My first official treatment was the real dose of the experimental procedure. They rolled out the red carpet for it, too. The nurse spent hours readying the room prior to my arrival. Almost every conceivable surface was covered in plastic, paper and tape. It looked a bit like a room in a sanitarium. Eventually they rolled in another lead-lined container, this one much bigger than the last one. Inside it was a huge syringe filled with Yttrium-90-laced mouse antibodies.
They plugged me in and pumped me full, then wheeled the contraption back out of the room. I felt fairly certain I was well on my way to becoming a superhero or growing an extra appendage of some kind. This feeling was confirmed when a man came in carrying a Geiger counter that he carefully, repeatedly swept over my limbs and torso. As I heard the machine make it’s incessant crackling sound, I felt assured I would be getting my third eye at any point over the next few days. That, my friends, is a win.
As I prepared to leave the next day, people gathered in the hallway to say hi to me. There’s an episode of “The Simpsons” where Mr. Burns is irradiated and has a strange medical procedure done that makes his eyes huge and his voice really high pitched. As Homer runs off screaming, Mr. Burns squeaks, “Don’t be afraid. I bring you love.” That was totally me.
I blessedly didn’t have the side effects with the real dose that I did with the test dose, but I did leak radiation from my sweat and other fluids for several days and so tried to stay isolated from people. However, as the radiation faded, I did sneak down to Tacoma for a couple more days to soak up as much time with my kids as I could. On a whim we went to Zoo Lights, and I spent every second trying to burn memories into my brain.
Then the day came to check in for chemo. They pumped me full of lethal chemicals for a solid week and literally killed my immune system, bone marrow and blood cell production. Ironically, they were probably not killing cancer at this point, as I had just gotten a negative PET scan which told us all the cancer was gone. (Having said that, these are the conditions they prefer when doing this treatment, with the highest success rate moving forward.)
We had a problem early on with the chemo, where my chest around my tentacular chest dongles began to burn. I called the nurse, and everyone started freaking out. They switched the chemo over to my port, then had a nurse come up and yank out my dongles. Literally. The girl snipped the stitch, wrapped her hands around the tentacles, and pulled. I so wish I could say I felt it slithering out, but I didn’t feel much. However, I did know that my awesome tentacles were leaving me, and that filled me with sadness. My sadness was cut short, though, when I finally was able to talk the nurse into letting me keep them.
After the chemo I had a day of rest, which they screwed up by implanting another pair of tentacular chest dongles. I never got as attached to these as I did to the previous pair. They were much longer, and more of a nuisance. But they were necessary for what came next.
The following day was Christmas Eve, and it was the day I got a new immune system. They hooked my new dongles up to a bag full of stem cells, and soon the room was steeped in the pungent smell of creamed corn. (No, seriously. That happens with bone marrow transplants.) Within a couple of hours, the stem cells had been let loose in my body.
There were a number of times that I almost got out of the hospital, but every time something arose to keep me in. My doctor was Dr. Mohamed Sorror, a very gentle, quiet man with almost no sense of humor and an awesome bow tie. He was also very conservative. Each time we thought I’d get out, he kept me in. I ended up being in the hospital for almost a solid month.
Christmas passed, and so did New Year’s. There were fireworks over the Space Needle that we could see from my room on New Year’s Eve. Sarah went down to be with the girls for Christmas and a few days following, giving them the incredible Christmas present of their missing mommy. My sister, Dawn, came up to visit Christmas night, giving me the gift of company.
The hardest part was the separation from our children. Eventually the girls did come up to visit me, but it took them a long time to warm up. Especially Eden. Not only had I abandoned them, but I was basically stuck in a bed with a myriad of tubes snaking out of my body. I was scary. And I was so tired much of the time that I couldn’t visit with them for more than a few minutes at a time.
It soon became apparent that I have an insanely high pain tolerance. One major side effect caused by this treatment is that it kills the cells in your tongue, mouth, throat and stomach, giving you nausea and vicious mouth sores. I thought I was doing pretty well with the treatment because my pain wasn’t crippling. Nurses and doctors would hear that, start celebrating, and then look in my mouth. They would then say, “Gah!” and jump away in horror. I thought they were just being dramatic. So I looked in my mouth. I jumped back from the mirror, yelling, “Gah!” My tongue had swollen to fill most of my mouth, and everything in it was bright white and bleeding. No, they weren’t being dramatic. I was asked repeatedly, “How are you not on a constant morphine drip?” I would shrug and reply, “Well, my half of an oxycodone is doing just fine for the most part.” They would then back out of the room, shaking their heads. I told the doctor that one day, and he fixed me with a flat, uncomprehending look. “I’ve never heard of someone taking only half an oxycodone,” he said. It was at this time I decided my next career should be fire walking.
As the days passed, though, it became apparent why we were there for such a long period of time. Sarah was spending a lot of time on the next floor up in a little family room they had there, and she was making friends with many, many people. All of them were in desperate need of comfort, love, and a touch from God.
(I suspected this would go to four parts, but I never thought it would go to five. I’ll be back soon with the fifth and — I promise — final part shortly.)