Friday, December 26, 2014

Patient #1: Using laughter to get through chemo

When you think of chemotherapy, images of suffering patients, clad in hospital gowns and bandanas, pop into mind. Instead, it has been surprisingly good hospital food, surprisingly bad college football, and lots of sitting around in t-shirts and sweats talking to nurses and each other.

Patient #1: Using laughter to get through chemo

When you think of chemotherapy, images of suffering patients, clad in hospital gowns and bandanas, pop into mind.  Hours into my first chemo dose, I'm still waiting for our night to tailspin into the medical nightmares you read about.

Instead, it has been surprisingly good hospital food, surprisingly bad college football, and lots of sitting around in t-shirts and sweats talking to nurses and each other.  The toughest thing so far was choosing what color Gatorade to have (green over orange, no brainer). I know the next two weeks will give plenty of challenges, so I am grateful this start has gone rather smoothly. 

In serious situations, I lean on humor to lighten the mood. My nurse said I was the funniest chemo patient she has ever had, although I'm pretty sure she was pacifying me in hopes I would quiet down. When she set up the IV for the Cytoxin, she wore two sets of rubber gloves and a full smock-type thing, which led to this exchange:

Me: "You're wearing a full-body garment and double-bagging the gloves so this doesn't irritate your skin on the off chance it spills, yet you're going to put this through a tube and dump it into my body inches from my heart?"

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Nurse: "Um, yes"

Me: "Alrighty then...fantastic. (pause)  Let's do it."

Keeping a sense of humor has helped throughout this process, especially at the hospital.  It may be occasionally annoying and I get more than my share of pity laughter, but this is complicated, serious stuff.  Sometimes tension is evident in doctors and nurses, and I choose to diffuse it with some smart-aleck comments. Subliminally, I am saying to everyone, "Hey, yea this sucks, but I am not treating it as an inevitable death sentence, so you all better get on board and get this fixed."  

I want my doctors and nurses (and family and friends) to believe.  I believe.  My family believes. Fox Mulder believes.  And now my medical staff believes that they are a part of something good and positive and, well, unbelievable. 

Part of believing is seeing the signs - from God, from karma, from anywhere - that give hope.  Maybe they are put there for a reason; perhaps they are coincidences we read into, looking for some sort of control in a chaotic life.  Whatever they are, it gives me hope and strength that things out of my control are somehow being positively influenced by external forces. Ones that, you know, are in my corner. 

My signs are tied to the dates that chemo and IL2 start (1/7 and 1/15) and a pair of guardian angels who passed away on January 7th and 15th, one year apart.  My belief is they are up there, with my grandparents and others who've gone on before, looking out for me the best they can.  What can I say, I made their lives difficult while they were here, and see no reason to discontinue that behavior for their afterlife!  God took them too early for reasons we'll never understand, but they are a part of Team TJ up above, and will ensure each January is a time to celebrate the memories of departed loved ones on the same dates that treatment kept me alive. The power of positive thinking heals - all you need to do is believe. I believe.

T.J. Sharpe
About this blog
T.J. Sharpe is sharing his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma. A South Jersey native and Bishop Eustace graduate, he currently lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL with his wife Jennifer and children Josie and Tommy. He was Patient #1 in a clinical trial at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa as the first person worldwide to use this sequence of treatments to fight melanoma, and is currently in a second clinical trial at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale receiving Merck’s anti-PD-1 drug Lambrolizumab

The Patient #1 blog will update the progress of T.J.'s fight against cancer, and also touch on many cancer-related topics.

Follow T.J. on Twitter and Facebook.

T.J. Sharpe
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