Every three weeks I have chemotherapy at The Katzen Cancer Center at the George Washington University Hospital. It’s not the place I would chose to spend my time, but since I have to have chemotherapy, this is the place I want to be. Every person, from the women who check me into the center, to the people who draw my blood, to the people who schedule appointments all work together to ensure that my experience is as painless and easy as possible.
The room itself is very sunny with about fifteen chairs – or chemo “stations” if you will. There’s a big desk in the middle where the administration of the room happens, but it’s all so open that every nurse can see every patient all the time. Each chemo station has a huge recliner and a small table along with separate lighting. The nurse can come and do what she needs to do with each patient in a well-lit environment, but then adjust the lights so the patient is
comfortable. I often sleep a lot during treatment, so I like the lights lower. There is a chair for a companion and plenty of room to store stuff and move around.
It takes a really special person to be an oncology nurse and this staff is no exception. Every person is great, but every time I’ve been in the room, I have been under the care of Katy Dolan, who makes me feel cozy and comfortable. She
tells me what’s happening every step of the way and is as gentle as possible. I’m so grateful to her.
Every person’s experience with chemotherapy is different. Some people stay awake, some sleep; some people needs four hours and some need longer. I am taking not only chemotherapy, but also a monoclonal antibody called Retuxin, which is a drug that attaches itself to bad “B” cells in the body and kills them. I have B-cell lymphoma, so I need to get rid of these B cells, so this is the drug I need in addition to the traditional anti-cancer drugs, or chemotherapy. Unfortunately I had a reaction to the Retuxin early on, so the nurses are extra careful when giving it to me, meaning they drip it into my port very slowly and pre-medicate me to prevent reaction. All of that means that my version of chemo/Retuxin days are very long and very sleepy. I am in the chemo room for about seven hours and I snooze for most of it.
My dearest friend Bonnie has accompanied me into the chemo room twice now, and she is as impressed as I am. Bonnie is a chemistry professor at the University of Maryland and keeps track of my drugs, my blood work, and every other scientific element of my disease and treatment that is of concern to her. Katie explains every step to Bonnie as well, and in a way that is better for Bonnie – on a scientific level that I don’t need to know.
The other amazing element to this entire process is my wonderful Doctor, Dr. Robert Siegel, who is the head of the Hematology Oncology Department as well as the Director of the Katzen Cancer Research Center. I’m so lucky to be under his care, and under the care of his team. He supervises a team of interns and fellows and to a man, each one under his tutelage is as kind and gentle and encouraging as he is. Dr. Siegel answers not only my questions, but also Bonnie’s and my husband’s. Knowing that Marc is in Tokyo, he offered up his email address and told Marc that he would answer any questions he had. Dr. Siegel always asks about how Marc is holding up so far away, as does Katy. I always feel like my whole self is being cared for, not just my cancer.
I am so lucky to have my treatment in this wonderful place with these caring, terrific people. Doing the treatments is not a choice – to get well I have to go through all of the treatments, including the yucky side effects. I’m also extremely lucky that the treatments are going well. So if I have to do it, I’m grateful to be doing it here.