History #8 – treatment – induction – December 23, 2001 – pretty poison

February 3, 2007 at 6:49 am | Posted in APML, chemotherapy, My initial treatment -- induction, Stanford Hospital | Leave a comment

So, a couple days before Christmas 2001, I had begun the first stages of what was the beginning of chemotherapy to get to remission. The first few days were relatively free of pain, from what I can remember. It seemed more to set the stage for further treatment and challenges, rather than be difficult in and of itself.

Three things started the treatment process. The first was the insertion of what is called “pic line.” A surgeon comes in and makes an incision into your chest above your heart, and into one of the blood vessels that goes into your heart, then sutures it into place. As bad as it sounds, it is relatively innocuous (much less so than the bone marrow biopsy). I had it for almost five months through the treatment and recuperation. It was more difficult to shower, as you had to have it covered, but otherwise it remained on your chest without much trouble. In fact, it made having blood drawn for tests a cinch, since it avoided multiple needle sticks – they just took it straight from the pic line.

The real reason for the pic line, however, was for a purpose that became apparent quickly. Not long after the line was in, a nurse came into my room. She was pretty much covered from head to toe in protective equipment – special gown, thick gloves, and something to cover her face. She looked like she was one of those “haz-mat” clean up people in their special garb. She said she was going to give me my first dose of chemotherapy, through the pic line. I asked her why all the special get up, and she blithely tossed off, “Oh, the medication is toxic, and if I get any of it on me it will damage my skin. I have to be careful.” This as she connected to IV bag containing the chemo to a tube that she connected into my pic line. The pic line would deliver that “toxic” chemo directly into my heart. Great.

She hung it, and it was this very beautiful brilliant red color. I watched it slowly loop through the IV tubing into the end of the catheter that went into my pic line. Pretty poison, indeed.

The third thing that started in the treatment process at that time was other medication that was brought into me those first few days. Instead of pretty liquid poison, a nurse brought in a medication cup with about 10 pills the size of small peas. This was the ATRA, the treatment that makes APML the “good” kind of leukemia to have. I would taking those pills for the next year or so to ensure that the healthy bone marrow continued to pump out good cells. And the nurse could come in her/his normal uniform to bring it to me.

I would be taking ATRA, that is, assuming I didn’t have a reaction to them, and require other types of treatment. The staff would be watching me for signs of that. The main symptom on oncoming reaction was headaches. So I got asked the question of whether I had a headache a lot in the coming days.

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