Chemo Didn’t Quite Go as Planned
September 12, 2023

Boy, this sure isn’t the post I thought I’d be writing. I didn’t think it would be September before I wrote it and I didn’t realize it would be this hard to write. This is the toughest one, because it’s a different kind of trauma than I’ve ever experienced.

But here we are. My first chemo treatment for colon cancer was August 15. It was a nice Tuesday morning, and the facility is lovely. The infusion suite (where they do the chemo) is on the top floor with tall windows on each side of the building.

View from the infusion suite

Chemo went smoothly; in fact it was pretty pleasant. Jim and I went to lunch afterward and I went home a got a little laundry done. They sent me home with a pump attached that had some extra medicine that had to be dosed over two days.

I woke up in the middle of the night violently nauseated. I mean every 30 minutes. This is the not-pleasant part of chemo, I thought. The night was horrible, into Wednesday and all that night as well. Wow, I see what these folks have been talking about. This is nasty.

Finally on Thursday, it was time to go back to the Cancer Center and get the pump detached. Maybe if this medicine stops, the nausea will stop. They gave me as much nausea medicine as they could and when it didn’t help, the oncologist came out and said he was going to send me to the ER.

Maybe they have better nausea meds over there.

So the nurse wheeled me over to the ER and they started working on me. The first thing they did was hook me up to an EKG, which I figured was pretty routine. Until it wasn’t.

You’re having a heart attack, Mrs. Sanders.

What? I don’t have heart problems. I can’t be having a heart attack. Apparently it’s a very rare side effect of one of the chemo drugs they gave me. Lucky me.

Everything that happens after the words heart attack in a hospital is fast. All of a sudden they were taking my clothes off (ugh) and attaching a zillion wires to me. Once the heart catheterization lab was ready, my bed was surrounded with people in scrubs and they were running. It’s just like on TV, where they are running and pushing the bed, and just as scary. The ceiling flies by so quickly.

I don’t remember much else. I woke up in ICU, still nauseated. Also, after you have a heart cath, you have to like flat on your back for 12 hours, and you cannot move your right leg. The thing is, if you tell me I can’t move my right leg, it’s all I want to do. That part was absolute hell. Also, being nauseated while lying flat on your back has its own special set of complications, the description of which I’ll spare you all.

I passed those agonizing hours by mentally taking myself somewhere else. This is going to sound strange, but I’d visualize myself in New York City in Central Park, wandering around (and moving my right leg) and taking pictures. I may also have run into Art Garfunkel a time or two. Other times I’d be in my childhood bedroom, recalling all the times I rearranged the room and deciding which was my favorite. There were walks on the beach, sunsets, lots of floating on Greers Ferry Lake, and quite a bit of pool time. I’m grateful for my active imagination and creative, oft-wandering mind. It served me well in those hours.

Our local hospital’s ICU is really nice; just not for the patient. The room is dark and there’s only a tiny window next to the sleeping alcove, a nice little spot where both Jim and Sara Ann spent nights. You really cannot see the window from the bed, which I think is a serious design flaw, but I’m sure there’s a medical reason for it I don’t understand.

When I finally got to move to a regular room, I was thrilled that I could see the window and that there were things out there. It’s reassuring to see that there’s a world outside and to think about the fact that eventually I’ll be out there again. I became obsessed with the view out my window, which was basically the driveway that leads to the Emergency Room entrance. I saw people standing in the grass in the middle of the night and wondered why they were there all night long and thought about how anxious they must be about loved ones in the ER. Only to find when the sun rose that they weren’t people at all, but metal utility posts.

That’s how weird the mind can be. Watching (what I thought were) people standing outside the Emergency Room all night.

I never realized how important windows are to me until I was in ICU for three days without one. Windows gave me something of interest to look at and they connected me to the outside world. Maybe I was making up for missing the view from my office, which is our beautiful patio. For whatever reason, the window, even with its boring view, was important to me in those few days.

A couple of evenings, Jim and I watched the sunset from my room. I made him take pictures and I’m so glad I did. We’ve always loved a sunset, but these sunsets I treasured.

I think for me the windows meant hope. Hope that I would get to go home at some point, that my life will improve and I will be happy and joyful again. Never again will I take a window for granted.

Right now I’m focused on cardiac rehab and getting my heart stronger. I’ll think about chemo again when I’m ready — colon cancer is slow growing, and my labs indicated a positive prognosis, so there’s little urgency.

Today was the first day of rehab, and I did 6 minutes on the treadmill and 10 minutes on the recumbent bike. I’ll go three times a week for four weeks. I’ve chosen finishing rehab as my time to return to Jim’s and my Thursday evenings out, so I’ve got something to look forward to.

I have a long road, but I have hope, and I have a positive prognosis. Life is good.


  1. DRoush

    This is a so cancer sucks for sure story. Prayers for you!

    • beth g sanders

      Yes, it does for sure! Thanks for your comment!

  2. Anonymous

    Never could I have ever dreamed this situation up for you! (Have fun with all my grammar mistakes). Thank goodness you were back in a doctors care and they got you to the ER quickly – a small God wink in a terrible situation. Love and prayers to you and the whole family!

  3. beth g sanders

    Oh, Edie, I had no idea you had been through that! Thank you so much for that bit of encouragement – it’s more helpful than you know! I just started rehab, so went pretty easy today, but I’m guessing it’ll get harder from here and I’m ready for it. My prognosis is good – my heart muscle is weak now, but I didn’t lose too much due to the fact they got to me quickly.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful and encouraging comment!

  4. Edie Fleming

    Beth, I have been through the exact cardiac situation. Not from chemo but a 100% block in my widow maker. Your words so clearly describe the craziness of the situation!! I did cardiac rehab and 6 weeks later my heart had no evidence of disease! Fully recovered. You have definitely been put through the wringer. Know that you are being lifted up and prayed for constantly. I am so thankful for your willingness to share. Helps me remember to pray and to praise. May the hope you see through the windows continue to permeate your soul and may your health be completely restored.


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