My First Hospitalization Due To Chemo



Picture of Ivonne in the hospital.

August 21, 2014


Three sessions into my Chemo treatment and the side-effects are getting stronger.  After last Friday’s Chemo, I could hardly eat or drink anything because my stomach was in so much pain.  It felt like my stomach lining was disintegrating, and every time I ate or drank anything, I would go into severe cramps. I felt tired and week, as though there was nothing in my muscles.


I finally decided to visit the clinic and check in with the CTCA Doctors on Tuesday morning.  As it turns out, I was admitted right away. Blood was drawn, a CT Scan of my abdomen was done, and I was put on IV fluids right away.  Over the next couple of days, I would learn a lot about being an in-patient!


In a nutshell:  My white blood cell count had dropped, including my neutrophil count, which was at 900. Basically, if the neutrophil count drops below approximately 1,700, in adults, you are at severe risk of infection. When Neutrophil counts are below normal, this is called Neutropenia. I was also extremely dehydrated, which I knew because I had barely been able to drink more than a couple of sips at a time over the prior 3 days because my stomach would cramp.  Then there was the stomach pain, and nausea and vomiting that wouldn’t go away…I was amazed at how much liquid vomit I could produce without having eaten anything!


The Doctors’ solution:

  1. Run blood tests and scans = This made sense to me.
  2. Put me on IV fluids (saline solution) = This made sense too.  I questioned the PH of the Saline solution though because it was at an acidic level of 5.5.  I questioned it because I had researched the PH level of blood and found it to be a nutral/alkali level of 7.34.  So why was I being given such an acidic level of liquid, especially when cancer loves acidity?  Dr.’s answer: “That’s a good question, no one has ever asked me that before”, and “The solution is more isotonic, so you don’t need to worry about the PH level.”  Hmmm…Not quite a satisfactory or convincing answer for me.
  3. Put me on Protonix – medication that is supposed to relieve acid reflux, decrease the acid your stomach makes, and relieves persistent cough = I listened to the recommendation and asked for time to read up about the uses and side-effects of this medication. The side effects included headache, diarrhea, low levels of magnesium which manifests as irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms and seizures. I chose not to take Protonix because I felt that I did not need more drugs in my system at this point, and because I felt there had to be a more natural way to help heal my stomach and help it return to its normal state. 
  4. Put me on a liquid diet = This was rough for me because I tend to eat something, even if it’s just crackers, every two hours or so.  But the liquid diet was required in order for Protonix to be taken.  Though I chose not to take Protonix, the Liquid diet was not changed back to a normal diet.
  5. Put me on a citrus liquid to help my bowel movements = This worked quickly; I drank 2 of the 12 ounces, and it was magic as I went to the bathroom within 20 minutes!
  6. On the 2nd day, I was to receive a Glucose solution through my IV = This was confusing because the PH of the Glucose solution was a 4, which is even more acidic than the Saline solution.  Remember, cancer loves acidic environments, and it also thrives off sugar.  So why would this be used?  Sure one could say that my body needed the sugar because I hadn’t eaten in so long.  But it tasted disgusting, and I sure didn’t want to feed any cancer cells; I’m supposed to be trying to kill them off!  So I asked to be taken off the Glucose solution and to be put back on the Saline solution instead.  Thankfully the Dr. put this order through pretty quickly.
  7. Leg Compression cuffs/pants = This would help my circulation b/c I had been in bed, and (as I later learned) because the Protonix and Glucose solution could cause blood clots…On the positive side of this, the compression actually felt good on my calves.  It also reminded me a bit of the compression pants I use at the Olympic Training Center as part of my recovery after some workouts.  The compression pants at the OTC are called Normatech.


There were so many other interesting things about which I made mental notes.  First, Except for once, my vomiting or urine were not measured during my hospital stay.  This was odd because I’ve always heard that nurses should be tracking the amount of liquid that goes into a patient’s body and the amount of liquid that comes out; i.e. What goes in must come out…Second, there was the Naturopathic Dr. who tried to use manipulative psychology on me as she said, “I wouldn’t normally prescribe Protonix, but in this situation, I think it will help you.  Plus, it will make you feel better soon.  So you should take it because it will make John feel better if he sees that you are feeling better.”  Now, John is my husband, but this isn’t about anyone else other than about me.  This is my life, and while I’m of sound mind, it’s about my choices and my decisions.  Not to mention that the manipulative approach to get me to take more medication, especially from a Naturopath, was disturbing!  Need I also mention that one of the reasons why I had chosen to do Chemo at CTCA was because of the Holistic/Naturopathic component to treatment that they claim to offer.  So to have the Naturopath prescribe and advocate for medication, taking more of a Western/conventional avenue to treatment, was dishearting.


