Their expressions of good will may have developed through guidance and training. Their behaviors may have emerged only after extensive sessions with an acting coach. The nurse who, after I rang the bell (after being told to do so), left the reception area to give me a hug may be required to exhibit such behavior. The smiles on their faces might be due to thoughts of little bonuses in their paychecks if they successfully trick the patients into believing they actually care. But I think not. None of it seems true. I think the radiation staff is simply more humane. More human. More caring and empathetic and more compassionate.
Okay. NOW it’s out of my system. I really am happy that the treatments are history. I hope and expect that the residual side-effects will dissipate over the next several weeks. Today, after the session, my wife and I ate lunch at a chain steak house across the street from the cancer center. I ordered a burger, cooked rare. The waitress said rare means a cool, red center. Yes, I said, that’s what I’m after. I got a pink, warm center. I didn’t complain, though by doing so I might have helped another customer receive his burger cooked to order. But I didn’t. I ate the meat and part of the bottom half of the bun. I still have a tough time with swallowing bread for some reason. But, yesterday I was able to swallow pizza dough without any significant problems. I think my esophagitis is improving. Despite my swerve away from health-related happiness into the food lane, I’m happy to be finished with my treatments. My next doctor visits are March 22 (radiologist) and March 28 (oncologist). In both cases, I expect to learn more about follow-up appointments and tests and the like. The March 28 appointment will lead to a CT scan schedule. And, perhaps, a conversation about Programmed Death Ligand -1 and what, if anything, to do about it. My follow-up visit to the surgeon who removed my right lung’s lower lobe will be in June. Medical medical medical. Ach.
Today’s final chemo treatment came on the heels of a high-speed visit by Anne, Ignacio, and Woods (my niece, her husband, my brother). They arrived Saturday afternoon and left early this morning. We had a very good time visiting with them. But such short visits don’t allow enough time to completely relax and enjoy one another’s’ company. We took advantage of Ignacio’s skills and strength by having him help us hang a mug rack that will hold 50 mugs (plus or minus one or two or so). While Ignacio’s skills and strength were critical, Anne’s intellect contributed mightily by incorporating the use of dangling lenghts of thread to mark studs in the wall. Within the next few days, we’ll dig the mugs out from boxes where they are stored, wrapped in paper, and will hang them. It’s been YEARS since they hung on the wall. The last place they were on display was our house in Arlington, Texas. We moved away from Arlington in 1997. We tend to procrastinate when challenged in certain ways. I think seeing the mugs every morning (they’ll hang in the office/guest room I use as my writing corner) will brighten my mood and help me heal.
On Saturday, before family arrived, I submitted a request for a window company to come give me a bid on replacing some large windows in the room I originally intended to be my office. Today, I got a call from the company to schedule a visit. During one of three calls, the scheduler asked me whether I was married. I asked her why that mattered. She said “we like to know who we’re talking to.” I told her that made no sense and that the question irritated me and had nothing whatsoever to do with giving me a quote on windows. She seemed to drop it. We scheduled a visit for Friday morning this week. Fifteen minutes later, she called back. “I need to know whether you’re married, ” she said. I responded in much the same way I had earlier. Except I told her I knew why they want to know. They want to know whether they need to use pressure sales tactics and on whom. I told her I find that extremely offensive and that I have no use for a company like that. I told her to cancel my appointment. She hung up. No “I’m sorry.” Nothing. She just hung up. I’m glad I got to know enough about the company to know I wouldn’t want to do business with them. Creeps.
Did I mention that, after I got home today, I sat in my recliner and almost immediately went to sleep? I must have slept for three hours. I felt utterly drained and beyond tired. I can’t decide whether it was today’s chemo or something unrelated. Not that it matters.
I guess I can expect extreme fatigue in the coming days and weeks. I hope this upcoming round will be the last chemo-related exhaustion, coupled with protracted lethargy, for many, many, many years to come.