Respect the pill
My first major mistake as a cancer patient: Thinking I was bigger than my medicine.
It happened last weekend. In conjunction with taking the daily Temodar capsule for my chemotherapy, I’m supposed to take an anti-nausea pill (Zofran generic equivalent, which we’ll just call ‘Z’) to counter any potential adverse effects in that direction. One of the nurses at the special dispensing pharmacy told me I would probably get used to the medication after about a week or so and could gradually wean myself off the Z pill. I was glad to hear that, because side effects of Z include drowsiness and (how do I say this delicately?) slowing your intestinal tract down to the equivalent of the Holland Tunnel during a rush-hour bomb threat.
Last Thursday — my first day of treatment — I took both pills as instructed, precisely two hours before my radiation therapy. Everything went great. My stomach didn’t even flutter once. The blue-and-white 140mg Temodar capsule looked as innocent as an Extra-Strength Tylenol. Maybe, I thought, I don’t even need the stupid anti-nausea medication. La-di-dah.
So on Friday I went commando. I took the Temodar but not the Zofran. Two hours later, on the radiation turntable, I started to feel the tiniest bit of queasiness. Three hours later, while shopping for a piece of salmon at the Publix fish counter, I started to feel downright woozy. So when I got home I immediately wussed out, popped a Zofran and took a nap. A few hours later I felt fine; good enough, in fact, to eat that tasty piece of salmon.
Saturday was a different story. Since there was no radiation that day, I didn’t have to take the Temodar until bedtime — around 11 p.m. I’d eaten a fairly light meal a few hours earlier, so I thought I’d be fine without the Zofran tab. I mean, I’m the same guy who just a few posts back was bragging about getting sick to his stomach only once in the past two decades.
Well, consider the streak over. At 2 a.m., I woke up staring wide-eyed at the ceiling. I felt as if my stomach had suddenly been transformed into Carnegie Hall at the close of a famous 1938 Benny Goodman big-band performance that’s still talked about today. (Why am I using another New York City landmark to describe a digestive-system malfunction? Is there a pattern here?) Anyway, the first subtle stirrings of Goodman’s final clarinet solo on the band’s classic performance of “Sing, Sing, Sing” were just starting to tickle the walls of my gut. I would never hold myself out to be a disciplined jazz aficianado, but I do happen to own the live album of this legendary concert and I knew exactly what was coming next: The thermonuclear, full-orchestral finish powered by Gene Krupa’s mighty drumkit. So I knew it was time to roll out of the sack and head for the bathroom. When I got there, let’s just say I wasn’t sing-sing-singing at all. But the crowd in my stomach was roar-roar-roaring and demanding an encore after that. The Goodman band played two encores that night in 1938. By daybreak on Sunday, I had played three.
By then, only my dog Chopper was left in the audience and all he wanted was to be taken for his morning walk. He sat quietly at attention on the bathroom threshhold and watched me (in what I took to be utter dog disgust) as I lay curled up on the rug and daylight filtered in through the window. All I could think about was how stupid I had been. I had treated a powerful, modern, cancer-fighting drug as casually as one might treat a cold tablet. There’s a reason this stuff can kill brain-cancer cells. There’s a reason 42 pills cost $12,000. It’s basically one of the most sophisticated poisons ever made: Probably powerful enough to kill rats but calibrated enough to go after only the rogue DNA in my brain that turns polite, well-behaved cells into freedom-hating (or me-hating) terrorist, cancer cells. One does not screw around with the U.S. Department of Defense, or with this kind of medicine.
So starting Sunday night, Zofran became my best buddy. I slept really well, stayed away from Carnegie Hall, and felt great Monday morning.
I also learned an important lesson, something my Mom already taught me along with wash your hands, brush your teeth, eat your vegetables and look both ways before you cross the street: ALWAYS FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS.