During my 2014 treatment at Providence Cancer Center, I was hospitalized in a private room because Interleukin-2 infusions required continued monitoring for dangerously low blood pressure. Now in 2017, the need for further treatment brings me to the outpatient infusion center, a familiar setting for most cancer patients.
A typical infusion center is a large room with stations where individual patients spend part of a day receiving an intravenous cancer-fighting drug. At Providence Cancer Center, patient lounges are arranged in a semi-circle along window walls of a large room at the Northwest corner of the sixth floor.
The infusion center is staffed by several specialized nurses experienced with managing cancer patients and their treatment. Each nurse works with a few patients concurrently, cycling them through drawing blood, reviewing lab results, verifying eligibility for treatment, administering the prescribed treatment, and sending the patients on their way. Two nurses cross-check each other when the prescribed treatment is sent from the pharmacy to avoid any mistakes.
I have mixed feelings about being treated in an open setting. On the one hand, it’s possible to interact with other patients and caregivers and be sociable. On the other hand, it’s possible to become disturbed by witnessing the experience of other patients and caregivers.
At my last infusion, the patient located at an adjacent station was a middle-aged woman, wearing a surgical mask and a knitted cap. She was accompanied by a healthy older woman, her mother. The patient seemed uncomfortable and agitated. Apparently, the patient’s nurse had detected a medical concern and called an oncologist for a consultation.
The patient’s oncologist visited her at her station and they discussed her experience since her last infusion. She reported that she had been experiencing nausea and diarrhea, and her mother added that the patient had been unable to keep nourishment down for a few days. Her doctor said he was concerned about her safety and that this would be a reason to withhold further treatment if it continued.
The patient gradually became more upset and insisted on continuing with her treatment. When the doctor left, the patient scolded her mother for revealing information that might cause further treatment to be withheld, and asked her to be quiet.
I guessed that the patient was terrified about losing access to the prescribed treatment. This upset made sense to me, because she might not have any other viable options for treatment. I felt sad and worried for her. The patient’s mother remained at her side, holding her hand and stroking her arm.
The patient’s nurse next called for a pharmacist to consult about the drugs already prescribed to manage her side effects during treatment. Apparently she was taking several drugs, and the pharmacist recommended being more careful about the timing and sequencing of these drugs. The patient’s mood improved as she learned some constructive things that she could do to take better care of herself during the time before her next infusion. The two women left the infusion center in good spirits. I admired the nurse who had managed the patient’s need for information in addition to reassurance.
As for me, I’ve now received two infusions with tolerable side effects including fatigue, joint pain, itching skin, and chest pain during aerobic exercise. Prior to the next infusion, I’ll have CT imaging that will provide objective information about whether my treatment is helping.
It seems that my infusions cause much less grief than other patients experience and hope this helps my body stop the cancer.