Updated: Nov 17
My first memory upon awaking from surgery was realizing I had been moved from ICU and had been placed on the "oncology floor". I remember asking Greg, "what am I doing on this floor?" Hearing this really struck me because I've had a number of family members stricken with cancer - some have survived and some haven't..
With D Day having occurred on September 21st, I was released from the hospital on the 23rd. I had lost over 15 pounds during my two-week stint. Upon arriving home I reached out to my sister who was a 10 year leukemia survivor. She had the great idea of moving my case to UT Southwestern in Dallas. UTSW is well known for it's hematological oncology department. In fact, they're pioneers in the treatment of CNS lymphoma. This meant of the potential of world-class care 30 minutes from home. Since her remission, Ann-Marie had made a career transition from real estate to becoming a nurse. She had "connections" with UTSW and was able to secure an appointment for me at the Simmons Cancer Center.
Within a week I had my initial consult at UTSW. My attending physician, Dr Awan, turned out to be awesome. He was insanely knowledgeable but was also a kind, compassionate and patient person - a perfect combination. During our consult, he laid out what would be my life for the next 6 months: 6-8 rounds of intense chemo therapy followed by 3 weeks of recovery at home. He also told me to not make any plans for the next 6-8 months.
But, there is a caveat - since he couldn't say definitely where the cancer originated [brain or body] he would have to "treat both". He likened the treatment to "carpet bombing" combined with "surgical strikes" to derive the maximum effect. This resulted in 5 different chemo drugs that would be administered separately and in a proper sequence. MRCHOP is the term used to define this course of treatment. This regiment would culminate with a minimum 21 day stay in the hospital for a stem-cell transplant.
He stated that although the chemo would "kill the cancer" it would pretty much "kill everything else in the process". He also said that they only had one chance to kill the cancer with the goal being it never to return [remission] - hence the plan to be super aggressive with the regiment. Hearing this filled me with dread, fear and trepidation. I was reminded of John 14:27 where Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled , neither let it be afraid". I felt peace and again knew I wouldn't have to walk through this by myself.
Given the aggressive nature of this type of cancer, Dr. Awan expressed a "sense of urgency" to get the chemo started ASAP. I was admitted the following week on a Tuesday afternoon. That evening the initial chemo drug was administered. The first sensation was my heart rate accelerating and I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin. I can truly say this was among the worst physical experiences of my life. Next came a head-to-toe body itch that emanated from the inside followed by the most severe headache of my life - a bonafide "12-out-of-10" on the pain scale. It literally felt like my brain was on fire. I also remember thinking that this stuff, if taken orally, would have killed me - it was that toxic. Speaking of toxicity, the nurses administering the chemo wore "hazmat-like" gowns - quite a sight!
As it turns out, of the five, the methotrexate was the worst. This was the last drug administered and made my headache even worse - which I didn't think that was possible. The next three days are a blur - I was sedated and remember they wouldn't let me get up by myself to go to the bathroom since I was a fall risk. They pumped me full of fluids to flush out the chemicals so I had to go the the bathroom every 30 minutes. This "up & down" combined with the nurses checking my vitals every hour meant that I got very little sleep and came home exhausted. I was so looking forward to resting in my own bed and refortifying for round 2.