I am breathing easier now. The first dose of chemo is over. It was run over 24 hours, with the first hour a high dose system shock, then 23 hours of continued IV infusion. Now, we have to wait a few days until the levels of drugs in her urine measure almost undetectable. Then we go home for a few days, and are back in-patient next week for the next drugs.
She has not had any negative side effects yet. She has been slightly sleepier and less interested in eating than usual, but overall, it has been easy for her. The fluids that are flushing the chemo from her system make her have many, many wet diapers, which we must wear gloves to change to protect ourselves from the chemo.
I was so scared, so anxious for what it would be like the first time, as the chemo hit her system. As they connected the neon yellow liquid to her IV, I just stared at the toxic chemicals that we were willingly pumping into her little body. In my head, I know that the drugs are necessary to make her better. But my heart wants to grab her and run far away from these horrible chemicals that are made to make her sick and well at the same time.
I did not know much about chemotherapy before we began dealing with it personally. Chemotherapy is drugs that are used to kill cancerous cells in the blood. Unfortunately, it doesn't only kill cancerous cells, but healthy ones as well. This is what causes the familiar side effects: nausea, hair loss, and most critically, weak immune system. My basic understanding is that chemotherapy drugs kill off those cells that reproduce quickly, like the blood, hair, digestive system and, of course, cancer. Damaging the cells makes the stomach upset and causes mouth sores and diaper rash; hair falls out (which takes longer); and the blood has trouble fighting off infection.
Blood is made of three basic parts: red cells, plasma and white cells. When the chemo starts to damage the blood, the red cells and plasma can be replaced by transfusion, but white cells cannot. Each body has personalized white cells that fight off infection or other invasive cells to that body. If you were to transfuse white cells from one person to another, the recipient's body would kill the new white cells because they are foreign. Normally, this function is used to kill viruses and infections, so when the white cells are low, the body is not able to fight off infections. Minor infections become our biggest enemy, as they can have devastating effects on a weak immune system. Luckily, white cells come back over time, so once the blood shows adequate white blood cell counts, patients are able to be around other people and lead a more normal life.
We are preparing for what this will be like for us. Luckily, Scarlett won't experience too much of a difference in her life; she won't miss school or friends when her counts are low. For Chris and I, it is more intrusive, but I think we will get used to it as we go. I can only hope that she continues to handle the chemo as well as she did this time and that we can continue to push forward.