Chemo Again


Ed urgently restarts chemo following a leukemia relapse.

Tunnel Cancer Center was a place Ed and Pattie were very familiar with. They were greeted by the receptionist, Mary, when they checked in. Mary was sorry to hear Ed had a leukemia relapse.

Soon, Nurse Suzanne came to check Ed into the infusion room. Nothing had changed. It was still the place they had come to know and respect more than two years ago when Ed was first diagnosed with leukemia. As they entered the infusion room, Ed and Pattie recognized the staff, which seemed to be intact from two years ago. A few of the nurses remembered Ed as the survivor who came back to ring the gong and bring them the brownies.

Ed was scheduled for four cycles of two days each and four weeks apart with regular blood draws and follow-up visits with the oncologist. Doctor Asif was eager to get chemo started with a newly approved drug. The CT scan revealed a cluster of lymph nodes that were very much enlarged behind Ed’s liver. The swollen lymph nodes were placing the liver under pressure, posing the possibility of needing surgical drainage tubes.

Nurse Suzanne weighed Ed; he had not regained the 65 pounds he lost during the first time he went into remission, and he did not want to regain those pounds, either.

Ed’s infusion cocktail would be different this time, since a newly approved drug was to be included: Treanda (bendamustine HCI) on day one and two; Rituxan (rituximab) on day two, only followed by a Filgrastim injection 24 hours after the last infusion date of each cycle. The previously-used combination of Fludarabine and Rituximab will not be used this time around. The rest of the mix was the same: the Tylenol, the steroids, etc. and the same appetite loss, the bad taste in his mouth, the loss of sleep for three days, the constipation, the low-grade fever, all would occur again. However, the mouth sores would not return. It must have been the Fludarabine last time. Also, Ed now had a better handle on controlling the constipation using Senokot with stool softeners.

Ed was still a bit down about the relapse, but the new drug showed lots of promise for a longer remission. The care he was receiving from the nurses and Pattie made him feel good, and he looked forward to those world-famous chicken salad sandwiches for lunch. As he and Pattie savored the coffee provided by one of the volunteers, it began to return, that emotion that he had felt so strongly during the first time he had chemo. “Whispering hope, oh, how welcome the voice.”* Yes, hope was still there, embedded in Ed’s mind and soul.

The “Christmas trees” with the bags of fluid and infusion pumps were the same, but Ed noticed some new models. He would still need to “walk the dog” as he had come to call pushing the “Christmas tree” down the hall to the restroom. As he would do so, he could feel the pocket angel (Token of Hope) still in his pocket.

The chicken salad sandwich was as good as he remembered, and he washed it down with a diet ginger ale. The first day was always the longest, as the infusion rate was slow until the nurses became satisfied that Ed was not having any adverse reactions to the “cocktail mix.”

It was mid-afternoon when the first day of the first cycle was complete, and Ed immediately elected to leave the injection needle in place for the next day’s session. Nurse Suzanne wrapped his right forearm up with gauze before he left.

As they left, Pattie inquired if he wanted to go right home or accompany her to the grocery store to pick up few things she wanted to use in preparing dinner. Ed agreed to go and went along to the local Safeway supermarket. While there, they stopped to chat with their friend, Susan, at the pharmacy. Susan noticed Ed’s bandaged right arm and was concerned, so she asked what happened. She must have missed the twinkle in Ed’s eyes that Pattie always checks for when Ed begins to elaborate.

Without pausing, Ed responded, “Aw some guy was getting fresh and rude with Pattie while we were shopping this morning, so I decked him and his dog bit me.”

Susan was surprised and beginning to look sympathetic when Pattie erupted with gales of laughter saying, “Susan he is pulling your leg. You need to watch his eyes to see if he is telling the truth. The crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes become magnified when he tells a joke or story.”

She then relaxed, and Pattie explained that they had just come from Tunnel Cancer Center where Ed just began chemo once more. Susan then understood, as she knew Ed had a leukemia relapse but had not lost his sense of humor.

*Adapted from the Hymn “Whispering Hope,” written in 1868 by Septimus Winner. Alice Haw­thorne is often listed in spiritual song books as the author, but this is just one of several pseu­do­nyms used by Win­ner. He composed the words and music.

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