This friday, our family went to a Halloween Spooktacular. We go to it every year. Its always busy and crowded with little kids in costumes and stressed out adults trying to keep up with the frenzy. There are jugglers and clairvoyants and men on stilts. Its the best place little kids can be.There are pumpkins and straw bales and a haunted house. Perfect set up.
As my kids were collecting candy, my daughter handed me a packet of candy to open. It was a yellow packet with the words in blue “Lemon heads”, and suddenly I heard the chemo nurses voice, “Can I get you some juice or cracker”, “why dont you try these “lemonheads” they should help with the nausea”.
Yes, the little tart lemon shaped candy was my savior last year. However, in my mind Lemonheads will be associated with chemotherapy for the rest of my life. I suffered through incredible amout of nausea during chemotherapy. All the blessing of the part in the brain called the “chemorecepter trigger zone” being so brand spanking and unused. Being a non smoker and non drinker without any history of sleep medication use, my brain was hyperactive when it came to generating nausea. It did not let me forget that I had had chemotherapy.
The AC cycles were excruciatingly nauseous. I would typically vomit for a good half of the night and stay nauseous for about a week after it. I ate Zofran like candy but to no avail. Finally after two cycles from hell, I asked my oncologist, if something could be done differently.
She said “Why don’t we try Olanzapine?”. I stopped dead in my tracks, as a psychiatrist, I know very well what Olanzapine is. Olanzapine is an antipsychotic medication that is used to treat illnesses like Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. I have prescribed it. I know all the side effects and effects. Is she talking about that Olanzapine?
I asked her again, “You mean Olanzapine (Zyprexa)?”.
She said, “Yes” “there is good data, why don’t you look it up?”
Of course, as a Doctor, she knew i would,
I read the paper myself. It was convincing , it could help.
I send my oncologist a message saying I am willing to take it. But I told her the dose I was willing to take.
I needed to maintain some control. It was humbling enough that I was just prescribed an anti-psychotic medication. The one that I prescribe to others. Tables have turned. I am the patient now. Cancer allowed me the opportunity to connect viscerally with those that I treat.
A few days ago, a patient was ranting and raving in my office, “Doc you don’t know what being on these medications is like…..”
I smiled and empathized with his frustration.
Lemonheads, olanzapine, zofran, whatever it takes, you need to fight with whatever it takes, thats what fighting cancer is. Humbling and strengthening, all in one.