Friday, July 01, 2005

Chemo with My Sister

I went to chemo with my older sister Colleen this afternoon. She is one of my closest sisters (I have four), and is very very dear to me: she used to make little hand-painted booklets for me when I was little, and taught me my ABC's; later I had the honor of "giving her away" at her wedding, in place of our father who is deceased. Now she has breast cancer, and is doing four rounds of AC (adriamycin and cyclophosphamid) before radiation. The tumor was found fairly early, on a routine mammogram, so she is lucky, and hoping for a cure.

It was fascinating for me to see the cancer care system from the "inside." There is so much high tech stuff: the chemo suite with its posh chairs and artwork and flat screen TV's in each room, the IV's and the tubing and the medications in their shiny plastic bags. But the work flow was absolutely archaic, and not patient-centered at all. She had her appointment for chemo at 2pm. We waited until 3pm to be taken back (an hour late). She needed a blood test to document that her white blood cell count was OK before starting chemo, and it took until 3:30pm for someone to draw her blood, and until 4:30pm to get the result (another hour). Her doctor didn't come in to see her until about 5:15pm (over 3 hours after her original appointment time). And she finally got her fist dose of medicine (the anti-nausea drug Zofran) at about 5:30. She wasn't done with the chemo until 7pm! A five hour doctor visit for a routine scheduled treatment. The staff and nurses were all very nice, but no one seemed to be the least bit fazed at what a lot of waiting she was having to do. (I NEVER let patients wait that long for care). It wasn't busy: we were one of the only patients there. So I don't understand what the hold-up was. Fortunately my sister is still feeling very well; imagine if she had been feeling poorly, and had to sit around and wait this long?

We made the most of it: spent our time chatting, telling jokes and stories, reading some in Hilda Raz's wonderful anthology of stories and poems about breast cancer, Living on the Margins, watching TV (Judge Judy, Just Shoot Me, Dharma & Greg, the Venus Williams vs. Maria Sharapova semifinal Wimbeldon rerun), and eating pudding from the treatment room refrigerator (she had butterscotch, I had chocolate). Hopefully the treatment is effective (I have a good feeling that she will be cured). But I think this cancer care center needs to learn to be a little more patient-centered. Anyway: enough of my rant.

9 comments:

jeannine said...

Dear Peter, So sorry to hear about your sister (and about the seven hour trek through her first chemo.) My prayers and thoughts are with you both. Much love.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Rant? Um. Mild chiding, considering the circumstances, I think. Waiting is stressful! (Like, duh.)

Good she had a buddy for the hours.

yrs,
GI

Ivy said...

A seven-hour wait sucks. Good that you had each other for company.

Ivy said...

Sorry, five-hour wait. Can't count. :-(

Peter said...

Jeannine: Thank you.
It was actually her *third* round of chemo: and she said she had to wait like this every time! I won't say the name of the hospital, but its initials are VM.

Glenn and Ivy: thanks.

jenni said...

Peter, Best wishes for your sister's treatment. And a five hour wait is completely ridiculous.

Pamela said...

My sister has stage IV breast cancer, found during a CCK HIDA scan, of all things. It had metastasized to her liver, spine, and thigh, as well as her brain. This was three years ago. She's completely free of cancer except for mets in her liver, which go, then come, then go. I will be praying that your sister has the same good results as my sister has had.

Peter said...

Wow, Pamela, what an amazing story. Stage IV is pretty intense (I think my sister is only Stage I) I hope your sis stays cancer-free. I'll be thinking of her.

Jilly said...

Sorry to hear all this. Ya'll are in my thoughts.