Friday, May 15, 2009

Chemo Day One

I've always been an overachiever, a goody two shoes of sorts. In middle school when we had to do a report on an historical figure, I didn't just write the requested double spaced 2-page paper. I chose John Brown, wrote a lengthy study on his life and made my Dad drive me to the remains of his birthplace where he was my videographer. I sat on John Brown's tomb stone and read the report, while offering a video tour of the grounds of Brown's birthplace. Then on report day, the teacher popped it in for the whole class to watch. What a kiss up. I can't believe I never got beat up. I subsequently did this in Home Ec class years later for which I created "Karin's Cooking Show" (again with Dad behind the camcorder) and chronicled the lasagna cooking process, complete with a choreographed Vivaldi Four Season's background soundtrack. Needless to say, I was never happy with an A- or a 3 out of 4 on a scoring rubric. And that's translated into how I approach my career and pretty much everything in life (for better or worse).

Apparently that even translates to my cancer achievements. Normally a 4 out of 4 is what I strive for, but in this case, I would have been happy with a 1. Today I got my official staging. I have been diagnosed with stage 4b Hodgkin's Lymphoma. That's 4 out of the 4 stages----so in this case, 4 out of 4? Not such a good thing. And I've even got the "b" thrown in there vs. regular stage 4 to put me over the top. Kind of like those "A+"s I loved to see in red on my papers through high school. My oncologist staged me at a 4b because the PET Scan revealed in addition to my neck and chest (which we already knew about), cancer in my lymph nodes in my abdominal area, inflamed in my spleen and "hot spots" in the bone marrow of my sternum. I'll be undergoing a bone marrow biopsy on Monday to confirm if the Hodgkin's cells have in fact wormed their way into my bone marrow. Despite being a stage 4b, the treatment plan doesn't change. It's just further solidified that I'll be going through 6 vs. 3 cycles of chemo for a grand total of .... 12 infusions over six months. Also solidified is the decision that it was too risky to delay my treatment for the time needed to pursue embryo freezing options. A team of doctors made that tough decision for us. Getting me better is the number one pursuit now. 

So we decided to start it up today. It was great because I really had no time to get anxious about it. My oncologist filled me in on all the staging news and said, "So .... how 'bout we start this afternoon?"  Today I received my infusion in Hartford (at work, weird) at the hospital's Helen & Harry Gray Cancer Center. The place was a buzz with activity. I was so taken back at how many people there were from all walks of life. All colors, languages, ages, stages of cancer --- some without hair, some in kerchiefs, but everyone seemed in very good spirits. Each 
group room was full with people talking together while their IVs dripped, several private rooms were filled with more patients and their families. The Center is beautiful. I was struck by these fantastic kinetic sculptures they have hanging from the ceiling---yellow, blue and orange feathers in beautiful patterns set on intricate thin metal webbing that spun at the slightest of air gusts---very therapeutic. 

Who shows up in the waiting room but Craig, then my Mom ... and my Dad! The whole crew got out of work to be there with me and it meant so much. The whole thing was quite overwhelming and it was perfect to have my mom and Craig taking notes, my mom's medical knowledge helping so much in keeping straight all my pill-taking orders, side effects, etc. as it all sounded like "wah wah wah wah wah" (a la Charlie Brown's parent's phone voice) to me, everything just kind of blended together. I was there for about 4 hours, though future treatments will be closer to 3. I got some serious anti-nausea premeds dripped into my IV then the four drugs that make up my particular chemo cocktail: ABVD. All was well except for "D." My veins do not like "D." It pretty much felt like someone was taking a serrated knife and repeatedly sliding it up into my vein. But that is an anticipated side effect. Basically it burns like an S.O.B. Applying a cold compress helped and so did dropping some F-bombs but I breathed through it and all was okay. I'll do better next time knowing what to expect. My oncology nurse, Helen, was FANTASTIC! (and I don't like to overuse exclamation points, but she deserves one). Overall, it really wasn't a bad process. The recliner was comfy, my feet were up. I got graham crackers and saltines and drank a lot of ginger ale. Bathroom trips were very frequent with all that fluid being injected. 

I left with a beautiful bouquet of flowers from Craig, take-home drugs and prescriptions for more drugs. My mom picked everything up for me and created a perfectly organized med tray on a random beach scene serving tray we have. It will help me navigate through the anti-nausea meds, steroids, stool softening, heart burn suppressing, mouth washing, fever reducing, energy increasing, take-this-at-night-so-you-can-rest meds. Such a huge help (again wah. wah. wah. wah wahhhh.). Reading the notes she wrote will help translate those voices. 

So I'm one day closer to feeling better and kicking the crap out of this cancer. 

Take that lymph nodes. 


  1. You kick butt, girl! (Exclamation point warranted.)

  2. Wow Karin you're awesome!! (Yeah, you deserve two exclamation points). Love seeing you kick the crap out of cancer. You go girl :) Sending love and hugs your way.

  3. Karin, After reading your blog I have no doubt that you will come through this with an A+.
    You are so determined and you have such a great support system behind you. Cancer picked on the wrong person, it is in for a whooping! Lynn

  4. Karin,

    I just read your entire blog and hope you continue to keep us tuned in about your triumph over this. Your wit and humor are incredible. You and Craig are two of the most infectiously positive people that I've ever met and I know that together you will make it through this OK. Live strong and win!!!!
    Hope to see you both soon.


  5. Karin,

    Your strength and attitude is an inspiration to all of us. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Go kick some Hodgkins butt!!!

    Tiffany and Santi Mazzeo