So what worked? 

Turns out that All Natural Baking Soda was the key to my recovery.  John started mixing in a pinch of Baking Soda in a cup of distilled water for me to drink.  The first 6 ounces stayed in my system for about 5 minutes before I regurgitated it.  About 20 minutes later, I drank another 6 ounce cup of the mixture; it stayed in my system for about 15 minutes longer.  So we repeated this a few more times, and each time the water with Baking Soda was staying in my stomach longer and longer, as much as an hour longer.  The relief I was feeling in my stomach was incredible.  What was happening?  The Baking Soda was neutralizing my stomach and naturally taking care of the acidity in it.  This was also allowing my stomach lining to relax, and as a result the cramping was calming down!  Who knew that something as basic as Baking Soda (aka Sodium bicarbonate) could do the trick!


I am thankful that I fought through this all, and that I stood strong for my belief that the body has an amazing ability to heal itself if we are kind to it. It’s important to be your own advocate, to do your research, and to understand what is happening and could happen to your body!


Today, with my husband, family and friends alongside, I’m out of the hospital!  Thanks also to my friend and guide Bryan Sedlock, and his girlfriend Andrea, for coming to visit me; their company lightened up Wednesday night tremendously!





First Chemo Session At CTCA


Picture of Ivonne Receiving Chemo.

Picture of Ivonne Receiving Chemo.

August 15, 2014


Morning Hours:

This is my first treatment session of Chemotherapy at CTCA. I’ll be getting a PICC Line put into my arm today, which is a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter.  Basically, it’s a thin tube that will be inserted into one of the larger veins in my arm through which the Chemotherapy will be administered.  This will make the Chemo less irritating to my veins; the Chemo meds are irritants and often feel like they are burning your skin and your veins as they flow through a regular IV. A PICC Line is


I’m fighting a terrible headache and an upset stomach as well, so things could get interesting as time goes on. The headache is likely coming from my not being able to sleep well.  My scalp is quite tender now, so I’m trying to limit my movements while I sleep.  This is quite tricky!


Afternoon and Evening Hours:

It took a bit longer to get started with Chemo this afternoon.  There was a miscommunication between Dr. Kemkha and me; although he had recommended I get the PICC line today, and I agreed to do so, he didn’t order to procedure for it.  I ended up having to adamantly discuss this again with the Care Manager on my medical team, and wait while she communicated and resolved the situation with Dr. Kemkha.  I was surprised at the pushback I received from my Care Manager though. More on that to come later…


Two hours later, the PICC Line was put into my left arm. Finally, by 4:30PM I was able to get started with Chemo.  This made for a very long day!  Luckily, I didn’t experience any pain in my veins as the Chemo went into my body.  The dizziness that I’ve been experiencing from the last medication that is administered was also minimal today.


Thank you to my nurse Steve Nguyen for his kindness, humor, and for teaching me a few words in Vietnamese.  Much love and gratitude to my husband John for accompanying me today and for being my advocate as well.





A Holistic Approach At Cancer Treatment Centers of America


DSCN0918Piano CTCAAugust 9, 2014


After a lot of research, I believe I have found a place that combines Eastern and Western, treatment,  medicine and healing!  At Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Chemotherapy and Radiation therapy are combined with a Naturopathic approach to treatment along with Acupuncture, Massage therapy, Reiki, and pastoral services.  At the CTCA location in Goodyear AZ there’s even an organic farm that produces lots of the fruits and vegetables that are used in the Center’s own Cafeteria! There’s also a piano on the ground floor of the building, and music is so powerful and healing as well!


I am grateful that Dr. Keohan, my oncologist at MSKCC in NYC, has agreed to work with the oncologist in AZ who will be taking on my case.  It’ll be a short stint in AZ, but the travel from Cali to AZ will be a lot shorter.  This is important should side effects of chemo start getting stronger.  Plus, CTCA also arranges transportation to and from the airport in Phoenix, as well as transportation from our hotel to the CTCA location.  This definitely helps minimize the stress of planning logistics!


I’m thankful for the holistic approach to healing that CTCA employs. New Drs. will join my team of Drs. in New York, and we will all be reaching the finishline together!