Chemo And The Power Of The Mind

Hi all!

First, thank you so much for your warm comments, kind words, prayers, positive thoughts and FB likes. At this stage of the fight, there couldn’t be a better way to kick off this battle. Your support means a lot to me and to my family. Also, since I decided to be very open with my cancer journey through this last step of my treatment, feel free to let me know if you have any specific questions, technical or personal. I would be glad to do my best to answer. I found that communicating about this helps me mentally, so don’t hesitate to ask anything. For those of you who know me personally, you know that there are not so many subjects off limit for me anyway.

So today is the third day of chemo. It is scheduled to last until Sunday included. Then on Monday, I will get my stem cells back.

Since the diagnosis breaking news in April 2013, this is my third chemo treatment: 6 months last year (12 rounds), 3 months this spring (9 rounds), and now the last 6 rounds. Although I know people who have been through more than that, I feel comfortable enough to claim that I have some experience now with chemo and how to handle myself during this particular time.

I don’t know what you know about chemo (chemotherapy to be exact), but this is not the most gentle treatment. Actually, I would compare that – as most people do – to a poison. The purpose of the drugs used for chemo is to kill the fast growing cells, which is the characteristic of the cancer cells, but not only. The cells in your gastrointestinal tract reproduce fast as well, so the chemo kill them too, therefore the usual nausea associated with chemo. Same thing for the hair. That’s why chemo patients tend to lose their hair during the treatment. And the list of side effects goes on and on: cardiac and pulmonary issues, risks of infection due to a weaker immune system, rashes, extreme fatigue… The list can be very scary.

Chemo is given by IV (intravenous) therapy. So you get the drug infused through your veins. The infusion can take between 20 min up to several hours, depending on the drug and the treatment. The poison slowly gets in your blood and you don’t really start to feel the unpleasant side effects right away. Some of them may be felt a few hours later, some others weeks later (like hair loss). After my first round of chemo last year, I left the cancer center and the infusion room very happy because I was feeling great. Then, once at home, it hit me: fatigue and nausea. For the next three days, I learned these new sensations of discomfort. I first thought I would never be able to feel better again and that I would have to stay in bed for the next six months. Then came the power of the mind.

For my first chemo treatment, my infusions were scheduled every other week, on Thursday. I would go to work on Thursday morning, then I would be off until the next Monday. This way, I had a full day of rest on Friday, then, during the weekend, as my wife works, we had the kids at the baby sitter most of the day Saturday, and just half day on Sunday, then me back to work on Monday morning. The point here is that I had to feel better in order to take care of my kids and to go to work. I had something ahead of me that forced me to feel better. I had reasons to feel better. And this the key, I think.

The same concept applies right now with my current chemo. Since it is a high dose chemo that is going to kill my immune system, I thought that I would have to be hospitalized for this treatment, and be placed in a sterile environment. Well, not at all. I am actually outpatient (meaning that I come to my cancer care center in the morning, and go back home when I am done). The first reason for that is cost, of course. It is less expensive to be outpatient than hospitalized. The second reason – which is key to me – is that, as outpatient, you have to get up in the morning, and get moving to go to the cancer care center. You get moving. This means you are not staying in bed all day, and this is very important. When in the hospital, most people tend to consider themselves as sick patient, and they shift their mind accordingly, they stop behind proactive. But when you are home, surrounded by your normal environment, doing normal things, you don’t feel like a sick patient, you feel normal, and again, this is the key.

During one of my first appointment with my oncologist – God bless him, he is an amazing physician and human being – he told me to live as normal as possible, and he was right.

Of course, they are times I have no other choices than staying in bed because I really feel like crap. I think that the worst chemo side effect I have ever experienced so far is skin rashes – surprisingly – which had me straight to the emergency room to try calm the itching down. But other than that, I am proud to say that I have managed to keep everything under a certain level of control.

It is like when you are on a ship, at sea. Like most people, you would get sick when seas start getting a bit rough. Then you have two choices: you either decide to fight the seasickness and do your job no matter what, or you can stay in bed for days until the seas calm down. You would be amazed to see how people react at sea. Some seem very strong people ashore, then once at sea, they just “die” in their rack (bed) for days. On the other hand, some others demonstrate a huge power of mind: although they keep throwing like everybody else, they do their job in between to keep the ship and the rest of the crew safe. I remember a quatermaster like that (he is now a French Navy Chief Petty Officer, qualified Officer of the Deck Underway): he would plot the ship’s position on the chart, make his navigation report to me, go throw up, then go back under the chart table and rest a bit until the next time he had to plot the ship’s position again. He was sick as hell, but he kept moving forward, because he set up his mind this way.

It is the same thing with chemo. If I decide that I am going to move forward no matter what, things will go more smoothly than if I just let myself adrift and wait than the side effects of the treatment to finally go away.

It is only day three of my current chemo, but as I am writing this, I am nauseous and tired, but you know what, I am going to get up, walk, move around, and then I will feel better. This is the power of the mind.

See you for the next story.

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