I was eleven years old the last time my mom and I spent Christmas together. We sat solemnly that Christmas morning, as the adults looked on with empty bored gazes, probably counting down the days until the obligation to endure each other’s presence would end.
This year was also the first time I spent Christmas in a hospital.
My mom’s second cycle of chemotherapy treatments started on Dec 15th, this means she was going on a new set of chemotherapy drugs, Docetaxel and Herceptin (technically Herceptin isn’t a chemo drug; it inhibits the growth of HER2 protein).
Thanks to the steroids she’s pumped with (to combat the side effects of the chemo), her first three days after the treatment as always were energy filled blissful moments. She started moving slower on the fifth day, took more naps and wasn’t as active
The sixth day after treatment was Sat. Dec 20th. She looked weak and worn out, her temperature was around 36C/98.6F, not high enough to panic so we cancelled the dinner party we had that night and decided she probably needed a bit more rest.
She slept throughout the day on the 21st and the 22nd, getting up only to eat, take her meds or go to the bathroom. The atmosphere was a little sombre but we tried to be cheerful, I went out, tried to finish my shopping and got into the Christmas spirit as much as I could.
She stayed in bed again on the 24th, this time she could only sit up to take her meds, she’d also developed a sore throat and her temperature was 37.1C/98.78F. According to our chemo emergency drill, we are supposed to call the agency when her temperature reaches 38C/100F – this is when it’s no longer just a side effect of the chemo, a temperature that high suggests a possible infection. We canceled dinner plans with friends and decided to keep a close eye on the temperature. A bad snow storm had just blown in and the roads were horrible, I trekked through the snowy mess to do some last minute shopping and prayed for a miracle.
I woke up on Christmas morning with Pearlsa standing over me holding up my mom’s thermometer, her temperature had crept up to 37.6C/99.68F, we called the agency anyway; they said to continue monitoring her and that a doctor would call us in a few minutes.
The doctor called and said to bring her in immediately if we could, we decided we had no choice. My mom insisted on taking a shower first.
Considering the road conditions we knew there was no way we could make it in a small car, bigger stronger cars had gotten stuck spinning in their wheels trying to get out of the area. We considered calling an ambulance but an ambulance would only take us to the closest hospital which is St. Paul’s, that wouldn’t help our cause – our chemo emergency drill emphatically suggests that you try to get to the agency in case of an emergency, VGH is a close second and if you have to, then St. Paul’s was ok.
We tried calling a taxi but gave up after a couple of unsuccessful attempts – the lines were busy.
We decided we had to brave the road; we piled ourselves into the small car and set off.
They were expecting us at the agency; my mom was immediately admitted, hooked up to monitors and blood cultures ordered. Her temperature was at 38.2C/100.76F.
Everyone was so nice, kind, informative and almost apologetic, as if it were their fault we had to come in on Christmas day, in the bad weather! I felt bad for the oncologist who had to bring her three year old in, but the cute little girl didn’t seem to mind, she came to sit with us for a while in our room and we bonded over mini honey mandarin oranges.
The doctor was also incredible; she spoke to my mom like a person, not a disease. The results for the blood work came back as she’d suspected, my mom had developed a slight infection, which was typical with patients on Docetaxel as it literally wipes away the immune system. Most people on Docetaxel are also on Neupogen, a drug which stimulate the bone marrow to produce white blood cells.
We decided with the doctor to go with a prescription of antibiotics for now and then discuss Neupogen with her primary oncologist.
Mom had lunch at the hospital, took her first dose of the antibiotics, was monitored till her temperature came down and then was discharged.
We took to the treacherous roads back and managed to get home in one piece.
It was still Christmas… we merrily opened our presents but in our minds we knew we’d already gotten the best present of all.