“….the good news is, nobody ever died from this….” so said the nonchalant quack doctor (during two different visits) as he referred to my friend Tammy’s symptoms, believing a nice round of antibiotics would cure it all up. This doctor never once thought to schedule bloodwork or scans for Tammy….ever.
Down the road much later, Tammy still suffered from the same sinus infection-like symptoms as well as some swollen lymph nodes that wouldn’t go away. That was when a much better doctor actually diagnosed and informed Tammy that she had B-cell lymphoma. It took a year for her to be correctly diagnosed. Now, she is literally fighting for her life, and chemotherapy is part of her arsenal.
Curious, I wanted to find out what goes on when a person must undergo chemotherapy. Of course we are all sorry whenever we hear a friend or friend’s family member must have chemotherapy, but unless we are very close to the cancer sufferer, we don’t quite understand the process. I wanted to try to understand (at least, a little better than I currently did). So, with Tammy’s permission, I brought my camera with me to chronicle her 3-hour session – a moment of time out of her Life Journey. She joked to the nursing staff that she never went anywhere without her paparazzi.
I spent the morning at MD Anderson Cancer Center with Tammy and her sister-in-law & best friend Sarah.
MD Anderson is one of the best places in the world to be if a person is diagnosed with cancer; people from all around the globe come here. The staff are top-notch and the doctors are the finest.
After several months of treatment using a trial drug, the name of which I still cannot pronounce and which ultimately did not work for her, Tammy began her rounds of chemotherapy: each round consisting of 3 days on treatment with a 28-day break in between. I visited on Day 2 of Round 2.
Tammy’s treatment morning begins early – typically 8AM.
Her first day of treatment lasts 8+ hours because she is given 3 drugs via IV drip on that day. The other 2 days (where she receives 2 drugs) last an average of 3 hours – depends upon how fast the veins accept the IV drip.
Once through the admittance door, Tammy is taken to a room for weigh-in and temperature. The nurse hands out a wonderfully warm blanket (I know, because the nurse handed the blanket to me, first) and assigns Tammy a room number.
Tammy knows the drill, so once she gets into the room, she adjusts the bed to her liking, settles in with breakfast and drink, and lets the attending nurse administer the drugs. We live in a time where wonderful anti-nausea drugs now exist, allowing Tammy to eat and drink without that horrible urpy feeling.
So….first thing they do is remove a piece of netting “tube” from her arm (looks like a piece of Goth clothing decoration that Tammy wishes came in black, since “black is slimming” ) . Wads of cotton are then gently removed to expose the the IV hook-up embedded into her arm for the duration of the 3-days of treatments. Because of this “hook up”, Tammy can’t shower or bathe – she just takes what I refer to as a “spit bath” and what she refers to as something I can’t print in this post.
Upon removal of the netting and cotton, a saline/alcohol “flush” is administered via syringe. I asked Tammy if any of that entire treatment ever hurt, and she mentioned that the flush is usually a bit of a shock to her system, but none of the other IV drips hurt (thank goodness); Tammy has to go through enough other painful things (physically, emotionally, and mentally) associated with this disease (bone marrow biopsy, lymph node biopsy, side effects like exhaustion).
Do ya like her “I’m A Lympho Maniac” shirt? My friend has a nicely skewed sense of humor. She can’t drink any alcohol during her entire treatment process, so she joked the next time she and her entourage return for treatment, she’s bringing a large sugar-rimmed margarita glass filled with a 7-11 lime slushy just so she can watch the reaction of the nurses.
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Once the Flush syringe is empty, the other drugs are attached to the IV drip, and then it’s a matter of waiting while everything gets into her system.
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I asked Tammy a lot of questions about her cancer and her treatment. Like many if not most cancer patients, she wants to know what she is up against and how to battle it.
Lymphoma is a type of cancer of the blood cells (not as readily recognizable a brand-name as breast cancer). Tammy explained in simple terms for me. Think of a normal blood cell as a round or oblate cell (she made her hands into fists to illustrate a normal blood cell). When normal blood cells start grouping together because they are in a tight squeeze, they die off to make it a little “roomier” for the other normal blood cells. Cancerous blood cells, on the other hand, are irregularly-shaped, so to speak (at this point, Tammy made the UT “hook-em horns” hand sign to illustrate her explanation), and instead of dying off when they get in a confined space, these cancerous blood cells meet and greet each other like old friends, grouping together and growing to create swollen masses of lymph nodes as well as causing other problems for their human host.
Even after the doctors get this current bout of cancer to go away during her treatments (Tammy says she can feel them shrinking, woo hoo!), the oncologists will still have to keep a close eye on her for the rest of her life, because there is a very good chance that this form of cancer may re-occur. According to Tammy, as long as her bone marrow makes those kind of (“hook-em horns”) cells, then in all likelihood, she may have to return for further treatment in the future. This is a treatable cancer, but not a curable cancer. I forgot to ask her about the possibility of a bone marrow transfer. I know that they are very expensive, and sometimes finding a match is tricky. I’ll have to ask her that the next time I see her.
Thankfully, Tammy is a healthy 40-something young woman who has a strong fighting instinct and is totally focused on “kicking cancer’s butt”! She also has a fantastic network of friends and family. Because of this she is always in good spirits and constantly joking and never goes to a treatment alone. There are so many out there who must undergo the same thing, but without anybody to be there with them or for them.
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This day was going to be a busy day for Tammy and the rest of us. Treatment in the morning, some time to rest during the afternoon, then participation in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night benefit walk at Market Square in The Woodlands, TX.
So, what is this “Fight Like A Wooo Girl” thing, you ask? Well, Tammy, Sarah, and I are some of the founding members of the Wooo Girls (check us out on Facebook, we have three “o’s” in our name). The Wooo Girls is (are?) a group of ladies (and a couple of guys) dedicated to the enjoyment of life, with plenty of good times, good friends, and lots of laughter (not quite like that How I Met Your Mother episode, btw).
On this night, October 21, 2012, The Wooo Girls would be walking for, and in honor of, our friend Tammy, as well as for, and in honor of, other friends and family members battling the disease.
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I wandered around the web for information regarding the type of lymphoma Tammy has (and because I couldn’t totally remember everything she told me, even though I tried to write it all down). During my fishing expedition, I found this link to an interesting online article written with the question in mind: is lymphoma curable?
I’ve added a couple of links for the American Cancer Society and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, for further information and if you are so inclined as to make a donation to helping find better treatments and ultimately a cure.
Next Post: Light The Night!