In Honor of My Husband, Ron

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Chemotherapy and Radiation...

I made an error in my previous post. The oral cancer staging was T1N2M0. The T1 actually means that his primary tumor was 2 cm. or less. The rest of the explanations were correct.

One thing to remember before treatment begins is that it is very important to have prescriptions filled and ready at home for side effects from treatment. We already had pain medication available, and the doctor also prescribed Compazine and Ativan for nausea and anxiety. Also, as Ron's caregiver, I am not ashamed to say that at the start of this nightmare, I went to my own doctor and asked for Xanax to help me cope with the really bad days. I knew I would need some help in holding myself together for Ron and for our kids, and it really did help. I am not in any way comparing my problems to the ones Ron faced, but sometimes I think that caregivers don't look after their own well-being. Do not be ashamed or afraid to ask for help if you need it!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005 was Ron's first day of treatment. The day started at 8 a.m. for his first Chemo session. If I remember correctly, this took about 4-5 hours in total. Then we drove about 45 minutes away to another Vince Lombardi clinic for the Radiation. An hour before the IMRT, he was given Amifostine IV to help protect his salivary glands. Our long day ended at about 4 p.m. He had no ill effects from treatment at this early stage.

One thing that helped Ron take his mind off of what was happening during chemo was listening to his favorite music. My sister had sent Ron an entire box full of goodies when he was diagnosed, including a Walkman, various CD's, Live Strong bracelets for the whole family, an inspirational book, and several do rags for when he lost his hair. (He is a Harley rider, so he always wears do rags anyway when he's riding). He never did lose a hair on his head!

September 15, we were at the chemo clinic in the morning for IV fluids. This was a normal part of his treatment. The chemo is so hard on the kidneys that they like it to be flushed out as soon as possible. Ron likes to drink Gatorade also, which helps keep his electrolytes balanced. He has been told to take Compazine about a half hour before each IMRT, which he did during the drive over. Had his Amifostine and radiation with no problems. Later that evening, he started feeling very nauseous. It is a good thing he has the PEG tube in when he doesn't feel like eating anything. Both the chemo clinic and the radiation clinic are very good about giving us plenty of Ensure and Boost to see us through, so we don't actually have to go out and buy it. I guess we're really paying for it anyway, though! Ron actually threw up for the first time on the 16th after his radiation. I was waiting in the car, and I saw him come out of the building. All of a sudden he bent over and threw up in their beautifully landscaped flowerbed! Oh, I felt so bad for him. He had a miserable ride home, holding on to a bucket, and kind of dry heaving. Got home and took more Compazine, and later an Ativan to try to help him sleep.

I think we were both surprised at how soon he experienced the bad stuff we feared. It is such a helpless feeling. I can't really make it better. Yes, I can fix him soup, or give him medication, but other than that, I don't know what to do. Just kind of a miserable night. Thank goodness it was Friday, so he had two days off to look forward to. He was still doing some farming during this time too, when he felt well enough to work. I would get upset at how much he was doing. I thought he should be resting up and conserving his energy, but this is the guy I married. He has never been one to sit still no matter what, and cancer wasn't going to stop him either!

The week of September 19-23 brought some new problems. The Compazine was failing to keep the nausea at bay, so he was given Zofran to try. That didn't work either, so he was told that he could try Kytril. At the time I believe Kytril was fairly new, and the cost was about $100 for ONE pill! Thankfully, we were given enough samples for Ron to take, because he had no prescription insurance. He was also given Salagen this week, because he was beginning to experience dry mouth.

He had two very bad nights this week following radiation. On Thursday and Friday, he had shaking chills and started running a fever. I put him to bed and buried him in blankets, and the bed just shook. I alternated giving him Tylenol and Ibuprofen every 4 hours and felt helpless in between. Of course the worst night was Friday. I called the Lombardi radiation clinic first, and got the answering service. They told me to call the chemo clinic, and then I got THEIR answering service. Their advice=Tylenol. Gee, thanks. I never would have thought of that. I was about ready to bundle him up in the car and drive him to the ER when his fever started responding. I was not happy at all that not one of his doctors called to check on him. Saturday and Sunday he continued to have occasional fevers. I was worried that he may have gotten the flu or some kind of virus because his resistance was so low.

On Monday, the 26th, we met with his Radiation Oncologist before his IMRT. He told us that he thought the shaking chills and fevers were a reaction to the Amifostine, so that was discontinued. That must have been the case, because he never had the problem again. I also told the doctor about my problem on Friday night trying to get ahold of him. He said that never should have happened, that he should have been called immediately, and that he would make sure the answering service would not respond that way again, which I appreciated.

So far Ron has lost 20 pounds. He is still eating when he isn't too nauseated. He sticks to soft foods like scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes and gravy, or rice with gravy, and meat that has been cooked until it's very soft. Also puddings, Jello, cottage cheese, milkshakes. Usually after radiation if he isn't too nauseated, I drive through a fast food restaurant and get him either a shake or a sundae. I also try to get him to drink Carnation Instant Breakfast several times a day for the calories. He supplements with his PEG tube every day also. The easiest way he has found is to use a large syringe without the barrel. He just pours the Ensure or Boost in and lets gravity take over. It takes only a few minutes to get each can in this way. It is always followed by bottled water to flush the tube. His mouth is getting very sore at this point, and his neck very red and dry. He was given special lotion to coat his neck after the radiation. He can't have any lotion on his skin during treatments. Two weeks down, five to go!

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