Respect the pill

Posted in Uncategorized by Sean Holton on August 26, 2009

Zofran 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.


19 Responses

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  1. Doriard said, on August 26, 2009 at 8:11 am

    God! what a story : D I hate to follow my doctor’s instructions because sometimes they seem to be sooooo full of themselves… ¬.¬ but I know I have to.

    Let’s accept it, the human being is proud, and I myself have avoided to take cold pills and went to university with the cold, saying to myself “I’m Strong! I can overcome a cold without a silly pill!” but the chemo is something different, and hard, gosh… if the doctor said you needed the nausea pills, u needed em.

    When I was in post operation, i preferred not to use the pain pills, coz I felt they were unneeded and also kinda bad for my body. Bad mistake, I could barely sleep…

    Well, I think I’ll keep reading you, as your stories are way interesting.

  2. Lois Grebowski said, on August 26, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Moms are always right… why is that?

  3. Flatus said, on August 26, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Sounds like a day in the life of a Chronie. Your stomach knows everything–especially whether or not you’ve followed the instructions. Hang tough.

  4. RebelliousRenee said, on August 26, 2009 at 9:46 am

    that’s the most comical definition of hurling I’ve ever read….

  5. Nancy Pate said, on August 26, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Maybe Leusner will let you in puke club now you have a story.

  6. fish said, on August 26, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Yep, the pukemeister has gotta be pleased with this story…

  7. Chloe said, on August 26, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Sean, For (maybe) the first time in your life, drugs are your friend. I looked up Zofran, and it says it affects your serotonin, which I think is always a good thing. I know you joked about what is happening, but I know it was truly miserable. So always follow your mothers instructions (about following instructions), from here on out. No experimenting! Your well being is at stake here!

  8. Colorado Bob said, on August 26, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Why am I reminded of Humble Pie’s ” 30 Days in the Hole ” ?

  9. Craig Crawford said, on August 26, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Glad you learned this so early. Like my Dad taught me about Wild Turkey bourbon — “You must respect Turkey, or it won’t respect you.”

  10. Colorado Bob said, on August 26, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    It may be about the bad drugs, but they all will smack you around.

  11. patd said, on August 26, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    zorro rode in that dreadful night, slashed a big z acrosss your memory and poked your gut with his sword so you would not forget him.

  12. artcricket said, on August 26, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    I love zofran – my sister had it years ago when she was undergoing chemo and the drug was still in its testing phase…after my surgery, when I was puking without warning I begged the ICU nurses to give me the wonderful “Z.” A few sheet changes later they did.

  13. Tonyb said, on August 26, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Ha,Chopper stuck it out with you,love that..Zofran is a miracle drug,that’s what my mom used to say…Listen to mom’s.

  14. Dale said, on August 26, 2009 at 7:04 pm


    It is like my bout with the kidney stone
    yeah I’m tough I can handle anything. But nurse, please!
    Give me that pill.

  15. Kathryn Quigley said, on August 26, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    I was thinking the same thing as Nancy! Surely the chemo must elevate Sean to the level of Pukemeister!!!

  16. paul lester said, on August 26, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    I agree with Nancy. This story warrants an automatic membership into Leusner’s puke club. Glad the nausea pills are working for you.

  17. Maxtrue said, on August 26, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    Maybe pot might help. I think you have decent excuse after all these years.

    In Pakistan we managed to get locals to tag the bad guys with CIA supplied microchips that guided in Predators to the kill. Seems meds aren’t quite as enabled as yet and you feel the collateral damage of bombs and ABLs. May they find their targets.

    My best wishes LL. For now Zofran is your friend.


  18. Maxtrue said, on August 26, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    P.S. You see I AM capable of short entries. Just for you.

  19. Jamie said, on August 26, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    My humble apologies for clutching my gut with laughter. That may be the most hysterical description of an absolutely horrid event I have ever read. Hang in their buddy, take your pills or I may be forced to drag my “mother voice” out of mothballs.

    Love you.

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